Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Hidden Person of the Heart

St Peter has something to say about women who are disciples of Christ, and who wish to attract more disciples through “reverent and chaste behavior,” but I think this can apply to all. Peter learned from his Master that what matters is the heart, the life and the mysteries thereof, if one wants to follow Him whose heart was pierced for love of us.

First of all, he says how not to be: not obsessed with fine clothing, expensive jewelry, the latest hairstyles. (Perhaps he would say to men not to be obsessed with money, cars, carousing, and the like.) But let it be the hidden person of the heart…” (1Peter 3:4). He contrasts outer adornment with inner truth and beauty. Instead of material jewels that can be destroyed or stolen, he suggests we adorn ourselves “with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”

In today’s fast-paced, competitive, and noisy world, a gentle and quiet spirit is indeed as rare as a priceless jewel. But that is precisely what is precious in God’s sight. I don’t think we’ll find anywhere in Scripture that a bellicose, ambitious, greedy, dominating, egocentric spirit is precious in God’s sight. Rather, such would be an abomination. Yet that is how, in effect, we are trained and conditioned to be.

The word of God always has a way of putting the brakes on our runaway desires and misguided agendas. Wait, slow down, listen: it is a gentle and quiet spirit that is precious to God. What He wants you to cultivate is the hidden person of the heart, the true you created in the image of the true God. So it’s not just trendy fashions He wants you to shed—it’s also, and more importantly, disordered passions He wants you to shed, and all that which disfigures that hidden person of the heart, all that brings the turmoil of a bad conscience into a spirit created to be gentle and quiet.

St Peter gives us a few ingredients for nourishing that hidden and gentle person: unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind, not returning evil for evil, but a blessing instead (3:8-9). “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (3:12). That’s kind of like saying that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Seek, then, to discover the hidden person of your own heart. Nothing you can do to adorn your body will make you beautiful before God. Recover his hidden image instead; manifest it through love and sacrifice and joyful hope in the coming fulfillment of his promises. Cultivate the inner life. Practice being gentle and quiet, thus opening your heart to the voice of the Spirit. Reverent and chaste behavior is not valued by many in today’s society, and “they are surprised that you do not now join them in their wild profligacy, and they abuse you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (4:4-5).

The choice should be easy: join those who have to account before God for their hedonism and materialism, or do what makes you precious in God’s sight. The practical application isn’t easy, but for that very reason the fruits are all the more sweet.