Keeping a Princess Heart In a Fairytale World Like Ours

A friend of mine informed me recently that she was captivated by a book whose title alone I find captivating in itself:

Keeping a Princess Heart in a Not So Fairy Tale World (Nicole Johnson, 2003). I know little else about the book except its premise, namely, that since God is a king, all his daughters are princesses. Would that more and more women could understand this: “God counts the tears of women.”

I tried to persuade my local library to order a copy but was rebuffed on the grounds that it had received “mixed reviews.” I was left wondering whether the library would have purchased a copy if it had received nothing but negative reviews. The Bible, of course, has received mixed reviews.

While I am fascinated by the book's title, I am afraid that I would have to give even it a “mixed review.” Every woman does have a “princess heart.” This much is true and needs to be publicized, promoted and popularized as much as possible.

But the world of fairy tales is not “fairy tale safe” but a very dangerous place, very much like our own, filled with dangers, demons and dragons of every description.

And so it is with the human heart. Consider these words of the Pseudo-Macarius: “The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasure of grace — all things are there.”

Life, whether in reality or in the world of fairy tales, is a dramatic warfare between good and evil, and its battlefield is the human heart. A woman will not retain her princess heart if she has no appetite for the dramatic and simply conforms to the world.

Sociologists have been complaining for some time, now, that life in America has stultified the moral imagination and atrophied the heart, reducing it to a mere wispy haze of feel-good sentimentality.

“Our age,” writes John Schaar, “has silently but massively resolved against the conceptions of love which dazzled the Western imagination … for centuries. We have ended both the epic of Christian love and the dream of romantic love that succeeded it. We have chosen sympathy-love over the stern imperatives of Christian love, and we have chosen sentimental love over the agony of romantic love.”

Philip Slater finds that in modern suburban America, “life is muted, experience filtered, emotion anesthetized.”

We no longer speak of knights slaying dragons or troubadours singing praises to ideal womanhood. We have replaced the gallantry of the heart with a jaded appetite for pleasure and possessions. The “princess” is now an indistinguishable part of mass society.

The “heart,” in its figurative sense, as Aelred Watkin tells us in The Heart of the World, refers to “the innermost recesses of the human spirit.” It is our capacity as persons to know and love the innermost personality of another. In order to achieve better heart-to-heart relationships, we must purge ourselves of whatever demons there are that dwell in our own hearts. At the same time, such heart-to-heart relationships tend to purify and protect the heart of the other. The man who behaves in a princely manner safeguards the princess heart of his beloved.

The primary model for the heart-to-heart relationship appears in the Old Testament. We read in Samuel (13:14): “The Lord hath sought him a man according to his own heart”; and in Jeremiah (31:33): “I will write it in their heart, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The word “heart” (leb and lebab in Hebrew) is the most important and most frequently used term in Old Testament anthropology, occurring at least 858 times. The original heart-to-heart relationship, then, is between God and man.

When St. Augustine said, “Things are at home when they are in place, and the place for the human heart is the heart of God,” he was echoing this Old Testament model while emphasizing the importance of “belonging,” “being in place,” “being at home.” In our world of discontinuity, our hearts cry out for continuity and the proper place for the human heart, that special place where it feels at home. And that place is the heart of God.

The heart of God, therefore, answers the searing questions: “Where do I belong?” “Where do I fit in?” “Where should I be?”

“We look to the heart,” Augustine added, “in order to discover Him” (Redeamus ad cor, ut inveniamus Eum).

A princess will “keep” her princess heart, that is, protect it in its proper place so that it can flourish, when she places it in the Divine Heart.

I do not suppose that Nicole Johnson has any better wisdom to offer her female readers than what has already been written by St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein): “The inmost formative principle of the feminine is the love that springs from the Divine Heart. A woman will live by this principle if she closely joins herself to the Divine Heart in a Eucharistic and liturgical life.”

Dr. Donald DeMarco is adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut