breaking our american hearts

kathyescobar church stuff, incarnational, jesus is cool, spiritual formation, the refuge 5 Comments

listen with the ear of your heart

this past friday night we hosted a theology camp called “the radical welcome of God: wisdom from benedictine spirituality.” two nuns from benet hill monastery shared their hearts & stories & practices with us. it was beautiful in more ways than i can count. my amazing friend & local spiritual director ellen haroutunian facilitated questions for the sisters and then we processed together and made a space for reflective time walking through 7 stations that represented the pillars of benedictine spiritualitycommunity, humility, hospitality, reverence, stewardship/partnership, integration, and discernment.  pictures are below.

they shared countless wise thoughts about inclusion, welcoming every person we meet as Christ himself, love above all things, the transforming power of community, good conflict, and humility being about bringing our most authentic self to everything we do.

during their talk they kept referring to our “american hearts” and the need for them to be transformed into monastic ones, or in my words, kingdom-of-God hearts, radically-transformed-hearts, the way-of-Jesus hearts.

to me, what they meant by american hearts is the part of us that is not only our default but also what is accepted in american culture & western contemporary christian church. these contrary-to-Jesus values are so embedded we probably don’t even know how much they are messing with our lives.  so many of our churches, systems, media, and practices perpetuate them subtly and overtly.

american hearts value:

  • self-sufficiency & individualism – i can do it alone, i’m not supposed to “need,” it’s all up to me.
  • power & success  – which often equals money, resources, position, education, stuff.
  • competition – there’s a winner & a loser, a who’s right and who’s wrong, a top & a bottom.
  • segregation – we are good at creating homogeneous groups and staying comfortable with people who think like us, believe like us, act like us. segregation leads to so many forms of violence.
  • busyness – we fill our lives with do-do-do-do-do.  we’re online & plugged in & amped up. trying to keep up often consumes us.
  • comfort & protection – not wanting to be bothered, annoyed, challenged, vulnerable, or mixed with other people not like us.

in so many ways, arrogance and pride are good ways to describe our american hearts.

the story that comes to mind in the gospels is luke 7 and Jesus’ encounter with the sinful woman in simon the pharisee’s house.  simon was full of pride; the woman was full of humility. her neediness was simon’s disdain.

i see myself in both simon & the woman.

i have both an american heart & a kingdom heart.

in my own personal summary of friday’s conversation, a kingdom heart values:

  • community & connection – relationship is the center of it all; there’s no way around needing people.  this requires true humility, which is to present our true selves to others & to accept others’ true selves.  to practice and try and fail and need grace and offer grace and stay with each other for the long haul.
  • strength in weakness – the measures of the world are not the measures of the kingdom.  we may look like losers, we will be misunderstood, we may be considered weak or crazy or even faithless. but the truth is that God’s spirit is at work in our small simple acts of vulnerability, kindness, love, mercy, grace, and presence.
  • companioning – contrary to rugged individualism and competition is what the sisters called “companioning.”  staying in for the long haul as equals, alongside each other instead of over or under, comfortable in our differences, free in our hearts.
  • silence & solitude – learning to be comfortable in the quiet, to still our hearts and tend to our souls, to discover that we are, in the words of the sisters, “children of God, loved, forgiven, and blessed.”
  • radical hospitality – welcoming others of all shapes & sizes & circumstances & perspectives, especially the other, the hurting, the outcast, the poor, the marginalized, the silenced. that’s the way of Jesus, the way of peace.  i’m in the middle of this book & it’s worth the read.
  • being uncomfortable  – diffusing power, not having all the answers, engaging in conflict, rubbing against our humanity–all of these things are what transform us into gentler, kinder, free-er, and more authentic people. this is one of the core problems with the american church & our american hearts–we do everything possible to avoid pain and discomfort when it’s the most transforming part of a real & connected life.

pride vs. humility 

self-sufficiency & individualism vs. community & connection

success vs. strength in weakness

competition vs. companioning

segregation vs. radical hospitality  

busyness vs. silence & solitude

comfort vs. discomfort

i want to say i don’t have an american heart, but i do. as much as i truly need God and my community, i don’t necessarily “want to need.” as much as i love being around other people different from me, sometimes it’s so hard i want to run for the hills. as much as i value holding a space for disagreement, sometimes i want to stand up and walk away from the conversation forever.  as much as i value quiet, i am most comfortable in the chaos. as much as i grow in the discomfort of pain, struggle and real life, i often want to never hear another hard story and only watch netflix for the rest of my life.

yeah, my american heart constantly needs to be transformed into a kingdom heart.

and it’s definitely a life-long process.

but it seems that the path toward a kingdom heart starts with listening, a lost art in american christian culture.

listening to others, listening to God, listening to our souls instead of talking, talking, talking. 

st. benedict talks about “listening with the ear of your heart” and the sisters also talked about us having “two big ears and one little mouth.”  the above image below portrays this.  oh, how i’d rather talk than listen! the place we can learn this kind of listening is in community.

if there was one big take-away from the evening with the sisters, i got this–it’s through some form of community that we are transformed. 

it’s through community that our american hearts can become kingdom ones. 

and i’ve no doubt that our families, neighborhoods, cities, churches, and, the world need more kingdom hearts and less american ones.

God, transform us from people of pride into people of humility. break our american hearts and form them into kingdom ones.


here are the stations & a few pix from our evening:

theology camp collage