Inspiration speaks to the heart

Words which emanate from the heart, enter the heartJewish saying

My fascination with words has led me to write ‘Words of Life’ and ‘Meaningful Words’. While I was writing those, I knew in my heart that a third needed to be written. For there are words that go beyond the surface of our understanding, and actually do something within our hearts. How does this work? How can words move us, touch our hearts, and heal us? What is it that gives words energy, or authority? Can we learn to speak such words? What is inspiration, and is this related to the Holy Spirit?

I feel that this is a tender topic, so close to the heart that systematic descriptions can no longer do the job. Let me therefore give an example.

I remember distinctly how my heart stopped for a moment when I first read the poem Love III by George Herbert (see below). It is a most beautiful description of our encounter with Jesus who is our host, and tenderly addresses all our objections that we are not worthy. As I read it, I saw in my mind’s eye both the scene he described and also a similar experience that I now again remembered. Hence I knew instantly that we had a connection. This poem knew my heart. This was truly comforting, for the experience had been quite embarrassing and now this poem helped me see the event in quite a different light. Suddenly I saw Jesus’ love shining through, no matter how unworthy I felt.

By this example I learned the value of poetry. Those words paint a scene that reaches past the boundaries of our understanding and touches our heart directly. George Herbert’s poems do this in a most gentle and comforting way. The bible contains great poetry too. The psalms, obviously, and Song of Songs, also the book of Job, as I learned in the wonderful course Biblical Wisdom Literature. I am certainly most grateful for all the explanations that I heard of these great poems, but let us not forget that they are meant to speak to us at a deeper level.

Would it be possible that we learn to speak such words, or is there a magic to it that is only given to some privileged persons? Let me give another example.

Naomi Shihab Nye describes in a beautiful interview how she came to write her poem on kindness1. She says the words were just given to her, she didn’t change a thing later. I have had similar experiences myself and some of my friends too. I have been very puzzled by this. What is it? Some part of me? Inspiration? By whom? Is this a permanent gift or something incidental?

It is my personal conviction that these experiences are the natural result of our being open to the Holy Spirit, who will then show us how to use all the faculties we have been given, even those that we do not understand. Surely as Christians we should not shy away from some actual cooperation between the Holy Spirit and us. This Holy Person is actually living in us. Are we aware of this amazing gift? The Holy Spirit is our most intimate friend, who will never draw attention to himself, but instead show us the depths of our soul that were thus far hidden and unused. In this way he will create in us more and more the image of Jesus, and bring us back to the Father in a loving and personal response to God’s love.

The Spirit thus teaches us to use our full potential. For however much we may have forgotten, we humans do actually have a spiritual part. We have spiritual eyes2 with which we can see spiritual things. In order to use these eyes, we must take great care that they are clean3. The clearer we express what we see, the more we will build connections from heart to heart.

Love III — George Herbert

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
        If I lack’d anything.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
        Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
        I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
        Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
        Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
        My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
        So I did sit and eat.


  1. I first heard about this on the blog Brain Pickings where there is also a link to where you can hear the interview.
  2. See Luke 11:34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.
  3. That is quite a big topic in itself, partly covered in my text ‘Transparency