In 2014, Herald Press published a book by my sister Sharon Clymer Landis and me, titled The Spacious Heart: Room for Spiritual Awakening. In the book we try to show how we can open our hearts to experience God more fully in our everyday comings and goings.n 2014,
The opposite of a spacious heart is a constricted one. In each chapter we identify some major problems in our culture and socialization which constrict our hearts to God, to others and to ourselves. The following are a few of these challenges.
Cynicism. Cynicism sucks all the joy and hope from a person. We become cynical when we envision a “future without hope, without meaningful change” (p. 25). This pretty well describes the political situation in US America today. After years of a congress that is paralyzed in partisan politics, many have become cynical about the political process. Our hearts are constricted by cynicism.
Anger. We are a very angry culture. Anger often precedes cynicism. Whereas cynicism stymies ones activism, anger too often fuels it. Again, the current political scene gives ample evidence of the debilitating anger passed back and forth between both sides on social media. An angry culture armed to the teeth results in numerous acts of violence which produce more anger. Our hearts are constricted by our anger.
Fear. Because of all the anger, violence and openly expressed hatred, we have become a culture of fear. Fear of disease, of an act of terror or random shooting, loss of security or life-style, all immobilize us and constrict our hearts.
Loneliness. Broken families, broken communities, loss of faith, hunkering down in our bunkers paralyzed by fear all contribute to our loneliness. We try to fill this loneliness with endless distractions and amusements, including drugs, alcohol, eating, sex and shopping to mention a few. We are social animals, and our hearts are constricted by our loneliness.
I can testify that I have experienced all these constrictive qualities to some degree. Perhaps the one that has affected me the most is cynicism. It took a spiritual crisis to break my cold, hard, cynical, constricted heart. I needed to turn inward in order to develop a more spacious heart. It wasn’t quick nor easy, but by turning inward I was more able to find God and my sense of being made in God’s image. The following are a few of the many ways I turned inward.
Dream work. I discovered that God speaks through my dreams. Many things that I ignore in my conscious life come through in my dreams. This is especially true of the parts of myself that I hide from the public. I also became aware of many parts of myself that I had in common with the rest of humanity.
Meditative walks. Early in the morning, before most people are awake, I hit the streets. Sometimes with a Bible verse, sometimes with a song, sometimes with the “Jesus Prayer,” sometimes with nothing. The combination of breathing, repeating and the rhythm of walking are all elements that help bring us into the presence of God.
Music. Music has always played an important role in my life. Even in my most cynical moments, hearing a piece of music could break down the icy heart I had built up over the years. David played music to Saul to soothe his tormented spirit. I sing both out loud and in my mind at many points in the day. I listen to music constantly. Often the words will remain in my mind, reaching to my soul for the rest of the day, opening my heart to be more spacious.
One of the chapters of our book is titled “Invite you demons to tea.” The demons of cynicism, anger, fear and loneliness need to be faced head on, over tea. A way to keep them at bay is to find ways to turn inward where God is ever present. These spiritual disciplines along with many others, will help break open a constricted heart and make us more open to a fresh awakening to the presence of God.