From Be Thou My Breastplate, by Paul Wallis
May the Holy Spirit dwell in this heart. (Fursa’s Breastplate)
The heart is the seat of our emotions. At least we conceive of it that way. In this line of his prayer, Fursa echoes the prayer of the Apostle Paul as he intercedes for the Christians in all his churches. He asks that the “Holy Spirit might dwell in our hearts through faith.”
In the Gospel of John the Beloved, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit once imparted to me will be a companion-counselor, convicting me of sin and guilt, reminding me of the words of Christ, and guiding me into all truth. The Apostle Paul adds that the divine Spirit will work in me to do and to desire the things that God desires. He will alter my desires to match what is good, pure, praiseworthy, noble, and worthy.
As the Spirit of God works this change in me throughout the course of my earthly life and plants new desires in my human heart I will sometimes become aware of a conflict between those desires that his Spirit has placed within me and those desires that issue from my own corrupt thinking. That is why if I look to my heart in moments of decision I will often find myself presented with a choice of desires to follow:
- to being served or to serve;
- to giving in to annoyance or to walking the extra mile;
- to vengeance or to turning the other cheek;
- to cursing or to blessing;
- to disputing or to peacemaking;
- to anger or to forbearance;
- to bearing a grudge or to forgiving;
- to cowardly silence or to declaring my faith in Christ.
Between my will and every wrong desire, the Holy Spirit comes to remind me of those words of life spoken by the Jesus of scripture. In this way, the Spirit aids me in my every waking decision: counseling, reminding, convicting, and guiding.
Though much misunderstood, Fursa’s monastic forbear, Morgan of Wales (known to posterity as Pelagius and vilified for his clash again the fatalism of Saint Augustine) was surely on good ground, and certainly spoke for the theology of the Celtic monastics when he emphasized this gospel promise, believing that in each moment of decision the believer is both commanded and aided by the power of God’s grace to make the righteous choice. The believer must take care to choose wisely and be attentive to the Spirit’s promptings in those conscious moments of decision. Many times the call of Christ will require me to feel my earthly nature rise up with an emotional reaction and yet still choose soberly the righteous response – the good desire of the Holy Spirit within me.
At times the bad feeling of wanting to avenge may be stronger than the good feeling of wanting to turn the other cheek. But it will be in the choices I make that the better desire will demonstrate its strength. Since everyone is tempted, and tempted daily, I daily need this convicting and guiding Spirit to be at work within me to desire and do the right thing. Daily, then, I will pray for this wonderful grace and counsel. And I can pray, confident that, if the Holy Spirit dwells in my heart, his grace will always be at hand, guiding me to the right choice. “May the Holy Spirit dwell in this heart.”