Hidden Treasures of the Heart

Charlotte Brontë opened her poem Evening Solace with these words:

The human heart has hidden treasures

In secret kept, in silence sealed;

The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures

Whose charms were broken if revealed

There’s a set of passages in The Gospel of Matthew that have always forced me to slow down when I’ve come across them. The first comes in chapter 12, where Jesus makes the statement that has become familiar to most of us: “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” He goes on to say that a good person brings good things out of his good treasury, while an evil person brings evil things out of his evil treasury.

Later on, in Chapter 15, the Pharisees and teachers of the law rebuked Jesus saying that his disciples disobeyed tradition by not washing their hands before they ate. But Jesus gave a rebuttal, saying, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” But then, He took it one step further and returned to the concept of the mouth being connected to the heart. A few verses later, he said, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.”

In many ways, Jesus’ words seem to act as a continuation of Solomon’s words in Proverbs 4:23. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it,” or as some translations say, “…for out of it is the wellspring of life.”  But for a long time in my life, that idea always forced me to stop, and in truth, it still does. I remember reading that passage in Matthew once and responding with this question: “If the things that defile a person come from within, how do they get there in the first place?” That question has stayed with me ever since the moment it first crossed my mind.

James K.A. Smith, the author of You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, has a quote that seems to drive at this question. Smith says:

Your heart is the fulcrum of your love.

A fulcrum is the point or base beneath a lever, like the base of a see-saw, and the placement of that point decides which way the lever will tilt. So in other words, if the heart is the fulcrum of love, that means that love will fall toward whatever a heart is fixed on. As Brontë wrote later on in her poem, the hidden treasures of the heart are often well acquainted with loneliness, being that they are kept in secret. As Brontë put it in her poem, the grief that comes from the heart’s loneliness is a sign of the fulfillment that awaits it. As St. Augustine put it, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

But for others, loneliness of the heart has darker results. As F. Scott Fitzgerald put it in The Great Gatsy“No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.” Similarly, author J.K. Rowling told a story in her collection The Tales of the Beetle Bard about a handsome warlock who removes his own heart in order to protect himself from ever falling in love. But later, when he finds a maiden worthy of loving, he seeks to restore his festering heart to his body, only to find that it has shriveled and grown black hair all around it. When the warlock places the heart back in his body, it drives him mad so that he becomes like a beast, and he tears out the maiden’s heart in an attempt to take it for his own.

The Christian writer and monk Thomas Merton seemed to have all these truths and more in mind when he wrote the following:

Every man becomes the image of the God he adores.

He whose worship is directed to a dead thing becomes dead.

He who loves corruption rots.

He who loves a shadow becomes, himself, a shadow.

He who loves things that must perish lives in dread of their perishing.”

When Charlotte Brontë wrote that the human heart has “hidden treasures,” she uncovered a truth that humankind has always dealt with. The heart was made to be remolded, to take on the form of something greater. And as was recorded by the prophet Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” It’s no wonder that Solomon wrote that we should guard our hearts, because our hearts are prone to run after and cling to false loves. As Brontë put it, the heart’s lonely thoughts are “seeking a life and world to come,” longing for the time when the hidden treasures will be revealed and fulfilled in the satisfaction of our longings.