Tag Archives: peace

Ink Blots (Part 2 of 3): The Art of Forgiving

Ink blots2

Forgive: (verb) 1. to stop feeling anger toward someone who has done something wrong 2. to stop blaming someone 3. to stop feeling anger about something 4. to stop requiring payment of money or something that is owed. Definition from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary

 

To be completely honest, I have felt so angry at someone for hurting me in some way that it very really evokes a visceral impulse of wanting to hurt them, badly. I have not acted out these impulses in any devastating manner, except to play it out in my head. In my sequence of thought, I reach for something, preferably a rock, brick or iron frying pan and hit the person repeatedly. While I daydream the scene, I can literally feel my muscles flex and tense, as adrenalin surges through my veins. There is an initial sense of release in unclenching my fists and exhaling, only after I imagine the object thrown striking my intended target and then watching the person crumple to the ground defeated. In my obsessive effort to make myself feel better (in my imagined reality of revenge), I find myself smiling at the limp person laying at my feet. I don’t consider myself a vicious victor but a justified woman, ready to turn and walk away – feeling fine. God help me!

Can we all agree that my freakish fantasy simply exposes the serious need all humanity has for wanting to feel vindicated? In the vein of full disclosure, I’ve spent a lot of time this year feeling really angry about being hurt by people who may or may not have known what they were doing. These circumstances made me definitely doubt that God knew what He was doing. During the end of this past summer, I was walking down the street, desperately attempting internally to process things. I mumbled aloud, “If only I had a stone ….” I pictured myself picking up a stone and, then, in the midst of my daydreaming, I heard Jesus say, “You who are without sin, throw the first stone” (John 8:7). I think I froze for a moment on the sidewalk, even glancing around me to see if anyone else was aware of what just happened inside me. Until then, I had not connected my primitive impulse to throw something at someone with the epic words that Jesus spoke thousands of years ago. I had conjured up throwing stones because it simply seemed like an easily retrievable hard object that could easily do damage. Obviously, I’m not the first person to think of that idea. This is an age old dilemma.

I went back to read the Biblical passage and realized a deeper truth to be grasped. In the Biblical passage, Jesus is confronted by folks who use the old mosaic law as their justifying effort to throw stones. It seems that they actually cared less about the woman caught in adultery, but that they wanted to make sure Jesus was on their side to condemn her too. It was like Jesus was looking right at me and asking me if I was without sin. And even though I’m not, I knew Jesus was asking me to forgive because of how I’ve been forgiven by Him. I took note of the verse “one by one, they walked away, beginning with the oldest” (John 8:9). Sure, there is the impulse to want pay back; but maturity quickly reframes that desire to want something else, to not cower over someone but to give them space to meet privately with Jesus. I felt so childish and ashamed of my foolish inner functioning. I can’t hide my true feelings from God. He sees and hears all that goes on inside my head; and most significantly, He knows my heart. I felt like my spirit crumpled to the ground that day in a way it never had before and I laid in a heap at the Lord’s feet. John’s gospels records that the woman was left alone with Jesus after everyone walked away. Jesus lovingly spoke to her and did not condemn her. I envisioned myself to be that woman as much as one of the crowd. In fact, the passage ends with Jesus telling the woman to walk away as well. He said “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11b).

Forgiving is a stop and go reality. It’s ironic, for sure, but also makes complete sense, depending on one’s vantage point. On one hand, it is not fair. Where is the justice in not punishing the wrong doer? Yet, it is freedom to move on/away from fixating on a person, action or situation, and to focus on the bigger picture God has created for us to envision AND act out. No doubt about it, forgiving is hard work. It is our life’s work to implement such controversial practice. We want to keep looking back at the object or our wrath and pain and reach for another object that can help inflict some sort of comparable pain to punish the transgressor, again and again. Let it be known, it was extremely difficult for Jesus to forgive. It was His life’s work and it cost Him His life. He endured the cross as payment for our transgressions that would have required us to be put to death. He died in our place; because He wanted to restore humanity to be something capable of living beyond frantic impulses. He wanted to make us capable of loving, despite what’s been done.

