Cleansing the Heart – Commentary by Sally Jo Gilbert de Vargas

By Sally Jo Gilbert de Vargas

God will not change the condition of a people unless they change what is in their hearts.” (Qur’an 13:11)

All your life, O Ghalib
 You kept repeating the same mistake
 Your face was dirty
 But you were obsessed with cleaning the mirror.”   ~Mirza Ghalib

This is one of the most unsettling quotes in the entire Qur’an, as far as I am concerned.  Those of us who believe in God, expect and want God to be Omnipotent, willing and able to change anything and everything according to His Will.  But here we are told, “God will not change the condition of a people unless they change what is in their hearts.”  This puts the responsibility for change back on us, first and foremost.  On a whole people!  Not just one person.  But, alas, as Ghalib reminds us in his poetry, a “people” consists of one person at a time.  Each of us is responsible for the condition of his or her own heart. The miracle is, when I change what is in my heart, really and truly change it, that will automatically affect the ease with which others change what is in their hearts.  There is a chain reaction that necessarily happens, something that spreads hopefully even more rapidly and effectively than a disease or virus spreads. 

What is in our hearts that needs to be changed?  Each of us must search our own heart to discover that secret.  For myself, I find that I discover the disease in my heart in the middle of the night, when I wake up frightened and alone, or when I am trying to fall asleep, feeling restless and unsettled.  What is plaguing me is the disease (dis-ease) in my own heart.  My grudges, hurts, jealousy, resentments, and negative feelings.  My anger, grief, pain, and unresolved self-loathing.  This dark side tends to come up when I am in silence, in meditation, in sleep, or in prayer.  How can we change it, once it comes up? 

My guess is first we have to recognize our condition for what it is.  We must not push it down, deny it, or attack it.  We must “cry out in our pain,” as Rumi says.  We must ask for guidance, help, and mercy from God.  We must embrace the pain it causes with love and tenderness.  We must acknowledge that the dis-ease originates within us, not within others, and that we are poisoning ourselves with it first, and then infecting others.  We must have the intention of purifying ourselves, without actually believing that we can achieve that single-handedly, because we can’t.  Perhaps the change required by God is a simple “turning” to God, an acknowledgement that we need direction, assistance, Mercy, and protection from God, and we cannot provide for ourselves. We have “considered ourselves self-sufficient” for too long. It’s time to surrender.  Find someone else in pain, and be an emissary of God.  Be a lamp, a lifeboat, a ladder, and then plead for a “stretcher from Grace” to come and save us all.

“Whosoever surrenders his or her whole self to God, and is a doer of good, has indeed grasped the most trust-worthy hand-hold, for with God rests the final outcome of all endeavors.”  (Qur’an: 31:22)

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