The Atlantic Ocean had worn the brown stone into a rough heart shape. Seeing the hole in it and hoping to string it for a necklace, as I’ve done with other rocks and shells, I picked it up. Then I noticed that a tiny shell was jammed into the hole. I thought I might dislodge it with my finger, but doing so would require a different instrument.
I placed the stone with the other finds on the desk in my room, thinking of Anne Morrow Lindberg’s classic meditation Gift From the Sea. On the final day of my retreat, I realized that the stone heart was like my heart: the hole in it filled over the years with things as pretty and useless as the tiny shell now embedded in that stone. My heart was both hole-y and jammed, which was why I’d booked this three-day retreat in the first place.
An outdoor labyrinth had been constructed on the front lawn of the retreat center. I wanted to walk it before supper. I’d noticed that other pilgrims before me had left small tokens at the labyrinth’s center. I decided to take my stone heart and place it there.
In Ezekiel 11:19–20, God promises “I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” At the end of a year with several painful losses, I’d grown a stony heart for self-preservation. It’s how I overcompensate for years of being chided about my sensitivity. “You wear your heart right here,” one friend had said, patting his shirt sleeve. The only way to protect a heart so exposed is to toughen it. Seal it like a scarab beetle in amber, so that people admire its beauty and forget it is dead.
Allowing feelings, even—perhaps especially—the painful ones, sends the life blood coursing into the heart once more, bringing health to the entire body. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in trying to describe his conversion, Methodism’s founder John Wesley said, “My heart was strangely warmed.” Despite the risks, I’ve decided to ask for a warm heart of flesh rather than one of stone.