The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.
Blaise Pascal (French philosopher, 1623- 1662)
My ‘friendship’ bracelet consists of two simple knotted cords, each one joined in the middle to an elegant, open-outline silver cross. It was fastened on my wrist in a shop in Crete in May, and hasn’t been taken off since. The Christian cross symbolises the essence of my beliefs about goodness, generous morality, forgiveness and love –all of which is underlined by the heart-shaped silver tag clipped to the bracelet fastener. On both sides of this (about an inch long) is engraved the quotation above. So there on my right wrist, never taken off, is a complete statement of personal philosophy: the cross and the heart and the glorious multiple meanings within both. The slight weight of the heart-tag keeps the cross balanced atop my wrist, where it can be seen – or rather, it could be seen were it not usually covered by a pile of other bracelets. I do like my jewellery.
Pascal’s meaning is clear to me. Logic and reason have little to do with how the human heart operates – and this is at once glorious and tragic: a source of great pain as well as great joy. He goes on to point out that, ‘We know this in countless ways.’
Indeed we do! But the point he makes then is more complex. To paraphrase – he says that the human heart naturally loves God (or the ‘universal being’ or itself. Then, it ‘hardens itself’ against the one it doesn’t choose. Think about that – especially with regard to our secular and self (selfie!) obsessed world. Pascal asks pointedly ‘Is it reason that makes you love yourself?’
Well, no. How could it? When we are so full of bullshit and sin? When the reflection in the mirror is so flawed? Yet at the same time, in our rational world, believing in and loving any sort of deity is dismissed or jeered at by those who elevate their own views and feelings to the highest pinnacle. Athiests rule!
Pascal continues: ‘It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason. That is what faith is: God perceived by the heart and not the reason.’ Of course. But that’s not why I started this blog. For I was thinking about love and sex and sin and judgement. Oh, as well as God, of course, because it was I who mentioned my bracelet cross and the teachings of Jesus which are full of goodness. But I don’t have Pascal’s words hanging from my bracelet because of that. No, I carry them with me because I know how human beings mess up their lives and because I have huge, unfathomable compassion for that hopelessness. People fall in love where they shouldn’t. People hurt themselves and people they love. People make terrible mistakes – sometimes for the best reasons. People forget their heads and let themselves be ruled by their hearts – and ruin their lives, as well as the lives of others.
And all this is an eternal part of the human condition. It has nothing to do with wisdom or stupidity, and everything to do with blind faith. Sometimes that faith is right and sometimes – oh God, how I know – it is a bloody disaster. Maybe that’s why in the end we pray.