Reprint: 2012 , The Lutheran Digest, First Rights
I was about fourteen years old when I carved the words “I love James” on the oak tree standing on our front lawn. Much later, this word-symbol came into use in the famous “I love New York” campaign.
Today, one can find this heart symbol on valentines or most any card, even as a tattoo on arms and legs. It’s used on jewelry, clothes, cakes and candies. No matter where this heart symbol is displayed or worn, it is universally understood to mean love.
The idea of associating love with the heart is ancient. The Egyptians considered the heart the center point of the body and a symbol of eternity. Thus, the heart was the only organ that stayed with an Egyptian mummy. Love became linked to the heart due to the belief that when one loves, the force of love pushes the lover towards its center---the heart.
From scripture we find the beginnings of Christianity, where the heart is represented in symbolic form. A flaming heart is an attribute of St. Augustine, indicating a great passion in his devotion. An arrow piercing a heart signifies deep remorse and repentance. St. Catherine of Siena is represented by a heart with a cross. The legend is that in answer to her prayers, Jesus appeared to her and replaced her heart with his own. Saints pictured with a human heart are symbolic of godliness and zeal.
With the influence of Christian art the role of the heart has changed our culture to expressions of the heart. Here are some of the more heart-breaking, fearful expressions of the heart:
“His heart was in his mouth” when you get a feeling as if your suffocating in the throat from a meaningless fear or quilt.
“Break one’s heart” is putting someone in great hurt and misery, or one can even die from a broken heart.
“Eat one’s heart out” when you worry entirely too much, you just can’t get a go of anything.
“Set your heart at rest” stop worrying, things will work out.
“Lose heart” you feel depressed and disheartened.
“Heart of stone” a person who is not nice and just plain uncaring.
“Be of good heart” if someone is down in the dumps and you tell them to cheer up.
“A heart breaker” someone who refuses to date someone that would like to date him/her.
And there are more positive, cheerful expressions of the heart:
“After my own heart” if you’ve received a special gift from someone, or if they just listened to your problems, you’d consider them very likable.
“From the bottom of my heart” if you do or give something to someone in complete sincerity.
“Has his heart in the right place” you received something from someone, but it wasn’t exactly what you wished.
“To set one’s heart upon” something you truly, truly wanted very badly.
“Take heart, be of good courage” the very best of courage coming from the heart.
“Heart’s content” you feel complete inner satisfaction (Shakespeare is to have coined this).
“Be still, my beating heart” a romantic expression of being aroused when seeing the one you love.
“A man after my own heart” someone you agree and get along with.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” if you don’t have something you desire, your desire for it increases.
“I will wear my heart upon my sleeve” to show your feelings openly for anyone to see.
From antiquity to today, the heart remains the most important organ in our body---for both physical and our emotional well being.
Perhaps Helen Keller says it best: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
Carole Christman Koch grew up in Berks County and has been published in numerous publications. She has a passion for writing and has many stories from growing up on a farm to raising children to humorous stories about her and her husband to everyday stories to season stories and more.