Head and Heart

I surely understand the opening lines of Edward Hirsch’s poem, “Self Portrait”:

I lived between my heart and my head,
like a married couple who can’t get along. . .

My head says: “I think.” My heart says, “I feel.” Head says, “I’ve concluded”; heart says, “I wonder.” Head says, “I know”; heart says, “I’m curious.” Head says, “I’m planning”; heart says, “Who needs a plan? Let’s just go.” Head says, “We ought”; heart says, “We can.” Head says, “This is very interesting”; heart says, “Wow.”

When it comes to faith, the head wants to think its way to God; the heart wants to be carried on the wings of love. The head wants it to make sense; the heart wants it to make joy. The head wants logic; the heart wants love. The head wants to be challenged; the heart wants to be delighted. The head wants ideas; the heart wants experience. The head is looking for evidence, proof, and understanding; the heart is reveling in mystery, surprise, and astonishment.

There’s a tension between head and heart, but we need them both. Our challenge is to make it a creative tension, so that head and heart, mind and emotions are vitally connected with one another, enriching and helping each other.

Historian Garry Wills wrote about “two force fields” in American religion. He called one the force field of the head, of the Enlightenment, and the other the force field of the heart, of the Evangelical. He noted that these two ways of approaching faith push and pull against each other in our public life, but he claimed that we need them both. A religion that is dominated too strongly by the head, the mind, becomes, “desiccated and cerebral, all light and no heat.” A religion that is driven too powerfully by the heart becomes “mindlessly enthusiastic, all heat and no light.” (Garry Wills, Head and Heart: American Christianities, pp. 550-551)

We don’t need cold light. As Miguel de Unnamuno said: “Warmth, warmth, more warmth! For we are dying of the cold and not of darkness. It is not the night that kills but the frost.” But we don’t need dark warmth, either—not fevered, fervent feeling without the guidance of reason and wisdom.

We need both, together: head and heart, mind and emotions, logic and laughter, truth and tears.

Your head—your mind, your intellect—is a great gift. I urge you to think as searchingly as you can, ask all your questions, voice your doubts, and ransack the world for knowledge.

I also urge you to open your heart. Take down your defenses; let yourself feel the glory and pain of life. Be honest about your hunger, thirst, and yearning for love, hope, and joy.