These days I feel surrounded by love, or at least surrounded by conversations about love. It is a great topic and judging by the amount of rising hatred in the country, one well worth having. Presiding Bishop Most Reverend Michael Curry has made love the cornerstone of his leadership efforts in the church. The Way of Love program is designed to teach us, as Christians, to come to Jesus through love. It urges us to embrace His teachings and to expand His message, which of course, is to love one another. He further charges us to reach out to others. Instead of keeping the faith, we should be sharing it. The program is being embraced by many parishes and started in a way with Bishop Curry’s beautiful sermon at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. All this love talk has brought to mind a prayer that keeps repeating in my mind like a song you can’t stop singing. The prayer is from the Book of Common Prayer, Baptismal Service.
Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. (BCP p. 308)
This excerpt from the moving prayer used during Baptisms is one of my all-time favorites. In fact, when my grandson was born I sent a message to my daughter saying how thrilled I was and ending with, “may he have a discerning heart.” Somewhat to my disappointment she thought that was a strange wish and wasn’t sure what it meant. It wasn’t until my grandson’s baptism when she heard the prayer that she at least understood I wasn’t entirely out of my mind. She didn’t understand what it meant to have a discerning heart, and I am not sure I know the full complexity of the prayer myself.
Is having a discerning heart an expression of love? Or if taken literally, does it mean to be wise about love? Every dictionary has a definition of discerning as related to wisdom. Alternatively, I have seen descriptions where the first choice is aware.
So when we pray for the newly baptized, we are praying that they will have a wise and aware heart. In an age such as ours, full of skepticism and a rather lackluster interest in faith, one might suggest that a knowledgeable and an aware heart is a cautious one. Such a heart makes one reticent to love and be loved by another person without a full internet background check. On a larger scale, perhaps we should not embrace beliefs in things like feeding the hungry or saving the Earth since all the information is “fake science” and we should skip it altogether, retreating to our isolated lives in front of devices.
While I am not a linguist and often not only mispronounce words but get the accepted meanings wrong I do not believe a discerning heart is a cautious one. I prefer the wisdom definition to mean knowledge to know God and to accept, as the Serenity prayer says, “the things you can and cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.” The kind of heart that is wise is the kind of spirit that goes out into the world reaching out to others, bringing them hope and joy in good works – one that proudly proclaims love is the answer. As to the aware definition, I vote for a discerning heart that is not suspicious but rather fully aware of the joy and the suffering around them. A person with a conscious heart knows that God so loved the world He sent His only son to save us from our sins. These days the sins of omission, especially the omission of kindness and charity are disheartening.
So, unless some learned theologian dissuades me I am going with a discerning heart that is wise and aware of the glory of love, love for each other and all God’s creations. I am a hopeless romantic so it is not surprising that my favorite movie is Love Actually. One of the great lines from the film is the narrator saying that the messages coming from the Twin Towers on 9/11 were all of love not of hate and love is all around. I intend to hold fast to that idea.