Monday, 2 March 2015

Meditation: THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB by John de Gruchy


Joel 2:12-14
Matthew 6:16-21

Rend your hearts, not your garments.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I am not sure how many hearts I broke as a student. That is, if I broke any at all!  Isobel tells me that I only did so half-heartedly.  Be that as it may,  what a powerful metaphor it is when we speak about hearts that are broken, or breaking someone's heart.  This is not something that Dr. Chris Barnard, if he were still alive, would be able to fix.  He probably broke many more hearts than he fixed, and he did not do so half-heartedly! 

My Shorter Oxford Dictionary tells me that my heart is a "hollow organ keeping up circulation of blood by contracting and dilating."  It also tells me my heart is the seat of my emotions.  The heart is both a muscle and a metaphor.  If the heart stops beating we die.  But it is equally true that if the heart stops loving then our souls die.  And there, of course, lies the connection between muscle and metaphor, and why the heart as metaphor is as powerful as the heart as pump.  We all know how serious it is to have a heart attack, but the Bible tells us that it is equally serious for our well-being when our hearts are so hardened that we can no longer trust and love God or feel compassion for those in need.

Last week we considered what it means to "turn the soul," using the analogy of wood turning.  Turning the soul, I said, is all about our formation as persons and Christians.  This begins when we turn towards God in response to Jesus' gracious invitation.  Lent helps us focus again on this life-long process of conversion.  If I may return to the analogy of woodturning, we can now reflect on the fact that as you turn wood on a lathe you eventually come to the heart-wood.  That is its core or pith, that which gives wood its character and sustains its life.  Literally, the heart of the matter.  In the same way,  the heart as metaphor refers to the core of the soul, that which makes you, you and me, me. 

But the heart as seat of our emotions is not just about love. Bible tells us that the heart can be very deceitful, that evil deeds come out of the heart.  The heart may be the metaphor for love, but if our hearts are hardened against God and others, then those deep emotions function adversely in ways that are hurtful to others and ultimately self-destructive.  Sometimes our hearts are so hardened that nothing short of a heart transplant will make us caring and compassionate people.  There is an emotional connection between love and hatred -- the difference is that love reaches out to embrace others as we are all embraced in the love of God, while hatred excludes and despises the other.  The one is saving grace, the other sin.  Conversion is a turning from sin and embracing and being embraced by love.

If the heart is the symbol of love; a broken heart is the metaphor of love's pain.  A broken heart is love distraught, love denied, love spurned, love ignored, or the agony that follows profound loss.  Each one of us can tell stories about broken hearts, our own or that of others, or whether we have caused them.  Some of them have to do with broken romances or failed relationships, or dreams that have been shattered, or children that have brought disappointment.  And some are about grieving the loss of a loved one.  It is five years this week since our son Steve drowned in the Mooi River at the age of 48.  We remembered that day last Saturday and again on Sunday when we visited "Steve's Place" alongside the river with some friends who knew Steve.  We remembered this week five years ago when we sat as a family on the veranda of Steve and Marian's house in Pietermaritzburg, weeping and crying together as we remembered him.  Our hearts were broken. 

We cannot go deeper than this in exploring or seeking to understand what it means to be human, or it must also be said, divine.  For when St. John tells us that God is love, or that God loved the world so much, he is taking about the God's suffering, grieving love in Christ nailed to the cross.  In Jesus, God dies of a broken heart.  God's heart is broken by our lack of love, our hatreds, prejudices, and the violence we perpetrate against others.  Lent takes us on a journey deeper into God's brokenness of heart revealed fully on Good Friday.  It is a journey in which the hardness of our own hearts is softened by God's suffering love for us and the world.  In the process we begin to love God and others in a new way, sharing with them in their suffering and grief, and they in ours.  Lent is the season of breaking hearts open for love, making the church not the lonely hearts club, but the broken hearts club that stands with God in solidarity with the struggling people of the earth.  Yes, I believe in the broken hearts club as much as I do in the communion of saints and the forgiveness of sin!

So at the beginning of Lent the prophet Joel calls us to "rend our hearts, not our garments!"  And Jesus challenges us to consider what is really important in our lives, what is our treasure, because "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  In a Lenten message while he was still a Cardinal in Argentina, Pope Francis reflected on the prophet's words:

Rend your hearts, so that through that gap we can really look at ourselves.
Rend your hearts, open your hearts, because only in a broken and open heart can the merciful love of God enter, God who loves and heals us....
To change one’s way of living is the sign and fruit of this broken heart, reconciled by a love that surpasses us.

Rend your hearts, and not your garments
Return now to the Lord your God,
Because He is compassionate and merciful,
Slow to anger and rich in mercy …

John de Gruchy
Volmoed  26 February 2015

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