THE EYE OF THE HEART: Portraits of Passionate Spirituality

THE EYE OF THE HEART: Portraits of Passionate Spirituality

by Harry W. Paige
Crossroad; paper.

The Eye of the Heart takes its title from a Lakota word describing a way of seeing that is "not with the eyes alone but with the heart," a way that is meant to complement our already well-developed faculties of logic and rational thought. Harry W. Paige links this idea with the Christian concept of faith, finding much contemporary Western spirituality to be without passion, the yearning for God that has been the subject of the poems of Jalal al-Din Rumi, the medieval mystics, and the Indian ecstatic poets.

In these accounts of his experiences, mostly in the American Southwest among Hispanic, Native, and Anglo Americans, the author not only paints a living cross-cultural portrait of other people's passionate spirituality, but also investigates the spiritual emptiness and isolation he himself feels in the midst of such experiences. Although his perspective is mainly Catholic, he looks at the "double lives" of Christian Native Americans, who see no conflict between older spiritual practices and Christianity, and at the inner conflict of an atheist parishioner.

Paige describes himself as a "head" Catholic, one who has seen through the eye of reason for most of his spiritual life. The experiences described in his book, consisting as they do of an inner journey or pilgrimage, lead him to feel a personal emptiness and a yearning for the spiritual passion he sees in others around him. "I would like to shed the shackles of the mind…allowing the imagination to soar to a…greater faith ."

Of course, an overabundance of passion can carry risks as great as any posed by excessive rationality. Even as the author describes his loneliness and detachment from true feeling, we read horrifying accounts of acts of penance committed in moments of passionate spiritual excess. Whether it is a Yuwipi healing ceremony, in which pieces of flesh are gouged from the arms of petitioners, or a dangerous reenactment of the Passion in northern New Mexico, where a secret society publicly scourges and crucifies one of their number who volunteers for the role of the Cristo . we realize the extent to which a world seen only through the eye of the heart can blind us. And yet, Paige's yearning, his sadness at not being able to feel his beliefs strongly, despite his genuine desires to share the strong feelings of the people he writes about, made this writer wonder which excess is worse. Broken bones sustained from falling under the weight of a 200-pound cross can heal - but what about a heart, broken or in disrepair from lack of use?

Memory is another element that plays an important role in The Eye of the Heart. The memories of a mother whose son died in war, of the priest of a deserted "ghost church" without a congregation, of the author's own Catholic childhood, all playa vital role In passionate spirituality. Eastern and Western religious rituals often have much to do with remembering a story; and when we think of the origin of our word "religion"- from a Latin word meaning "to bind back" - the elevation of simple, personal memories to an almost sacramental role in the awakening of passion seems to fit. We make people sacred-ancestors. saints, teachers - because of our present use of them to reconnect with a higher reality. Likewise, it is the memories we associate with a place whether it is a son's grave, a military cemetery, an abandoned church, or a hometown-and our use of them now that make a place sacred, either individually or collectively.

The Eye of the Heart is recommended both as a first hand account of spiritual practices in the Native Southwest, and as a tale of personal discovery and aspiration to spiritual passion.


Spring 1991