He is our example and intercessor. When I want to throw stones, He intercedes to turn my attention towards something better. Likewise, when I feel like stones threaten to crush my self-concept, He intercedes to prove who He is. God is love. In forgiving us, God does not deny our wrong doings, or the serious consequences that can ensue; His love gives us the capacity to stop repeating the wrong doings and stop obsessing about the wrong that has been done. The anger and hurt I harbor in my heart takes up space that God so earnestly wants to replace with His joy. There has to be an exchange. The more I can forgive (and accept that I’m forgiven), the more joy will live inside me. Maybe this seems ridiculous to you as you read this. But I have experienced a new kind of liberating grace this year that compels me to see God for who He really is – capable of forgiving. This perception then allows me to see myself and others as God sees all of us – capable of being forgiven. I think forgiving is the hardest thing to do in anyone’s life; but I think I’m on the path towards maturing, developing a more focused response to let go of my anger and pain in order to embrace the joy God wants so much to give me…so I can in turn pass along that joy to others who are worn out from holding so tightly onto anger and hurt too.

 

Resources:

  1. Artwork in process; Sketch #2 by Jamie Wasson 2014
  2. Restorative Justice
  3. Prodigal God by Tim Keller
  4. The Forgiving Life: A pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating A Legacy of Love by Robert Enright

 

 

 

Can You Hear It?

In the Woods

One Lenten season a few years back, I decided to give up noise. Yes, that’s right – noise. This may seem like a ridiculous sacrifice during such a sacred journey. In some ways, it was. I guess it all stemmed from the feeling that the world around me was too dissident and was distracting me from hearing the Spirit within me. So I pledged during Lent to take fifteen minutes a day, plug my ears and sit quietly and pay attention to my interior workings. The honest truth is that this was much harder than I ever expected. Living at that time amid an urban neighborhood with tightly packed houses and shops and many narrow streets, the sounds of city life did not disappear completely. Even with my ears plugged while I sat on my bed, I could still hear the muffled tones of sirens, the rev of a bus engine or motorcycle, a dog barking or whatever other city antics continued to get my attention. My meditative attempts to reflect on what the Spirit within me was trying to tell me seemed to always be redirected to what the world was declaring all around me. My Lenten practice quickly became a dreaded challenge rather than an encouraging opportunity to go deeper with Christ. I found myself resenting not only the sounds of the world around me but the chatter in my own head space too. Why wasn’t I able to shut out the noise? Then I realized, maybe I’m not supposed to. Contemplative prayer is a progressive practice that involves many layers of listening and being quiet. I didn’t have to categorize “hearing” into all or nothing terms. In fact, there seems to be something profound in hearing the message behind the sounds all around me as well as in me

What I hear (or allow myself to hear) can be directly connected to what I understand or perceive is happening around me and in me. Mis-hearing something/someone certainly impacts perception and has mis-hap ramifications. As I sit and type this, the sounds around me prove what season it is and how the seasons are changing. Whether I want them to or not, they are. Am I willing to acknowledge how life changes and will I celebrate the new stage that is presenting itself to me for a purposeful effect? Yes, as I type this and pause to form my next thought, I can hear the sound of geese flying together, signifying that migration is occurring. I can hear the sound of dried leaves scooting across the ground; and I can hear the scraping sound of a rake pulling the fallen leaves into a pile somewhere. I can hear the sound of the mail truck parking, the side door opening and the postal worker readying to make the rounds to deliver today’s mail. These sounds are all about accepting the present of what is now as well as preparation for what is to come next. I can’t ignore these sounds if I want to understand what life is about.

Listening is about acknowledging a relationship is real – is really happening. Shutting out the sounds from the world around me rejects that I have any relationship with the space where God has placed me. The Spirit within me speaks to me to listen to what is going on in the world, so I can respond accordingly – according to the relevance of what Jesus would say or do. If I ignore the reality of what is happening in the world, I miss out on the reality of being Jesus. It can start simply by paying attention to what I hear right here, right now and praising and/or praying in response to what I hear. Jesus talked a lot about listening while He was here on earth. His journey to the cross and out of the tomb was God’s response to the world’s plea for redemption. Jesus now prompts us to pay attention to the seasonal sounds of people and places – in order to respond with timely care and to keep an ear out for when He will return to earth again. I’m listening. I’m asking the Spirit to help me interpret what I hear. It is important to take time to sit still and listen as much as it is imperative to get up and speak. There are seasons to our day, week, year etc., calling us to do this in turn. As long as the world keeps turning, there will always be noise. And as long as I keep asking the Spirit to help me listen, I’ll be able to discern the sounds, discern the seasons. I’m not advocating for hyper-vigilance in this reflection – for such over-sensitivity to sounds has its own message to be discerned and responded to with care and comfort. Ears that experience extended and extreme decibel stimulation can become disabled and unable to listen accurately for the long haul. I’m referring to acutely listening to the outward and inward voices that seek to gain our allegiance and choosing to predominately listen to the voice that proclaims life. Jesus came to bring harmony to the dissident world – starting in my own heart. The multi-dimensional relationships that exist within me and around me are all connected and can become a competing and cumbersome chatterbox to deal with, if I don’t allow the Spirit/Jesus to be the filter through which I make sense of what I hear.

