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The heart speaks

Scott Boyle | Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Writing is a part of my life these days. But, while I pride myself on being able to put words on a page, it’s almost impossible for me to describe the knot that forms in my stomach as I first open my computer and begin to write. For me, nothing’s scarier than a blinking cursor against a white, empty page.
When I was younger, my brothers and I would go to the pool in our backyard and have competitions to see who could hold their breath the longest underwater. In the beginning, we would goof around and try to make each other laugh. We’d make faces and do anything silly to make each other lose concentration and come up for air quicker.
But as we got older, we got more competitive. We wanted to test our limits (and each other’s) to see how good we really were. As each of us tried to master these heroic tests of mental and physical fortitude, we made sure that each brother got total quiet and maximum space in the pool. We wanted no distractions that would affect concentration or lung performance.
The hard part for me though was not holding my breath, but rather the stillness and silence that I encountered each time I slipped beneath the surface of the water. I didn’t know how to sit still on land, so I certainly didn’t fare much better underwater. As a result, the reality of the silence I encountered there was quite uncomfortable for me.
Yet, over time, I grew more comfortable with it. And, bit-by-bit, the silence gave way to the whirring and longing of my imagination and my heart. Beneath the mirror-like surface of the water, I saw and imagined myself in new places. I transported myself to the glassy waters beneath the ice of the Arctic and the reefs dancing beneath the depths of the Pacific. There, in the quiet of the waters, I discovered a longing I didn’t know I had: an inner desire for adventure.
As I write this, the Notre Dame community mourns the passing of a beloved priest, teacher and friend. Fr. John Dunne, C.S.C, a Theology professor I was privileged to take during my undergraduate years at Notre Dame, passed into eternal life just a few short days ago.
And, as I reflect on writing and the desires of the heart, I cannot help but think of Fr. Dunne, a man who spent his whole life trying to draw others closer to themselves and God. Fr. Dunne shared many words with the world during his lifetime through numerous books, articles, sermons and lectures. But of all those words, I want to focus on just three: “The heart speaks.”
“The heart speaks.” In a world starved for meaning and purpose, in a world searching for contentment and happiness, Fr. Dunne always reminded us that the answers we searched for had already been spoken to us by G od. He reminded us that in all our searching, the joy and peace we long to hear from God is already being echoed in our hearts.
Although it took me a long time, Fr. Dunne helped me to realize that, from a very early age, my heart had been speaking, too.
I did not need to travel to Europe or Asia to discover my heart’s desire for adventure. It had already been planted within me. After all, I had heard it in my own backyard while holding my breath beneath the watery depths of a modest-sized swimming pool.
And, although writing is still hard, I’ll utter those three simple words as a prayer before the silence and emptiness of a blank, white page. “The heart speaks.” I have realized that God has already given me the words that I need. I just need to take the time to slip beneath the surface of my heart to hear them.
How much closer to God could we be if we really took the time to listen to our hearts, too? What if we took time for stillness and quiet so that we could truly hear ourselves and our desires?
In memory of Fr. Dunne, give yourself a moment today to take a deep breath. Dive below the surface of your heart! What do you encounter there? Perhaps, at first, not much. Perhaps stillness and quiet. But trust me, give it time. You never know what you might hear.
There, to quote T.S. Eliot, the “stillness [may become] the dancing.” We would dance for joy if we discovered the truth of our desires and joys. In that truth, we give ourselves the opportunity to hear the voice of God in our lives. May you rest peacefully, Fr. Dunne, knowing that you have given us the steps to dance!

Scott Boyle is a graduate of Notre Dame and a student in the Echo Faith Formation Leadership Program in the Notre Dame Institute for Church Life. He can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.