Blessed are the pure of heart; for they shall see God. —Matthew 5:8
Episcopal priest and CAC teacher emerita Cynthia Bourgeault writes of the difference between our modern understanding of emotions and the teachings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers:
In the psychological climate of our own times, our emotions are almost always considered to be virtually identical with our personal authenticity, and the more freely they flow, the more we are seen to be honest and “in touch.” A person who gravitates to a mental mode of operation is criticized for being “in his head”; when feeling dominates, we proclaim with approval that such a person is “in his heart.”
In the Wisdom tradition, this would be a serious misuse of the term heart. Far from revealing the heart, Wisdom teaches that the emotions are in fact the primary culprits that obscure and confuse it. The real mark of personal authenticity is not how intensely we can express our feelings but how honestly we can look at where they’re coming from and spot the elements of clinging, manipulation, and personal agendas that make up so much of what we experience as our emotional life today. . . .
In the teachings of the Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers, these intense feelings arising out of personal issues were known as the “passions,” and most of the Desert spiritual training had to do with learning to spot these land mines and get free of them before they did serious psychic damage. In contrast to our contemporary usage, which tends to see passion as a good thing, indicating that one is fully alive and engaged, the Desert tradition saw passion as a diminishment of being. It meant falling into passivity, into a state of being acted upon (which is what the Latin passio actually means), rather than clear and conscious engagement. Instead of enlivening the heart, according to one Desert Father, the real damage inflicted by the passions is that “they divide our heart into two.” . . .
The heart, in the ancient sacred traditions, has a very specific and perhaps surprising meaning. It is not the seat of our personal affective life—or even, ultimately, of our personal identity—but an organ for the perception of divine purpose and beauty. . . .
Finding the way to where our true heart lies is the great journey of spiritual life. . . . 
Bourgeault describes contemplation and letting go as the pathway back to the heart’s wholeness:
The core practice for cleansing the heart, for restoring the heart to its organ of spiritual seeing, becomes supremely, in Christianity, the path of kenosis, of letting go. The seeing will come, and it’s a part we still have to work on in Christianity, but the real heart of emotion is the willingness to let go, to sacrifice . . . your personal drama, the letting go at that level, so that you can begin to see. 
 Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 32–34.
 An Introductory Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault: Course Transcript and Companion Guide (Wisdom Way of Knowing: 2017), 124. Now available through the online course Introductory Wisdom School (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2019).
Explore Further. . .
- Read about the Desert Fathers and Mothers and detachment.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 8 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Untitled (detail), 2022, New Mexico, used with permission. Arthur Allen, Untitled 6 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: As we learn the art of detachment, we see the simplicity and truth of each passing moment: anger, resentment, excitement, a tree, bark, marbles in the dirt.
Story from Our Community:
Most of my life has been filled with fear — fear of the unknown, of pain, and losing. At times fear subsided a bit, but with one emotional upset, I could be sent into a downward spiral of desperation and foreboding. In my search for some type of relief, I stumbled upon Centering Prayer. This started my road to freedom from fear. I went from a love of self and my “things” to a love for God and others— a love that surpasses my human understanding. Peace is not dependent on what is around me but firmly planted in stillness within.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.