References:

  1. In the woods; photo by Jamie Wasson 2014
  2. Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila
  3. On Poetry by T. S. Eliot

It’s Not Fair

Not Fair

“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I don’t think it’s possible for any kid to make it through childhood and adolescence without voicing, at least once, the infamous assessment of life: “It’s not fair”. These three little words sum up so much. Saying this seems to be a rite of passage or developmental milestone that proves an accurate awareness has taken place of what the world is like, what we are like. This declaration of injustice seems to be further articulated by asking questions that begin with “Why?” For the average youngster, it may be as benign as asking “Why is his piece of cake bigger than mine,” or “Why can’t I stay up later?” And at some point for the conscious child, pouty faces and stomping feet accompany the experience of realizing how life is filled with disappointments and disenfranchised existence. As we grow up, we focus our attention on more intense areas of suffering and inequalities. Our outbursts of emotion can also become more intense. We wage wars to fight what’s not fair and to right the wrongs that we observe have occurred for ourselves and/or others. Is that the best way to respond?

Since I can remember, my dad has always offered the same response to my whiny utterances of what felt unfair. He’d say something like, “Not fair? Jesus died for our sins. That’s not fair”. Huh? As a kid, I would wonder what Jesus’ death had to do with me not getting more cake or not getting to stay up later. Yet, the profound simplicity of the statement “Jesus died for our sins” had its intended impact and instilled in me as a wee lass that my life is abundantly blessed because of the mere fact that Jesus died for our sins. Who cares that I didn’t get extra cake or an extended bedtime – I didn’t get death for not following all the rules all the time! The rules (or boundaries) God put in place for life were for our benefit to protect us from what is really not fair. The worst kind of injustice was resolved on the cross; and Christ’s resurrection empowers us to help others who are overwhelmed by the injustice that sin has wrought in the world.  God’s victorious gift of grace has often quieted my restless spirit and enabled me to willingly share my blessings with others, not just materially but also mindfully. Sure, in my early years, there were plenty rolled eyes at my dad, slammed doors and huff and puff mumblings about how mean my parents were. Though, as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to an increasingly deeper appreciation of this redemptive reality – Jesus died for my sins.

The implications of this kind of redemption, knowing that Jesus died for our sins, mean all of us possess an equal existence of needing grace. When Jesus preached about the golden rule while he walked this earth, he spoke to the core of his own mission – love others the way you would want to be loved, the way you have been loved, despite whatever you’ve done or have not done to deserve it. Can I love someone even if it is unfair? More specifically, can I love life even when I don’t get what I want? It is fair to say that there is much injustice in the world, in each other’s lives, that requires us to at some point let go of what is comfortable or coveted so that the discomfort and debt of others can be relieved – to more accurately reflect the shared value we all have. This is what it means to love as Christ loved us. Easier said than done though. But, the more I can comprehend the grace God has given to me, the more I am capable to extend it to others. I wonder what the world would be like if we all lived this way – what kinds of suffering would be eradicated; what hunger would be satisfied; what wars would cease? Alas, life is filled with injustice everywhere I look – this merely means there are always opportunities for me to love. I have no excuse – I only have grace to rely on to work in me and through me to prove how we are equally and eternally loved by God.

