The disciple Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus… He leaned back on Jesus’ breast. ~ John 13:23, 25 The Jerusalem Bible
When Jennifer and I were expecting our first child, we lived sixty-five miles from our midwife who lived in Glenwood Spring, Colorado. We were young, beautiful, healthy, and energetic. And we were over-confident in the “rightness” of our opinions.
On a car trip to Glenwood to meet with the midwife and get Jennifer’s first sonogram, we started squabbling about something. By the time we arrived at our destination, we were no longer speaking to each other. Jennifer ran into the clinic before I could even turn the car off. This was a big moment, but we walked apart into the nurse’s office for Jennifer’s sonogram. The nurse asked us how we were doing. “Fine,” we curtly said while looking away from one another.
The nurse put some gel on Jennifer’s belly and started looking for the baby’s heartbeat. We gave each other snarly looks. We had troubled hearts. The nurse said, “I can’t find the baby’s heartbeat. I know its here somewhere.” She tried to sound calm, but we could hear the fear in her voice.
We instinctively reached out for each other’s hand and waited.
Jesus says, “Happy are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8). What is a pure heart? The old slogan for the United Methodist Church is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” What is an Open Heart? How do we keep our hearts open to receive the Grace and Wisdom of Christ? When, if ever, do our hearts become hardened or closed?
Brennan Manning in his book “Abba’s Child” states, “The heart is traditionally understood as the locus of emotions from which strong feelings such as love, and hatred arise.” We sing songs about the heart such as “Change my heart O God, make it ever pure,” or “Create in me a new heart O God.” Our hearts our hungry for connection, renewal, and intimacy.
We say someone has a “kind heart” or they have a “gentle heart.” We can also be “light-hearted” or carry a “heavy heart.” There are times in life when we are “broken-hearted” from loss, death, or the end of a relationship. Emily Dickinson wrote, “His heart was darker than the starless night.” That is dark. One of my favorite movies, “Places in the Heart,” with Sally Field celebrates the ability of our hearts to “reconcile all things.” When our hearts are full, life is good and our “cup overflows.” Sometimes when sadness or grief overwhelm us, we might say, “My heart aches.” Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Matthew 22:37). The heart is prevalent in all aspects of our lives.
“The heart is a symbol we employ to capture the deepest essence of personhood,” comments Brennan Manning. “It symbolizes what lies at the core of our being; it defines irreducibly who we really are. Our Creator spoke through Jeremiah when he said, “Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Does our heart in all its complexity manifest the essence of our personhood, the core of our very being?
“The disciple Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus…He leaned back on Jesus’ breast” (John 13:23,25). “John lays his head on the heart of God,” writes Manning. He rests his head on the life-force, the heartbeat, the Grace of Christ. “Clearly John was not intimated by Jesus,” comments Manning. Who do we trust so well that we would lay our head upon their chest? How does Jesus respond to John’s gesture?
Jesus lets John listen to his heartbeat. It is an incredibly intimate, heart-warming moment and image. I always imagine Jesus wrapping his arms around John like a mother holding a newborn child close to her. Manning says, “John comes to know Jesus in a way that surpasses mere cognitive knowledge.” Heart speaks to heart in an intuitive way beyond the intellect.
In this very moment, John knows Christ loves and accepts him. He is a beloved child. Later, Manning writes, the author of 1 John, who might be John, writes, “Perfect love casts out fear.” John knows that our Creator is love. Nothing else matters.
Blaise Pascal wrote, “The heart has reasons about which the mind knows nothing.” The heart speaks a language that we understand intuitively or in a deep way beyond words.
I still remember how irritated and resentful Jennifer and I were with one another many years ago. We had cold, distant hearts. During Jennifer’s sonogram the nurse struggled to find the baby’s heartbeat. The nurse kept searching and searching. Fear seized us. We instinctively reached out for each other’s hand in that moment. Finally, we heard the distinctive “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” of a heartbeat.
Our hearts melted into tears of gratitude and joy in a heartbeat. We had a change of heart. The heart of Grace has the power to transform us. The heart converted from resentment to gratitude, from mistrust to trust, from unforgiveness to forgiveness, from hate to love is “nothing less than a new creation” says Manning.
May we rest our heads on the heart of our Creator.
May we listen to the Heartbeat which renews and restores us.
Blessings and peace,