Valentine’s Day is coming up soon. Since I still haven’t gotten my Christmas cards out (I did take the tree down) I am thinking of making them into Valentine’s Day cards and pretending this is an intentional strategy on my part to express my love to my friends and family. They aren’t printed yet, so I could easily change the holly and ivy border to a row of hearts.
Speaking of hearts, remember Valentine’s Day in elementary school? Buying the box of valentine’s cards at the grocery store and filling out one for every class member, even the boy who made fun of you for your thick new glasses and later broke your toe (accidentally) playing dodge ball? Remember the little chalky tasting hearts with mushy sayings on them? I guess you weren’t supposed to eat them but to hand them out with your cards. What’s the point of candy if it doesn’t taste good?
Capital One has its slogan “What’s in Your Wallet?” The spiritual question that keeps coming to me this Valentine’s Day is “What’s in your heart?” The Hebrew word for heart (lev) has the connotation of “the authority within.” The heart was regarded as the seat of emotions, but also of will and thought. The heart could be led astray if one allowed the sin that lurks at its door to come inside. As God tells Cain, “Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7). Once it gets in, it tries to take control of the heart. But the heart is capable of turning toward God in whole- hearted trust (Proverbs 3:5) since God has taken the initiative in “setting his heart in love” on the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 10:15) and answers our prayers to create in us a “clean heart” (Psalm 51:10). Jesus affirms that to love God and neighbor with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength is the heart of the law (Luke 10:27).
In the New Testament we find an emphasis on the inward person (heart; kardia) as capable of good or evil. The heart can bring forth good fruit or bad, as Jesus points out on more than one occasion (Matthew 12:34-5; Luke 6:45). The imagination resides in the heart, and if one does not allow the Holy Spirit to direct it, it can bring forth evil. But when under the influence of the Holy Spirit, it can lead us and our lives to be conformed to the image and will of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Our imaginations, our ability to picture alternative futures, are part of what it means to say that we are made in God’s image. Jesus, the image of God, is now available as the picture of our future with God. Looking to him we are to become conformed to his image as we await the day when we will behold him face to face, when reality will replace images. (James Fenhagen, More Than Wanderers, 4-5) As Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians: “All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
What’s in your heart? Valentine’s Day is a good time to reflect on what kind of fruit our hearts are producing, whose image we are growing to resemble.
I am reminded of a story told by retired United Methodist Bishop Leontine Kelly. Bishop Kelly was elected to the episcopacy in the United Methodist Church in 1984, was the second woman and the first African American woman to be elected bishop of any major denomination. When she was 10 years old she lived with her parents in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father was a pastor active in the community. One morning as she was getting ready for school, she heard a knock on the front door. She ran down the stairs to answer it. There on the step was an imposing woman with a confident air. Only later did Leontine find out that the visitor was Mary McCleod Bethune. Dr. Bethune was a prominent educator and civil rights leaders, founder of a school for African –American students in Daytona Beach, Florida that became Bethune-Cookman University, and advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was in town to raise money for her school, an effort with which Leontine’s father was helping.
Bishop Kelly says that as she looked up in awe at this imposing woman, Dr. Bethune looked down at her, with no preliminary statement or question like “how are you this morning?” or “could you go get your parents?” She simply looked at her and inquired, “Little girl, who do you plan to be?” At the moment, the fifth grade girl had no plans to be anything other than a fifth grade girl. But the question started her thinking, and it came to guide her life, gaining more and more resonance as she came to understand just who it was who was asking the question.
Mary McCleod Bethune’s question is a good one: “Who do you plan to be?” It all depends on what’s in our hearts.