References:

  1. It’s not fair; pen and ink drawing by Jamie Wasson 1990
  2. The Cost of Discipleship; Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  3. The Jesus I Never Knew; Phillip Yancey

Red Light, Green Light

Reposted from The Hannah More Project

Red Light Green Light

Vivian was sixteen when she ran away from home. She was born into a family where domestic and community chaos was a daily occurrence. Physical and sexual abuse, drugs and alcohol and violence of the seemingly survival kind was a way of life that surrounded her day and night. Her direct exposure to and experience of these factors were not overlooked by the Department of Human Services; she was placed in foster care at an early age. She moved from foster home to foster home, as space and support shifted to address her special needs of long term care and post-traumatic healing. However, the start and stop of each new foster home, each new relationship, only added to her confusion of what a healthy life can look like. At thirteen she moved into a foster home with caregivers who wanted to become her “forever” family. They adopted her. Forever is a long time though, and often is inconceivable to children like Vivian. The pleasures of sex are quick, and often are the only familiar affection that children like Vivian are acquainted with.

During her early teens, Vivian became sexually promiscuous and soon discovered that she could make money from such activity. She no longer had to rely on her “parents” to provide for her, or wait for them to make her happy. She could provide and get something that had instantaneous returns – physical, emotional and material gain. She ran away from home and moved into a new reality of prostitution and sex entertainment. She was under-aged to be legally involved in such a multi-billion dollar industry; so she lied about her age; and even if her “business supervisors” did know, they overlooked this fact because she brought them equally worthwhile returns on their investment too. Vivian’s vulnerability, due to her age and longing to be loved, was easily exploited, and she found herself in a world very similar to the one she was born into. I knew Vivian during this tumultuous time. She is a real person who represents so many children with stories not unlike her own. This story occurs every day in America, in metropolitan areas as well as suburban and rural domains. It is hard to write about Vivian’s story without a nauseated feeling in my gut. I wish I could write that she found her way back to her adoptive home and found healing in the arms of her adoptive parents for all her years of abandonment and abuse, but I can’t. I can say that something inside her was trying to heal and did know what healthy love looks like, because she did return to her adoptive home a year later. She found sanctuary and stability there that was lacking in her career choice and lifestyle. Her adoptive parents welcomed her home, but her stay was short lived. The seduction of instant gratification lured her back into the sex industry. The last I knew, she called home from time to time and came home periodically seeking respite. Her parents continue to welcome her back and grieve when she leaves – they still want to be her forever family. Forever, indeed, is a long time. So, that means her story is not over. There is always hope.

It’s been said that prostitution is the oldest profession. But according to the Bible, this is not true. Originally, God had another occupation in mind. According to Genesis, God made humanity and declared how their living would be made (Genesis 1:26 – 31). God created a world in which humanity would oversee the agriculture and well-being of society. Farming and family were the combined profession (of faith) that first existed in the world, established as an effort to reflect God’s creative genius and generosity. Dr. Carol Kaminsky, an Old Testament scholar, details how God created humanity to, in turn, create good things from and throughout the earth. In fact, Kaminsky highlights that God’s creation of humanity itself would, in turn, create generations of humanity to carry on the legacy. Kaminksy further underscores how God saw His work of humanity and His plan for humanity’s work and said it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31a). Many generations later, as I observe the world, I find it hard to say things are good, let alone very good. What went wrong? In Paul David Tripp’s book, Sex and Money, he explores how humanity has veered far from the original intent God had in mind when He created us and our capacity for intimacy and expectation of gain. Tripp discusses how sex and money, as created things, were never intended to truly satisfy us – the Creator, Himself, wanted that role. Humanity’s choice to reattribute the role of God’s benevolent supremacy and satisfying love for us to be mimicked by creation has proved its ramifications ever since, not only exemplified in Vivian’s story but in all of our stories. This is why Jesus came – to save us from ourselves, so we can start over and start living and loving as God intended. God’s grace and mercy keeps telling the story of redemption. The story is not over. There is still hope.

As a Christ follower, I am called to look, not simply around me to see where things are not good and ask for God’s help to advocate for and implement change, but I am also called to look into my own heart to see where I have bought into the misgivings of created things to satisfy me in the way only God was meant to. When it comes to sex and money, how have I chosen to dress provocatively in hopes of being “seen” by another for some self-exalted purpose? How have I contributed to the supply and demand for sexualized entertainment that perpetuates an ever-growing industry and negatively affects children like Vivian?  From that starting point, I can turn back and look at God to direct my steps to walk with people like Vivian, in an enduring and redemptive way – the same way God wants to walk with and love me, forever.

References:

  1. Traffic light: Google image
  2. 24 Hour Hotline for National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: 1-800-THE-LOST
  3. Stop human trafficking: Dining for Dignity
  4. CASKET EMPTY; Dr. Carol Kaminsky
  5. Sex and Money by Paul David Tripp

I do and I will

My Family1984

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”  Matthew 7:24 – 25

This week my parents celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary. They still hold hands when they walk together, and when they sit on the couch to watch TV. They still pray together while sitting at the breakfast table and after dinner, pretty much every day. They are still googly gaga in-love, not only with each other but with Jesus – to whom they credit their happily ever after status. They see love as a choice as much as a command. “Love God and love the people God puts in your life” (Matthew 22:37 – 39) has been the baseline of what I was taught and how I have chosen to live, whether I’m married or not. Though, love seems most tested and best lived out within the walls of a marriage and a family. My parents’ marriage and my family experience has been an amazing story of love…and it is still being told.

I grew up in a house that my dad built, by hand and heavy machinery. Our house was situated on a high hill that was comprised of almost solid rock. Living atop such a firm foundation helped boost feelings of safety and serenity, especially during storms. Some of my most cherished memories growing up was during a snow storm. Our house had a big picture window that offered a panoramic view of the neighborhood. Often, my family (my parents, myself, my younger and older brother) would gather by the window and simply watch it snow. There were times we lost electricity and heat; but then the portable kerosene heater was set up in the middle of the room. A tea kettle was then routinely placed on top of the portable heater, ready to whistle. The winter wind could howl all it wanted. I felt safe; and there was a palpable comfort in having my family near me. Our collective seclusion inside our humble home made us relate to one another in positive ways that we may otherwise have not. This sense of peace has become a significant solace throughout my life. It’s not just a memory. It was a privilege that has become a responsibility.

I am keenly aware that this is not every family’s experience. But it was mine. Let me be clear, my family is not perfect or even picturesque. I am fairly certain, among my parents, myself and my siblings, we have faced our unfair share of just about every difficult aspect of life. We can also easily point out each other’s faults, and at times we do (for better or for worse); but at the end of the day, we are a functional family – functioning according to faith, hope and love. Yep, we believe that the way we interact with and react to one another impacts both the unity of our family and our life pursuits. We collectively choose to love each other the way Jesus loves us – always.  My sense of security and resilience that was established in that house built on a foundation of rock became a tangible and symbolic touchstone for me to endure the storms of life. Because of this, my life’s mission is to be a lighthouse to others seeking a safe haven. I know such a place exists. I know how to build them, too. They can be hard to find and can take time to construct, especially in the darkness of life’s journey – but that means any little bit of light and effort can prove significant to see one’s way and experience respite. It is well worth the search and perseverance.

Growing up in a household that was built on a firm foundation of faith (i.e. believing God exists, is good and loves us more than we could ever imagine) was an essential part of how my parents constructed their marriage and our family. I was encouraged to pray, not as a ritual of holy living, but as a relational method of understanding what life is about. I was taught I could openly bring all my doubts and fears hope and plans to God – and He actually was listening to me and had important things to say to me as well. I learned at an early age that the Bible is not a boring book of rules, but a gracious guide for how to experience peace – within myself and with every relationship I encounter. My parents’ relationship with one another exemplified what it is to honestly communicate with grace and kindness and, at times, to unconditionally serve others without words. If you ask them what makes their marriage work so well, they will tell you – it’s about loving God first and loving each other the way God loves us. They will tell you how life is all about relationships and selflessly serving others. They will tell you that it is hard; but they will tell you that it is harder not to.

I do believe every day offers us opportunities to experience and express love. For some, it is less familiar to know how and where to start. And for some reason, I was born into a family where practical demonstrations of love were a daily occurrence. How we talked to each other, who we invited into our home, what we did with our time, where we invested our money and energy revolved around proving that love (Jesus) is the cornerstone that upholds the reality that the same grace be extended to everyone – no matter what’s happened. This legacy has served me well and has compelled me to pursue the professional work I do. If we are honest about life, we all have experienced moments of defeat – unable to keep fighting, keep hoping for something better. We need someone to fight with us, for us. Psalm 23 is filled from beginning to end with how God provides victorious support. As a Jesus follower and child of God, I believe He does this for me and, likewise, calls me to do the same for others. Sure, I have made a career of helping people find rest, healing, reassurance that they are not alone in the dark, that they can have courage and find sustenance to keep going; but the living I have chosen to make was cultivated a long time ago in a home built by my parents. They insist that love (the Lord) holds the blueprints and utilizes whomever is willing to help be part of building an eternal kingdom. All are welcomed to be part of God’s family!

References:

1.      The People I Love; drawing by Jamie Wasson 1984 (age 7)

2.      Instruments in the Hands of the Redeemer by Paul Tripp

3.      George Mueller by Faith Bailey (An Orphanage Built by Prayer)

The Rest of Our Life

Blossom2

“He’s got rest for the weary, peace for the confused, renewal for all the hearts that have been bruised. He’s got directions for the lost, faith for unbelief. He’s got every little thing you need.”  Greg and Rebecca Sparks

I was with a dear friend many moons ago, discussing a very difficult transition period she was going through at the time. She was saying goodbye to a long and challenging season of her life, trying to find hope to pursue something else (something healthier). I empathized with her heartache. She commented to me, “I just wish I knew what the rest of my life looked like.” We sat in silence for a few moments – her words resonated with me in a way that I did not expect. I repeated her hopeful words in my head, as my own hope too, “I wish I knew…the rest”. Then I said aloud to her, “Yes, we need to know what The Rest looks like”. At first, she didn’t understand my juxtaposition of her plea; but as we dialogued, we both soon came to a deeper place of peace in considering what “rest” really means.

The Rest of our life can certainly mean “the remainder or what’s next”. But if you read Psalm 23 from beginning to end, there is an ever present sense of being throughout the poetic text. I’d like to think that Psalm 23 (probably the most quoted psalm during significant and seminal moments) offers us the best summary of what The Rest of our life can look like. The reality of rest can also refer to “being restored, recovering strength, ceasing to work”. How often do we allow ourselves to reference “the rest of our life” in this way? How often do we allow the Lord to lead us – instead of our own attempts to rush ahead or even run back to what was before now. We can, in our own strength and stubbornness, try so hard to make things turn out the way we want them to. The first line of the epic psalm details, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). From the get-go, there is a sense of contentment and peace because of another’s provision. The psalmist, David, defines line after line of how God’s guidance and presence is with him through every season of life. Whatever occurs throughout life, David describes how God provides opportunities to rest, to be refreshed, to be strengthened, encouraged and to stop trying so hard. There is something so liberating in living in such reality – The Rest of my life can be found here and now. During any moment of a hectic or difficult day, I can find rest; I can have peace about where I am, who I am. I can take a deep breath (or two or three) and smile.

David ends his psalm by emphatically declaring “Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life…forever” (Psalm 23:6). The essence of rest is meant to be good. Yet, sometimes we find ourselves in a compromised place, as the result of our own mis-steps; we need a time out to regroup. That is when rest mercifully redirects us to find our footing again. As I so often declare, we are alive and loved and not alone…because the Lord is our Shepherd. What more do we want? The rest of life’s journey is best discovered walking along side of Jesus.

References:

  1. Blossom #2; fresco finger painting by Jamie Wasson 2012
  2. Res by Greg and Rebecca Sparks
  3. Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen

Blood, Sweat and Tears (Part 1)

“Reach out your hand if your cup be empty. If your cup be full may it be again. Let it be known there is a fountain that was not made by the hands of men. There is a road, no simple highway. Between the dawn and the dark of night, and if you go no one may follow. That path is for your steps alone.”  The Grateful Dead

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has a one-of-a-kind exhibit that offers a larger than life model of the heart. It’s one of my favorite things at the museum – it invites you to walk through the whole heart, experiencing the inner workings of how blood flows. There are narrow steps that lead you up and down and all around through atriums and ventricles to playfully act out how blood is oxygenated and pumped in and out of the heart to the rest of the body. “The Giant Heart” is one of the features in the vascular exhibit, which is its own grand gallery in the museum. It’s like a romper room of real deal cardio-activities. You can crawl through arteries, or see how blocked arteries do, in fact, inhibit passage because they are filled with various amounts of plaque. It’s quite sobering. You can also step on a giant scale attached to a giant flask that fills with red liquid to display, based on weight, how much blood is coursing through your veins. It’s all so mesmerizing. Blood is a remarkable thing. I’ve stood on that scale more than a few times over the years and watched the flask fill up, topping off at about four and a half liters or so;  and I’ve realized I have little clue about what is really going on inside me at any given moment.

There’s a whole metropolis and countryside underneath my skin’s surface. All sorts of things are moving and grooving along highways, byways and rural roads; and I’m hardly aware of it. My heart is always at work, ensuring vitality from my head to my toes. It occurs involuntarily. It has to. It’s too important for me to be consciously in charge of it. I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else. There are times when I do (and need to) become conscious of my heart’s activity. During physical and/or situational stressors, my heart can start racing or pounding the pavement at an unsustainable or arrhythmic pace. I need to voluntarily respond with mindful repose (and possible cardiac consultation) to resume cruise control. My body’s vascular system has miraculous ways of not only clueing me in to step up and take action, but also calming me down to reconsider how to best continue the journey. Deep breaths are the first steps to refuel my heart with fresh perspective to carry on. My lungs assist my heart to do this; however, there are moments when I must metaphorically reach for the oxygen mask dangling in front of me to restore body and soul homeostasis. It’s like there’s this cardio-community inside me (and around me) that is always cheering me on, whether I’m aware of it or not. “Take heart” is more than a cliché to me. It implies that there is a force inside me (around me) that keeps me going, despite how stuck or shut down I feel. Am I willing to accept this reality? How consciously connected I am with this life force inside me (surrounding me) directly influences how intentionally grateful I am to be alive and to cheer others on to love their life as well. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament summed it up similarly in this way:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

A professor in grad school once challenged my class to consider why women seem most attuned and willing to acknowledge heart issues. We speculated about a mother’s need to provide nurturing support for her children. “Think more primitively”, he said. We discussed aspects of birth, then pregnancy and still he shook his head, noting not all women experience such things. He provocatively prompted us to consider every woman’s forced relationship with herself every month. Ironically, a man helped me understand how menstruation is a primitive process that involuntarily volunteers me to attentively and compassionately relate to life. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally, as a woman, I have to consciously contend with waiting, timing, discomfort, catharsis, clean-up and resolution. I don’t mean to be crass in discussing this, but to underscore how life is constantly proving itself to be something that is capable of enduring, overcoming and thriving throughout the journey. Men are not excluded from connecting to life with compassionate notions – although this may be one of the notable reasons why God provided Adam a “suitable helpmate” in designing Eve (Genesis 2:18). Eve was formed from Adam’s rib, a bone closest to the heart (Genesis 2:21). There is a heart-to-heart connection among all of us. If we go deep enough, we will find it. Our internal and external functions do not always run smoothly and, at times, are more dysfunctional than we’d like to admit or deal with. We need help. I recently worked with a birth client who lost a large amount of blood during delivery that caused her blood pressure and platelets to drop to dangerous levels. She received a transfusion of one and a half pints of blood, which help a bit; but soon after that intervention, another transfusion was required to ensure healthy equilibrium. She received an additional two pints, which significantly stabilized her status. The Red Cross diligently facilitates blood drives to ready reserves for just such purposes. Hmmm, I know another cross that provided a much needed soul transfusion to ensure that we could keep living and loving.

For eons, the symbolic relevance of the heart has signified an emotional and/or spiritual reality that exists inside us and between us. The true essence of a person has often been believed to dwell in a person’s heart. When renown Scottish medical missionary, Dr. David Livingstone, died in 1873 in Africa, the African nationals buried his heart there before sending his body back to Britain for formal burial. Dr. Livingstone had dedicated his life to serve the African people. They were keenly aware of how much he loved them, so they wanted to keep his heart near them. This may seem gruesome, but it is a tangible tale of how we experience life, specifically love. Whether we will it or not, our hearts are designed to perpetuate life and even love. Our hearts are as scientific as they are sacred. They are part of an essential network, inside and out, that motivates us onward to keep going and even enjoy the ride. And we do not trek this journey alone. I find comfort in being part of this collective effort.

 

References:

  1. The Bloodmobile by They Might Be Giants (video featured at the Franklin Institute)
  2. Ripple by The Grateful Dead
  3. Visit the Franklin Institute Science Museum
  4. Human Biology by Starr & McMillan
  5. Lost Women of the Bible by Carolyn Custis-James
  6. How to donate blood
  7. History of Dr. David Livingstone