Is Anybody There? Speaking to the Heart

“Talking to you is like talking to a fence post!”

I can still hear the words. I don’t remember who said them – but I heard them sometime in my teenage years. The occasion was doubtless some sort of argument. There were many things to argue about: Love, Peace, War, Jesus, Drugs, Sex, Rock ‘n Roll. There was a great deal of talk and almost no conversation. But why was the experience of talking to someone similar to speaking to a block of wood?

The simple answer is, “No one is at home.” When the ego (the false self generated by our anxieties, fears, grandiosity, etc.) becomes our public voice, the true self is rendered mute. Conversations with the ego are almost useless. Conversations with the ego also tend to provoke responses from the ego – “like calls to like.” Thus one set of defenses speaks to another set of aggressions, switching places as the war of words waxes and wanes. No information is exchanged. No minds are changed. The heart remains inert, shielded in a fog of make-believe.

We are often struck by the relatively short statements of Christ. “Follow me,” and a man leaves his fishing nets and becomes a disciple. I have often wondered if the gospels simply give us a brief summary of a longer conversation. As years have worn on, I think not.

One of the longest conversations recorded in the gospels takes place between Christ and the woman at the well (John 4). Every word of Christ is addressed to the heart. The woman initially responds from the ego.

Jesus says, “Give Me a drink.” She responds (defensively), “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” Jesus speaks again to her heart, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” Christ continues and speaks about living water. Her first response from the heart says, “Sir, give me this water….”

Christ goes deeper into her heart, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” Her response, “I have no husband,” is a confession, spoken from the depths of her heart. There is no explanation no prevarication. In the final moments of the conversation the ego offers a last defense – one last argument of Samaritans versus Jews. Christ responds with the word of the coming Messiah, and reveals Himself to her. In the coming of the Christ, all space between Jew and Samaritan is bridged. The one common hope of the heart destroys the imagined pain of the false self. The words of Christ, spoken consistently to the heart, reveal a woman whose life is a story of broken relationships (five husbands and a live-in friend) to be a saint. The woman at the well, known to the Church as St. Photini, later dies a martyr’s death, having drunk to the full the living water given her that day.

Our own conversations, both when speaking and listening, do well to be grounded in the heart.

Here are some tools to use to remain in the heart:

  • Use fewer words – be silent if possible. (Eccles. 3:3)
  • Only speak the truth, though it is not necessary to be unkind. (Eph. 4:15)
  • Resist the effort to defend yourself. (Matt. 10:19)
  • It is not important to be right. (Proverbs 26:21)
  • Do not argue. Your effect on someone else’s ego will come to nothing.  (Hos. 4:4)
  • Tell your anxieties that everything will be ok. (Phil. 4:6)
  • Don’t be in a hurry to speak. Let someone else finish their thought. (Proverbs 29:20).
  • Breathe.

Those who know me will understand the irony of my advice. Of those who sin against speech, I am first.


Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





30 responses to “Is Anybody There? Speaking to the Heart”

  1. Marsha Childress Raasch Avatar

    Of all the awesome posts, you’ve ever posted, this one is among the greatest. Thank you!

  2. […] Pick it up!☦Nothing But Orthodoxy☦ var pulltime = 'Thu, 28 Jun 2012 13:42:04 +0000';1) Is Anybody There? Speaking to the Heart […]

  3. mountzionryan Avatar

    Timely stuff for me Father. Thanks

  4. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    Father, only an Orthodox understanding of the heart keeps these aphorisms from being hollow moralisms. This is medicine. Thank you.

  5. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Side Note: WordPress did some weird stuff trying to justify a few of the lines in this post…

  6. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Concerning the post itself, I agree with Marsha: this was one of your best.

    First of all, I note that it was short and concise. It would have been poor irony if a post of brevity of speech had droned on and on.

    Secondly there are people like me who a) have to sift through literally thousands of words each day and b) are desperately looking for succinct, penetrating wisdom to cling to in the midst of the torrent.

    I for one will copy out your list of “rules” and post them somewhere nearby. Oh, and the scripture references are value added. (grin)

    Thanks, Fr. Stephen

  7. eternallypresentfillingallthings Avatar

    Thanks for the great advice, Fr. Stephen!

    You wrote: “Of those who sin against speech, I am first.” FWIW: No, you’re not. I am 😉

  8. PJ Avatar

    “A mild answer breaketh wrath: but a harsh word stirreth up fury. … A passionate man stirreth up strifes: he that is patient appeaseth those that are stirred up” (Prov. 15:1, 18 D-R).

  9. PJ Avatar

    Indeed, the whole of chapter 15 in Proverbs is excellent.

    I’ve also always held this bit from chapter 18 in my soul:

    “A word in the heart of a man is deep water, and a river and a fountain of life spring up from it” (18:4 LXX).

