On my desk sits a quote from St. Macarius the Great, an Egyptian monk who lived almost the whole of the fourth century. He is remembered for his wisdom, his humility, and his love, some of which is evidenced in the small, framed piece I see each day. “The heart is but a small vessel,” it reads, “yet there are lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasure of evil. And there are rough uneven roads; there are precipices.”
And then it continues, “But there is also God, also the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the treasures of grace – there are all things.” All things. Lions and angels. Poisonous beasts and treasures of grace. How does a heart contain all of this? How does it not burst? How does it beat steadily, with such warring worlds inside?
We’re coming up on Lent, that season that asks us to acknowledge the complexities of our hearts – the passions that fuel us, the loves we hold dear, and, if we’re honest, the resentments we carry, the judgments we cast. All things. The light, the life, the precipices. How do you do it? How does your heart hold all that it does?
I know people who give stuff up for Lent. Something that matters to them; something they’ll miss. The sting of missing it reminds them of Jesus’ pain, and his commitment, and sometimes it reorients their priorities, during this season. And I know people who add stuff during Lent. Something that focuses them; something that centers them. The extra discipline reminds them to be intentional about their time, their commitments, where their energy and love goes, during this season.
What if, for Lent, we paid attention to our hearts? To all that lives and struggles and wants to grow there? What if we gave up false pretense, and added a commitment to being vulnerable? We could do the other stuff, too – the more tangible denials and additions – but what if we said that, at least for a season, we would confess the ugliness we carry but celebrate the beauty, too? All things. In all of us.
And every time a poisonous beast threatens, we can say: “But there is also God.”