Copyright: Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany,
Heart, opened longitudinally.

Not long ago my doctor showed me the latest x-rays of my heart.

There were so many wire leads, stents and twist-ties in my chest I could barely make the thing out. My heart looked like the heart of R2D2, or the Tin Man from the "Wizard of Oz."

It was hardly a "precious and chosen vessel," to borrow a line from the Book of Mormon.

It was a heart only a Transformer could be proud of.

If anybody wants it when I'm gone, it's yours for the asking.

In short, over the past 60 years, I have not taken especially good care of my heart. It has become clogged and sluggish.

The heart's job is to send fresh blood from one place inside of me to another. And I've hindered its work.

It makes me wonder if I sometimes do the same with my spirit.

Have I let my soul get corroded or clogged with impurity to the point I'm not an effective conduit, a worthy "vessel" that God can use to send the spirit into the lives of others?

The Bible says we are "earthen vessels." When I hear that, I picture a big clay jar sitting on the ground.

But the word "vessel" doesn't mean "container." A vessel is about transportation. You use a vessel to transport things from one place to another — as in "blood vessels" and "ocean vessels." They exist to carry something to its destination. They are there to transfer something.

All those ships and barges in the scriptures — all those vessels — can be viewed as symbols for the way we human beings are supposed to carry precious cargo (the Spirit) from one place to another.

"God has said that the inward vessel shall be cleansed first," Alma says, "and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also."

It's why we avoid tobacco, alcohol and other things — to cleanse the outer vessel.

We steer clear of jealousy, greed, envy, hatred and other sins to cleanse the inner vessel.

We get clean — not so we can be pristine, little shrines filled with holiness, but so we can better serve as healthy conduits — vessels — for the spirit God sends out into the world through us to others.

We follow a health code, not to live longer, but to gain more time on earth to push the work along.

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We keep our hearts and minds free of contamination so we don't slow the flow of the spirit as it moves through us and into the lives of others.

It took open heart surgery, a couple of stents, a defibrillator and more than one trip to the emergency room before I finally learned that lesson.

Like the distracted donkey, some of us need God to bash us between the eyes with a two-by-four to get our attention before he can put us to work.

Jerry Johnston is a former Deseret News columnist. "New Harmony" appears weekly in Mormon Times.