  10. dinoship Avatar

    Tomorrow at the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul we read this from Peter’s epistle which is not irrelevant:
    “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
    “For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men”

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    Tried to figure out the WordPress thing, to no avail. Maybe WordPress is Reform and is having problems with my take on justification.

  12. Fr Richard Avatar

    Thank you Father for these words, timing and perfect….
    Fr Richard

  13. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    If WordPress truly is Reform, then I suppose it would do no good to Protest. (wink)

  14. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Philip Jude,

    I’ve never read Proverbs 18:4 before. You’re right, it is a good one. As this posting speaks to, the trouble is being able to access that deep water – in our heart and that of our neighbor.

  15. Henry Avatar

    I love the story of the woman at the well. If I had the opportunity to engage Jesus in a conversation, I would have certainly tried to get him involved in some sort of an abstract philosophical discourse. He would then place have placed his finger on the truth of my life. May we all worship God in spirit and in truth. This story and the parable of the elder brother (the parable of the prodigal son) speak to my heart.

  16. Steve Martin Avatar

    Great thoughts.

    We really ought listen more. And then aim at the heart when we speak the truth in love. God’s law will expose us. And then the love of Christ will have a chance to raise us.

    I appreciate it, Father Stephen.


  17. Brian in Baltimore Avatar

    Fr. Stephen. You’ve written about the ego/heart conflict regarding evangelism and conversation (and maybe on more topics). I’m wondering if you’ve written anything or have something coming on the ego/heart conflict that happens internally. These recent blog posts from your pen have been helpful in my own continual quest of identity and answering the question “just who in the heck am I?”.

    Thanks again for your valuable writing!

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes – more coming…

  19. Andrew Avatar

    Quite. Quite, quite, quite…!

    (Thank you)

  20. Margaret Avatar

    I so needed to read this today, what a blessing! Thank you, Fr. Stephen! I am printing the verses you list so I may refer to them often as I need to refer to them often.

  21. davidp Avatar St Macarius wrote that the heart if the battlefield of salvation. Read it on the side column of above link. david

  22. Ben Andrus Avatar

    Father Bless. Fr. Stephen, I very much appreciate your recent series on the Heart. If you have a moment could you elaborate on the connection between the Nous and the conscience? Are the Nous and the conscience synonymous, or is the conscience located in the mind? Thank you.

  23. fatherstephen Avatar

    The conscience is a function of the nous. The terminology in these things has a tendency to vary. It matters less how we understand it, than how we deal with it. The conscience is among those things that need to be purified. There is, we could say, a “conscience” function of the heart – though the conscience is understood to be something that needs illumination. As we pray, as we study, as we fast, as we deal with the thoughts and emotions of the false self, our conscience becomes cleansed. By God’s divine energies the conscience is illumined. There is a need for conscience to be nurtured and guided by the Church (or in union with the life of the Church). It’s not just some individual inner absolute.

  24. TeresaAngelina Avatar

    Hello Father,
    If the nous is a function of the conscious, what exactly is it otherwise? Is it only a function? Sorry to sound a bit dumb…I am actually on this topic. I have heard so many varying comments including the nous being the mind. Except that if that were the case, why not just call it the mind? I know this is an older post but I am a bit behind. If there is another post on this topic, could you please just point me in the right direction?

  25. jhc38401Jim Cox Avatar

    Fr. Bless . . .

    Am I permitted to quote your posts in my blog posts? Of course with a reference. Why should I suffer criticism which rightly belongs to you! 🙂

  26. fatherstephen Avatar

    Jim, yes quote away! thanks for the reference, too.

  27. TeresaAngelina Avatar

    Sorry Father…just found the “search” button for this site. That will do it. Shouldn’t need to request directions any longer. Noticed that there are no actual articles dealing with the nous but many others which will certainly help. Thank you for your patience! 🙂

  28. fatherstephen Avatar

    I hope to soon complete an overhaul of the site (work is beginning) and the search of the archives will be much simpler. I do not think I’ve written specifically on the “nous.” I often avoid the term, using other words instead. It is often translated “mind,” (intellectus in Latin) but it has a meaning that is more refined than the English “mind.” And, to make matters worse, it gets used in slightly different ways by different writers (thus context becomes very important).

  29. Tom Hamilton Avatar
    Tom Hamilton

    Fr. Stephen, Thank you. I have often read this and tried to understand it. I saw the woman as being evasive, to keep from dealing with self. Many protestants use this passage as a treatise on witnessing. I knew there was more but was unable to discern it until now. Wonderful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

  1. Father Stephen, Can a person have a strong appreciation for another religious tradition – such as Buddhist or Hindu -…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast