Art: Old and New
Worship or Transformation
Monday, November 11, 2019
Truly a sword is piercing my heart, the pain is so great. How could this be happening to my child, to my son? I remember when he was born. —Diana L. Hayes 
Even though I was raised a “good” Catholic, I was often puzzled by the frequent use of heart imagery among our saints and in our art. Paintings of the “Sacred Heart of Jesus” and the “Immaculate Heart of Mary” are known to Catholics worldwide; in these images, Jesus and Mary are always pointing to their hearts, which are ablaze. I often wonder what people actually do with these images. Are they mere sentiment? Are they objects of worship or objects of transformation? Such images keep recurring only if they are speaking something important and good from the unconscious, maybe even something necessary for the soul’s emergence. What might that be?
The lines above from Diana Hayes suggest an answer. Visual art speaks to us on a deeper level than our intellectual mind. Artists use color, form, line, and texture to bypass our normal defenses, stirring emotions that transcend language, explanation, time, and space. The blazing heart of Mary is undeniably united with the heart of her son. Even if we feel distanced from the divine suffering of Jesus, who cannot draw near to the parent of a suffering child? Humans are made to feel empathy, but sometimes fear or self-interest blocks the flow of love in us. Art can help us reconnect with our humanness.
Many have described prayer as bringing our thinking down into our heart. Next time a resentment, negativity, or irritation comes into your mind, for example, and you want to play it out or attach to it, consciously move that thought or person into your heart space. Dualistic commentaries are almost entirely lodged in your head. But within the heart, it’s much easier to surround thoughts and sensations with silence, with the warmth of your life-blood—which can feel like burning coals. In this place it is almost impossible to judge, create story lines, or remain antagonistic. You are in a place that does not create or feed on contraries but is the natural organ of life, embodiment, and love. Love lives and thrives in the heart space. It has kept me from wanting to hurt people who have hurt me. It keeps me every day from obsessive, repetitive, or compulsive head games. It can make the difference between being happy or being miserable and negative.
Could this be what we are really doing when we say we are praying for someone? Yes, we are holding them in our heart space. Do it in an almost physical sense, and you will see how calmly and quickly it works. Now, the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart have been transferred to you. They are pointing for you to join them there. The “sacred heart” is then your heart too, a heart on fire with love and compassion for the world.
 Diana L. Hayes, No Crystal Stair: Womanist Spirituality (Orbis Books: 2016), 59.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 203-205.