A Personal Fervor, Part II

In a previous post, I was responding to the notion that while our church has excelled at filling heads with information, she has been somewhat less spectacular at nurturing hearts. There seems to be pretty widespread agreement on this point of view, as well. For that reason, I may be a solitary and stubborn voice that resists it, but resist it I do. The only evidence I have, however, is my own perspective, so these posts are less a scientific attempt at proof, and more a literary one. That is, you may agree or disagree as you wish, and I won’t have much in the way of hard facts. But it is an attempt at proof, and if I fail miserably, it was at least a miserable attempt to prove something wonderful.

John Calvin called the church our mother, and one way that a mother tends to the hearts of her children is by feeding them the proper food. That isn’t everything, of course, but it is an important thing. So it is that our church places such great value on knowing the right doctrines. And just as food does not sit idly in your stomach, so orthodoxy does not sit in isolated containment in your mind. The reason is pretty simple. The kind of knowledge that is found in Scripture and that is expounded upon by the Church, is not mere “information.” And even if it was, your mind is nothing like a computer which simply stores data. Knowing something as bland as the square footage of your house could excite you if you found out, for instance, that the old barn being torn down next door had just enough hardwood flooring for your home. An even more obscure example comes from my undergrad at UFV, during which I took a course in Old English. One of our assignments was to memorize a chunk of the poem, “The Wanderer,” in the original language. At the beginning of each class we all had to stand up and recite in unison:

Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?
Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?
Eala beorht bune! Eala byrnwiga!
Eala þeodnes þrym! Hu seo þrag gewat,
genap under nihthelm, swa heo no wære.
Stondeð nu on laste leofre duguþe
weal wundrum heah, wyrmlicum fah

I consider myself fortunate to be descended from the barbarian hordes that swept across northern Europe two thousand years ago; when I recite these lines, there echoes within me the sleeping warrior blood, the excess of life that used to fill great halls with feasts and talk of adventure, the glory that once charged Roman legions with swiftness and courage. All that drama, and I haven’t a clue what the poem means. Somehow, though, I can recognize with my heart a certain rugged and ancient beauty to the words. If our minds were like computers, this would be the equivalent of items in your Documents folder somehow getting into your Applications folder, running a bunch of programs for fun (they would call it joyrunning), sneaking back into the Documents folder, and all while the computer sleeps. What I’m saying is, it isn’t easy to explain, but what we know always interacts with our hearts, and what we feel is never disconnected from our minds. It all dances about in some fearfully and wonderfully created interior courtship.

So it is when we teach our children the catechism and when we exposit the Scriptures in the pulpit. Yes, we are filling heads with information, or, rather, with “rich content,” as one of my professors put it. The reason it’s rich is because it engages with the whole person; it speaks for itself, first to the mind, then to the heart. No one has to teach you that Lord’s Day 1 is gorgeous; they only have to teach you Lord’s Day 1. No one has to teach you that forgiveness is precious; they only have to tell you that your sins are forgiven. It may be that we are private about these things, or that we show them in ways that our culture finds strange – I might discuss this in another post – but this does not mean that these truths are not in our hearts. And it surely does not mean that our church can be accused of ignoring the heart, either.


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