I read an article not long ago that captured my attention and hasn’t let go. It was written by a pastor frustrated by the condition of his parishioners. Crying out to God he said, “Lord, why won’t they listen to me?”
God’s answer came swift and sure. “Because you’re not speaking the language of the heart.”
Those five words branded themselves on my soul. The language of the heart.
It was one of those moments that become freeze-framed in time. Like the morning of April 19, 1995 when I clung to the tall carved poster of my bed as my house rocked from the bombing of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. I still recall the discordant sound of clanging chimes from the grandfather clock.
Or years before when I stood in the science lab holding a glass beaker as the principle announced that President Kennedy had been assassinated.
It was one of those moments when everything in life fades into the background except one inalienable truth.
…our president has been murdered
…Oklahoma City has been bombed
…the heart has a language
I’ve taken that truth about the heart having a language of its own and fidgeted with it like a Rubik cube in my mind. Pondering it upside down and backwards.
What is the language of the heart?
What does it sound like?
How do we tap into it?
If the heart has a language, there must be other languages that we write without conscious thought. For instance, the language of the mind. I’d had experience with that one. Following a 20-year career in nursing, I’d written for the American Journal of Nursing.
Science and academia have a language of its own. It involves a lot of dry, dusty facts. Scientific equations. Study outcomes. Statistical information. This style of writing is designed to address the mind. As a rule, it doesn’t trigger emotion.
I believe the language of the heart is a style of writing that transcends science and academia. Whether its fiction or nonfiction, it engages the emotions.
The secret to engaging the reader’s emotion is to involve the senses. My editors at Guideposts call this sensual writing. Note that I didn’t say sexual. Sensual writing is the kind that touches all the senses: sight, sound, smell, hearing and touch.
This kind of writing takes the reader out of the mind and makes them step into the scene. She smells the stew bubbling on the stove and the crusty cornbread baking in the oven.
She sees the first beams of sunrise as they are refracted in shades of silver on ice-covered branches overhead.
The reader tastes the bitter brew of burnt coffee too long on the stove.
The reader listens to the mind-numbing drip of the faucet that gets louder in the long sleepless hours before dawn. Hearing the squeak of old wooden floors, she feels chills ripple up her spine like the legs of a spider.
The language of the heart beacons the reader like a lover. It pulls them out of their head and into a world they’ve never known. It’s more than a story to be dissected like a frog in biology lab. It’s an experience to live.