I knew, when the idea of the cloistered heart first came to me in the 1980s, that monasteries of nuns or monks have special places not open to outsiders. I realized that these areas were called cloisters. It was enough information to get me started. “The whole idea of a cloistered heart,” I wrote in 1988, “is that the part of me referred to as the ‘heart’ – meaning my spirit, who I really AM – should be detached from the world in its attachment to the Creator of the world."
A place of refuge, no matter where I happened to be. A place inviolate, where I could remain with Jesus in a doctor's office, a traffic jam, a restaurant, a mall. It was an appealing idea. It was also (this being most important), theologically sound. "The heart is the dwelling place where I am, where I live... the heart is the place 'to which I withdraw.' The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2563)
The cloistered heart is the heart of David dancing before the ark; of Mesach, Shadrach and Abednego in the fiery furnace; of Paul in prison, Daniel in the lions’ den, John on Patmos, Peter in chains. The world is not safe from evil – even the body isn’t safe from harm – but within the cloistered heart there is refuge. The Lord is with me, He is within my cloister. My heart, as long as He is in it, is safe.
“Remember… to retire occasionally into the solitude of your heart while you are outwardly engaged in business with others. This mental solitude cannot be prevented by the multitude of those who surround you. As they are not about your heart, but only about your body, your heart remains alone in the presence of God.” (St. Francis de Sales).
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