the open-broken heart
* i wrote this post earlier this week but hadn’t posted it yet when i received word yesterday morning that we lost a dear refuge family member who had been struggling with a long season of not wanting to live. right now we are aching, struck by the painful realities of life. broken-hearted. and trying to hold on to God’s sustaining hope. i debated posting it this morning, but the reality is that i woke up today needing these words more than ever and if even one other person does, then i guess it’s probably worth it to share. i know we were never meant to suffer alone.
* * * * *
note: i’m on a parker palmer kick right now.
right after i posted the intra-faith dialogue post i had a whole bunch of other things i wish i had said, like this is different from ecunemical. that is another thing all together; this is about divisions within those of us who come from the same roots and have gone different directions and at this point, i think so many doubt these divides can be crossed so it’s really hard to care about and because a lot of people have had so many unsafe & ugly experiences with certain conversations, there’s no way they are going to go back for more.
but honestly, all of them swept away after a really crazy week filled with news of death & suicide attempts & all kinds of other deep pain around here.
in the real raw moments of our crazy lives, the luxury of theological rambling goes out the window.
it makes me think how the world is crying out for hope while we’re talking about theology and how much time we waste arguing over the dumbest things while the dark is caving in on people all over the place. it makes me think of what Jesus said to the pharisees, “you hypocrites…you shut the door to the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. you yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (matthew 23:13-14).
so many people are pretty darn desperate for some hope. most people don’t care about the greek meaning of the word “submit” but they sure do care about finding relief, light in the darkness, love in the emptiness, peace in the storm.
after getting news that a dear friend & lover-of-so-many-hurting-people had died, i pulled out an old handout that he had given me years ago when he facilitated our house of refuge over 4 years ago. i still remember the story he told because it was so good but i wanted to read it again. it was in a chapter called “the open broken heart” by parker palmer. he says that there are two kinds of broken hearts–one that is “an unresolved wound we carry with us for a long time, sometimes tucking it away and feeding it, sometimes trying to ‘resolve it’ by inflicting the same wound on others.”
but the other is a different way to consider what a broken heart might mean. he says, “imagine that small clenched fist of a heart ‘broken open’ into the largeness of life, into greater capacity to hold one’s own and the world’s pain and joy.”
he shares a hasidic tale where a disciple asks the rabbi, “”why does torah tell us to place these words upon our hearts?” why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts? the rabbi answers, “it is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. so we place them on top of our hearts. and there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks, and the words fall in….”
the reality of life this side of heaven is that there is extreme suffering. so much pain, so much loss, so much heartbreak, so much not-the-way-we-had-hoped-it-would-be.
life is so tender, so fragile.
yet at the same time, it is so strong. i see the incredible courage of people who keep going after such extreme loss, laughter through the tears, forgiveness after so much hurt, moving forward after huge setbacks, beauty emerging out of heaps of ashes.
divorce. death. abuse. depression. chronic pain. addiction. bankruptcy. loneliness.
to be human means we will suffer.
parker palmer says that “when we don’t know what to do with our suffering, we turn to violence.”
and we all know that violence isn’t just toward others, it is toward ourselves, too.
the most important thing is that we somehow don’t suffer alone.
we were never supposed to suffer alone.
it’s why the church is not supposed to be about singing some songs & listening-to-the-preacher-preach & getting a spiritual fix.
it’s supposed to be a place for collective suffering, collective hope.
this is why i am a nut case when it comes to “church” (remember, i use that term loosely) because our best hope in the darkness is to have others with us who have unclenched fists & open broken hearts to help hold this pain. people who don’t try to solve or fix or scripturize or try to make sense of what can’t be made sense of. people with pericardiums that work. people brave enough to welcome pain. people who can, as parker palmer says, stand in the ‘tragic gap’, the “gap between what is and what could and should be…”
i’m so thankful for those people in my life, for a God who is close the broken-hearted, for a church that does not minimize suffering and keeps turning toward hope.
God, may we be people with open-broken hearts who honor our own suffering and the suffering of others well–with faith, hope, love, and dignity.