Rend your heart
Return to the Lord
The words of Joel are clear, they are a call to action
It is not God who is to rend our hearts but us.
We are to break open our hearts, we are to turn more fully to God. We are to turn away from anything or anyone that keeps our heart distracted from God so that we can more truly, as the psalmist proclaims,
bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
We are to render our hearts so that there is room to cultivate a purity of heart. Laura Swan, author of the Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, lives and stories of Early Christian Women, writes about purity of heart.
It is a mature mindfulness, a grounded sensitivity, and a keen attention to one’s inner world as well as to the world in which one journeys. She goes on to write of intentionally letting go of all that keeps us from the single minded pursuit of God: feelings and thoughts that bind us, cravings and addictions that diminish our sense of worth, and attachments to self-imposed perfectionism.
Maybe for some this is easy, to rend our hearts but I struggle with it. Why is it so hard to open our hearts to God? What keeps me from doing it?
Part of me is fearful that if I open my heart I might find out I don’t really like all that is in my heart, so shame keeps my heart zipped up.
Another is I secretly like what is in my heart. The thought of God taking away my judging of others or my slothful habits, well, I like them too much to let go of them.
Then there is the suspension that God might ask too much of me. If I rend my heart and return to God, God just might ask me to do something that I just don’t want to do.
I don’t want to go to a place with lots of creepy crawly things to be a missionary. I don’t want to give up my earthly wealth or creature comforts. I don’t want to be uncomfortable. I want to be safe.
I like the world I have created and while my heart is certainly flawed, the risk of God working more fully in it might mean giving up what I don’t want to.
All of my reasons are grounded in one thing.
Recently David and I saw a play, Souvenirs, at the Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay. It was a thought provoking play with great humor. The story line is based on the real life story of a wealthy woman, Florence Foster Jenkins, who could not sing but gave sold out recitals including one at Carnegie Hall, where people lined up for blocks hoping to get a turned in ticket. The money she made went to her favorite charities.
The story is told from the perspective of her pianist, Cosmé McMoon. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for the person playing the woman to sing all over the place against the piano accompaniment, but she did.
So what was thought provoking?
The pianist at one point wondered if the woman was mad, unable to see she was silly, foolish, that the tears flowing in the audience were not from being moved by her singing but by laughter.
Then he thought, perhaps she was very smart, playing the foolish woman who could not sing, entertaining folks, getting them to pay $2.40 for a seat all to help her favorite charities.
But then he went further to reflect on that no matter her reason she did not let fear of any kind keep her from living her passion, her dream. She was aware of her critics, but never let them stand in her way: “People may say I can’t sing,” she said, “but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.” She chose to follow her heart, the “music in her mind”, and do so with great certainty, joy, and enthusiasm.
And as he pondered this, Cosme wondered why his fear or insecurity kept him from living out his gifts, his passions and dreams. Why did he let the possibility of being ridiculed or ignored by people keep him from living his life fully?
As he talked it hit me that I let uncertainty, I let fear keep me from doing in my life. I found myself wondering,
“How do they keep me from sharing my gifts and talents?
How do I embrace them rather than the joy and enthusiasm?”
It is easy to listen to the voices of others, even the voice of the evil one, and then let doubt prevail. After all, what would people say or think? It is harder to embrace the “music in our minds.” To live fully the life God offers each of us.
Today, as the Season of Epiphany, a season focused on light, the light of Christ, has come to an end, I am reminded of scripture that admonishes those of us who are Christians, to not hide our light under the basket. Rather we are to let the light of Christ shine forth through our lives lived faithfully, purposefully, passionately. We are to take the gifts we have been given and use them to let God’s love shine forth. Years ago, a priest challenged me to stop hiding the light God had given me, the gifts, the energy, and the passion. I, like the pianist, was uncertain I had anything of worth to offer. I listened to the voice of the evil that said, “other might ridicule me or even worse, not even see the gifts.”
Fear, fear is the zipper on my heart. It quickly closes my heart and in doing so zipping God out or allowing very little room for God. It closes down so that there is little courage to bless the Lord with every breath. And over time it seals my heart so that faith cannot breathe, so that faith struggles to burn in my heart.
The Gospel reading from Matthew reminds us that where our treasure is will be our heart. We often hear that as where we put our money, our wealth, our time or our talent.
But then I thought, if the zipper on my heart is fear, what does that say about what I treasure? That was simple to name, I treasure safety and freedom from worry. Never mind others, while it would be nice for others to feel safety and freedom from worry, if I am brutally honest, it is about me. My zipper is meant to keep me safe and living a life free from worry.
And in putting my treasure there, it is hard for me to unzip that zipper of fear so that I can rend my heart. So that I can live more fully in the light of Christ. So that I can be more fully that light of Christ in God’s world.
And so, as I prepare to enter into the Season of Lent, Cosme’s questions will propel me to a season of reflection. Just perhaps, like he, I need to grasp courage to be able to say “no one can say I never sang”. To grasp the courage of faith, and live more fully into who God intends me to be. To grasp the protective zipper I have put on my heart and unzip it so that in rending my heart, Jesus Christ’s flame of love burns brighter.
In a few moments you will hear Mother Barb invite us to a Holy Lent, a season of penitence and fasting. She will invite you enter into a time of self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
Why are we encouraged to live this kind of a holy Lent, marked with self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting and self-denial? Again, Laura Swan, author of the Forgotten Desert Mothers observes that these practices teach that awareness of our own weaknesses gives us an opportunity to deepen our compassion for the weaknesses of others. As we cultivate a tender, vulnerable, expansive hearts that embraces the humanity of all, we see with new eyes…the eyes and heart of Christ.
What will that mean for you? How will you rend your heart? How will you make more room for God within your life? How will you embrace and live out of Christ’s light, Christ’s love for you? How will you unzip your heart?
I want to end with a quote from a noted theologian whose name I did not write down when I copied it
I invite everyone to join me in living a fear free day. No matter how grave my own situation may seem, no matter how difficult the struggles of the world, I want to live these hours without being afraid. I will believe that my life is in the hands of a loving power that will help me find my way through any hardship. I will believe that peace and goodness will heal the broken world in which we live. I will not despair. I will not surrender to resignation. He concludes with, I will let my fears go, dropping them at my feet, as I rise to feel the lightness of my spirit when all it knows is faith unfettered.
And so in this lent, unzip your heart, cultivate a heart of purity, let the light of Christ burn brightly within you and bless the Lord with all that is within you, bless his holy name.