I usually find the most likely people behaving exactly as I would have expected.
~Miss Marple, Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger
Gradually, the bright blinding light of the sun gave way to near darkness. As it did, and as I and my fellow classmates descended the mineshaft, I felt a certain thrill at the idea that we were going several stories into the earth. Whereas some might be claustrophobic in the dark, curving corriders of rock and mineral, lit only by lanterns, I felt I was in my element there. While our tour guide navigated us through the maze of tunnels, pointing out various items of interest, all I wanted to do was continue exploring. And despite the fact that, to most people, the crags and crevices and rough surfaces all begin to look alike, I was certain that if I continued to wander I would discover something of value hidden and buried within the centuries-old rock.
The description above comes from my experience in high school at the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine in Cripple Creek, Colorado. And although it has been many years since that excursion into the earth, I still feel a thrill whenever I enter a cave or a tunnel; a sense of anticipation that is not unique to me. J.R.R. Tolkien, in his books, portrayed his mythic Dwarves as miners. In the movie adapation of his book, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo Baggins recounts the past of the Dwarves of Erebor:
Ever they delved deeper, down into the dark. And that is where they found it. The heart of the Mountain. The Arkenstone. 1
As a dwarf myself, I too seek to venture ever deeper. But unlike the Dwarves in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, it isn’t so much the thought of valuable metals and minerals that drives me, but rather the idea of coming into contact with something ancient and eternal. The heart of something, whether it be the heart of a mountain or of my own heart or the heart of that which is Ultimately Real. The spiritual journey often involves a sense of journeying downward and inward, at least before one can journey outward and upward. So in a sense, Tolkien’s cave illustration is a wonderful analogy of the depths and desires of the heart, for I believe our hearts are like mines or caves. And, thankfully, I’m not the only one who seems to think so. Barbara Brown Taylor, in exploring the reason why humans feel the need to explore caves, asks the question, “Why do humans come?…We come to see what is here and to discover who we are in the presence of what we find.” 2
This begs the question: if our hearts are like caves in that we must journey deeper in order to better understand ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, our wants and desires, then why should we want to “discover who we are” at all? To answer that, I will turn to the British Dame and novelist of the mid-twentieth century, Agatha Christie. In the movie adaption of her book, The Moving Finger, an English countryside town is faced with murder and rocked with scandal as various residents recieve letters threatening to expose their darkest secrets. After a second murder, Miss Marple, is asked by one of the residents, “I often find the most unlikely people doing the most surprising things. Don’t you agree, Miss Marple?” Miss Marple, a keen observer of human behavior and psychology replies, “On the contrary…I usually find the most likely people behaving exactly as I would have expected.” 3
When one understands the deep inner motivations that compels a lot of our actions and behaviors, there is a surprising clarity behind who does what. Our outward habits betrays our innermost disposition. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Each day we are becoming a creature of splendid glory or one of unthinkable horror.” 4 Given that the interior life flows outward, I think it’s wise that we take the time to reflect on our inner thoughts, feelings, motivations, affections, and dispositions. If we want to grow in our spiritual and character formation we would be wise to listen to Scripture when it cautions, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (Proverbs 4:23, emphasis mine).
All of the above expositions on the heart merely explore more deeply what I have previously quoted John Calvin as saying: “True and substantial wisdom consists of knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.” Any progess, any transformation, to be made in the spiritual life has to come to terms with the self, and primarily the self as it is in relation to God. This is why the Psalmist beseeches of the Lord, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24).
It is up to each one of us to pray that prayer in the presence of God and to engage with what we find within. But anytime we do so we are going on an adventure, like the one Bilbo Baggins went on in his journey to Erebor, like the one I went on into the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine. And anytime we go on an adventure, whether outwardly or inwardly, we are invariably changed. So descend. Descend the mineshaft that is your own heart…and be transformed.
This is part one of a five-part blog series. The next is “A Sickness of the Heart”.
1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, directed by Peter Jackson (2012; Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2013), DVD.
2. Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 119.
3. The Moving Finger, directed by Tom Shankland (2006; Silver Spring, MD: Granada and WGBH Boston, 2010), DVD.
4. “C.S. Lewis Quotes,” Goodreads Inc, accessed June 14, 2014, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/67370-each-day-we-are-becoming-a-creature-of-splendid-glory.