I miss that feeling of feeling.
-The Avett Brothers
The great thing about having a heart made of stone, whether that is granite or gold, is that you can easily bypass the pain that comes from being a son of Adam or a daughter of Eve. Stone, you see, does not feel. It does not risk. It does not hurt. It does not fear. It does not wonder. It is not anxious. Most of all, it cannot hear.
That’s the fun part about going to a canyon and shouting. The echo resounds over and over and over again. The majestic, repeating words find no home in the land of stone. We can declare our love for one and our hate for another with full knowledge that the stone cannot hear. Rocks are funny that way.
Now, my geology could use some improvement but my bet is that there is little difference between a land of stone and a land of gold in this respect. Gold, for all its rare qualities, is not known for its ability to hear.
A couple of years ago, I picked up a completely random book called This is Your Brain on Music. The author, Dan Levitin, has to be the only man who has produced a Carlos Santana album and taught neuroscience at university. As he laid out the body’s reaction to music, our ability to hear the odd and the un-copy-able syncopation of Stevie Wonder’s drummer in Superstition and Frank Sinatra’s voice in- well, every song- it is impossible not to be amazed at the way we are built.
To be honest, for the most part, I had no idea what the guy was talking about in the book. There was a lot about neurons and signals to the brain and other topics I paid little attention to back in high school but one of his points seems to stand out in my mind. He talked about how music has this way of going straight to our limbic system, which, apparently is where our emotional activity finds its center. Now, I could be wrong, but I think what he was saying, in terms that make the first bit of sense to the rest of us, is that the tones, rhythms, timbre and vibrations of music have a way of cutting right us.
That is why, for most of us, we hear a piece of music and we have an immediate reaction. Some music we cannot hear without a visceral reaction. We either love it or we hate it. We do this without even thinking about it because, well, it has touched us. It has reached our hearts. Oh yeah, that was where we were. Our hearts.
We were designed to feel. This is really good news when we are holding hands with someone we love and listening the birds chirping in the park. On the other hand, when the weather turns against us and we find ourselves alone, all of a sudden we long for a heart of gold, granite or even concrete. In the words of the wise-beyond-their-years, Avett Brothers, we have become “tin men.” Can you identify with this lyric like I can?
I’m as worn as a stone, I keep it steady as I can; I see pain but I don’t feel it.
I am like the old tin man.
As great as it is to feel joy, happiness, warmth, excitement, hope and love, we all know the danger of embracing these moments. The longer we live the more we feel desperation, hurt, doubt, disappointment, fear, anger and hate. Is it any wonder that we are so desperately grasping onto our stony heart?
It seems like all we have left.
Our whole lives we have been convincing ourselves- and with perfectly good evidence- that God has been taking things away from us. He takes away our youth- and lets stop pretending that we don’t feel like this. He takes away our grandparents. He takes away our mom. He takes away our dad. He takes away our fiancé. He takes away our wife. He takes away our husband. He takes away our health.
Over the past few days I have seen a mother lose her little son. I have seen a massive storm take away the homes of many of my neighbors. I have seen him take lives with the same storm. How could we trust a God who is so bent on taking things away that even the righteous Job did not sin when he accused his Maker for the loss of financial security, seven sons and daughters and his health? These are hard realities to live with and we do ourselves a disservice to imagine for a second that God has nothing to do with pain and death. He gives and he takes away. How could this Lord be blessed?
And as if that were not enough, he also promises, swears by himself, that he will take away the one thing we have been protecting. Our hearts. He wants them. He will have them.
But this is where we realize we have only been living in death. Our cold, worn, hearts of stone had no life in them. He wants to give us a heart like the ones we had in the beginning. He never promised to give us golden hearts, no. He promised to give us fleshy hearts. He wants us to feel, both joy and pain. Listen to what this God says:
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
Did you catch that? These stony hearts have been too heavy to carry around. The burden of our self-reliance is too heavy for us and even though we have not cried out to him, God has heard.
And Jesus, when he lives among us, comes to take away all we have. It has been too much for us to handle. He has a new way for us to live. He wants to steal the last part of ourselves- that unfeeling, unhearing and heavy cavern. He has something so much better in mind for us.
He wants us to hear him.