Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Mercurial Heart

My friend, Jane Sloan, is a gifted writer. Early this week she published a blog that really made me think about the heart and how we, as humans, measure love and loneliness. Jane began with a poem by Pope John Paul II:

Girl Disappointed in Love

With mercury we measure pain
as we measure the heat of bodies and air;

but this is not how to discover our limits–

you think you are the center of things.
If you could only grasp that you are not:
the center is He, and He, too, finds no love—
why don’t you see? The human heart–what is it for?

Cosmic temperature. Heart. Mercury.

First of all, I had no idea that the Pope was a poet (I knew I liked him all along; now I understand the connection.) 

Secondly, this poem is REALLY good. Like I should be teaching it in my World Lit classes.  There is so much depth and wisdom in these few lines that I could take weeks just considering it. I could take a month to dissect it. But I won't.

Jane's point of view, as a brilliant and beautiful single woman, saw the connection between the lonely person and the lonely Savior who "had no place to lay his head." (Matthew 8:20) You can read her full post here and be both blessed and encouraged.

I got caught up in the idea of the heart as mercury.  The Pope opens with the element and ends with...well, what exactly? The god? The temperament? The element again?  Perhaps all.  So, being the lover of learning and the lover of God that I am, I did a little research. (Does that made me a little nerdy, too? I'll take it as a compliment.)

Since the poem opens with the element, I began there, and learned a few interesting things. Mercury is the only elemental metal that remains liquid at room temperature. It can be frozen with dry ice, but the solid formed is extremely brittle because mercury does not bond well with itself. Mercury is also highly toxic, and will ultimately lead to fatality to one who is over exposed to it.  

I then turned my attention to the planet for which the element is named. As the closest planet to this galaxy's sun, Mercury is strongly influenced by its gravitational pulls and its solar "seasons." Mercury has an irregular orbit, so its days and nights are unreliable. Its poles are reflective, and no science has fully determined what makes them so. 

Finally, there is, of course, Mercury, the wing-sandaled messenger god of the Romans.  Mercury was an interesting character. He was dependent on the directions of others, never really taking initiative for anything on his own. He was both a trickster and a guide to the underworld, making him the patron god of both thieves and travelers. He was quick-witted and volatile.

After reading these little definitions, I could see the purpose of Mercury in the poem as it relates to the heart. The heart is like the god, Mercury, in that it is devoted to whatever flights of fancy the mind attends and is unreliable as a measure of Truth. The heart is easily swayed by sweet words or pleasant concepts, when those very things may well lead to destruction.

The heart is also related to the planet. The heart, too, is irregular in its pattern (in its figurative sense if not its physical properties.) The human heart reflects what is shown upon it--or what is hidden beneath, but no outsider can truly know which. The heart is influenced by a will stronger than its own. This is the reason it is important to love God with all heart, soul, MIND, and strength. (Mark 12:30) If the Father's will is at the center of the heart, we will naturally be drawn closer to Him.

I think mercury the element made me think the most. The understanding that the solid form of mercury is brittle because it does not bond with itself helps me understand the source of many societal ills. As a culture, we have become self-sufficient to the point of being self-centered and selfish. God, however, did not create us to be thus. He created humanity for relationship, first with Him, and then with others. To spurn the idea of relationship in order to assert one's independence from the world is to spurn the very design for which we are made. Additionally, to seek after a bond with other people without the joining of the Holy Spirit is doomed to disappointment, if not abject failure. As creatures of the Almighty, we cannot bond within ourselves with any greater success than the element. Our hearts must bond with the Center for love to be complete and fulfilling.

There is a temperament in sociology/psychology that also finds its root in Mercury: mercurial. It is an excellent reflection of the heart. Mercurial people are quick and lively, but fickle and volatile. The heart is also quick to turn from one love to the next, loving one thing that becomes hateful in the very next minute. The heart alone cannot be trusted. "Go with your heart," people say, but the human heart alone is a dangerous thing. If it is the center, it is unreliable and will ultimately lead to dissatisfaction and a continuing quest for something better, something more, something new. In order to be truly happy in life and in love, the mercurial heart must be exchanged for one that "knows the secret of being content" (Philippians 4). Contentment is the best evidence that the heart is bonded to the Center--and that is what the human heart is for.

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