Heart Disease

        Create in me a clean heart, O God, *

renew a right spirit within me.

(The New
Oxford Annotated Bible, Psalm 51, verse 10)

            The heart that
beats in my chest is probably in good physical shape these days. I have quit
smoking (tobacco and other substances), drinking, and drugging. I keep in good
shape, although years of abuse may have taken a toll. I run and work out on a
regular basis. I do as my doctor suggests and take ten milligrams of Lipitor
daily to keep high cholesterol in check. But the heart that this verse of Psalm
51 refers to isn’t the one that beats in my chest. The heart it speaks of supplies
the spiritual lifeblood of my spirit.

This heart feeds
my imagination, and creativity. It is the essence and source of my freedom.
However, the heart of my soul, like the physical heart, is susceptible to
disease. The disease of anxiety, addiction, and fear have affected and broken
my heart. 

All too often voices
that guide my actions remind me of Screwtape and Woodworm, the senior and
apprentice devils that converse in CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. I used to say I did not believe in the devil or
devils. However, I have been aware of competing voices in my head and have come
to believe the negative voices are, for lack of a better word, devils. Their
loud din can drown out all of the positive. When this happens I become
separated, cut-off, from the positive—God. I don’t want to sound trivial or
clichéd when I say “the devil,” but this is the most concise term I can come up
with. Verse 11 of Psalm 51 put words to my cry to silence the negative, invoke
the positive, and turn a deaf ear to Screwtape and Woodworm.

I attended a small
church for the first time recently in town about twenty miles from my home.
Actually, a high school friend is the rector of this church and I had been
meaning to visit for some time. Jim said verse 11 as he was preparing for the
Great Thanksgiving (communion) as he was liturgically washing his hands with
the assistance of an acolyte. The simple direct words that I had heard many
times—Create in me a clean heart, O God;
and renew a right spirit within me—
smacked me right between the eyes. I
suddenly realized my heart was broken and contrite, and I felt the pain that
King David must have felt when he wrote this Psalm. I suppose this was a blues
tune of David’s time. He sang of the despair and depression that I feel that day.
Some things never change—the song remains the same. Screwtape and Woodworm have
been around for quite some time. Pleased
to meet you, hope you guess my name,
in the words of Mick Jagger.

I really have a
lot to be thankful for today and, without wanting to sound self-righteous, I
have made significant progress squelching the negative. As I said above, I
don’t drink alcohol and have been sober six years, by the grace of God. I tried
for so long to control my drinking, with no success whatsoever. Not until I admitted
I had a problem and asked God for help did this negative part of my life turn
positive. I have, however, come to realize that drinking was but a symptom of
deeper heart disease—a disease of the sprit.

The disease of
self-will and selfishness has a pull me toward the negative. I say the Lord’s
Prayer often and familiar words sometimes lose their meaning. I would be well
to remember Thy will be done. I’m not
in control—it’s not my will be done.
However, that’s exactly the thinking I can slip into. And when I do the voices
of Screwtape and Woodworm become louder.

more I carry on this conversation in my head, the harder my heart becomes. When
I lose contact with the positive (God), heart dis-ease becomes chronic. This
disease is insidious. I’m not aware of its onset and I become oblivious to its
consequences. I begin to realize it when find it hard to sleep and when I begin
to lose my patience with those around me, and those around me loose their
patience with me. Something within me screams: “Do not cast me away from your
presence, and take not your holy Spirit from me.” (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Psalm 51, verse 11)

Copyright © 2006 Mark Holmberg. All rights reserved.


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