Percy Shelley’s Unburned Heart by William Klein

A friend of mine worked at a funeral home and told me the heart is the most resilient organ in the human body.  It is the hardest organ to destroy.

We are fascinated by the virtues of the heart – so much so that we can see its presence in symbols, art, poetry and in the power it has to help us in our lives and development.

St. John Vianney’s “incorrupt heart” is presently making a tour around the country, thus inspiring pilgrims to pray and go deeper. Vianney, who died in 1854, is the patron saint of priests.

The heart holds a significant place in our world literally and figuratively. It’s worth looking at from multiple perspectives.

There’s an old story about Percy Shelley, the great Romantic English writer. Percy died at sea. When his body washed up on shore, they were concerned about disease and quarantine laws stated that his body needed to be burned immediately.  The funeral pyre took place along the seashore in Vierregoio, Italy.  The writer Lord Byron was there.  The accounts differ.  One account stated that Mary Shelley, Percy’s wife, arrived late and the last part of his body that refused to burn was the heart.  Byron presented the heart to her. Another account stated that Edward Trelawney, a friend, nabbed the heart and kept it with him until he finally relinquished it to Mary Shelley after a court battle.  Mary Shelley was said to have “kept it in a silk bag in her desk until she died”.

Whatever the truth of the lore may be, I find it fascinating that the heart is at times impervious to fire. What makes the heart so resilient?

The heart is located at the center of the body.  Its functions includes sending blood to various parts of the body to sustain life, but some doctors speculate that it may be more than just a valuable pump. The brain isn’t the only place that holds neurons that send information to other parts of the body. There is speculation that the heart and gut have neurons, too. The heart has been said to have 40,000 neurons.

Spiritually speaking, the heart is a treasured metaphor for ministers.  It helps them message their congregations by alluding to something that is attainable beyond the mind. As Christians we have seen artful images with the Sacred Heart of Jesus or the Sacred Heart of Mary. Symbolically, the heart holds a special place for our understanding. Passages declare that we must be true to our own heart and trust it:

Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

Proverbs 3: 5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding”.

John 14: 27  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”.

People are always saying, “listen to your heart” or “trust your gut”.  The heart is imbued with properties that help us.  Could it be the heart, which represents our feelings functions in ways we do not even realize? It’s possible.

Is the heart an organ that literally helps us cope? Those who rely on feeling to process their experience may rely on it more than they care to admit.

The Sufis have the symbol of the winged heart.  Hazrat Inyat Khan (Pir O Mirshid), the individual who brought Sufism to the west writes, “The heart is both earthly and heavenly.  The heart is the receptacle on earth of the divine Spirit, and when it holds the divine Spirit, it soars heavenward; the wings picture its rising.  The crescent in the heart symbolizes responsiveness.  It is the heart that responds to the spirit of God, which rises. The crescent is a symbol of responsiveness because it grows fuller as the moon grows fuller by responding more and more to the sun as it progresses.  The light one sees in the crescent is the light of the sun. As it gets more light with its increasing response, so it becomes fuller of the light of the sun.  The star in the heart of the crescent represents the divine spark which is reflected as love and which helps the crescent towards its fullness”.

In the process of evolution, the heart is as critical to our well being as anything else. We live, breath and have our being in the heart of Divinity.  We help the process of cultivation through meditation, service and presence of mind to Oneness in life.

I have seen the holy relic of a heart in France. It was encased in a silver urn with see-through glass. It was of a man who started schools, established churches and orphanages. Although viewing the heart gave some the willies, for me it inspired me to see the power of this muscle/organ. How many billions of times it pumped blood in this priest’s lifetime for the sake of others.  How it worked to bring the light of understanding and depth of meaning to those he encountered. How he turned to it in prayerfulness and levied the concerns of the day with light of Christ in his heart.

As I pondered the life of this man, I thought about the image of “fire” and the “sacred heart” that he often elicited in inspiring the religious to serve. He implored those to purify their hearts through prayer and service. The very pump that served as the lifeblood for this man is now serving in lands he himself had never seen and changing our world for the better.

For me the heart is no ordinary organ.  The heart is a very durable instrument, indeed.  When cultivated properly, the heart is a monument to knowledge and understanding and a holy vehicle of service that will stand the test of time.


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