And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:7
An important part of my week is leading a Wednesday morning worship service at the Valley Inn, our long-term care facility for the elderly. Residents arrive in manual wheelchairs, electric wheelchairs, and walkers with yellow tennis balls covering the front legs. The residents are blind, hard of hearing, hands gnarled like twisted trees which have weathered the storms of life. They greet me warmly. “Hello Pastor Craig! Thank you for coming.” “It’s good to be here.”
I always survey “the congregation” to see who’s present and who’s absent. At the Inn, it is always more worrisome when a regular doesn’t show up. This particular Wednesday, Ruth is gone. I ask tentatively, “Has anyone seen Ruth this past week?” “No.” “No.” “I saw her out by the nurses’ station,” Inez, who is legally blind, says. “She says she’s not coming today.”
I breathe a little easier. Ruth is over one hundred, and she seems to glow a little more each week. I think she’s probably transitioning from this world to the next. “You all hold tight. I’m gonna see if Ruth wants to come.” As I leave the Mesa Verde Room, Mike starts playing on the piano “Sentimental Journey” (sung by Doris Day, lyrics by Bud Green, music by Les Brown and Ben Homer). Betty and Michael sway to the music and sing, “Gonna take a sentimental journey; Gonna set my heart at ease; Gonna take a sentimental journey; To renew old memories.”
I find Ruth sitting in her wheelchair next to Mary who is slumped over asleep. “Ruth, are you coming to church today?” “No, Mary needs me.” I notice for the first time that Ruth is holding Mary’s hand. I swallow the lump in my throat.
Heart speaks to heart.
Father Ron Rolheiser writes, “God puts us into this world with huge hearts, hearts as deep as the Grand Canyon. The human heart, as Augustine describes it, is not fulfilled by anything less than infinity itself. There’s nothing small about the heart.”
“How big or small is our heart?” Rolheiser asks, “Why do we so often find ourselves relating to the world, to each other, and to God, in fact with hearts that are small, narrow, and petty?”
Life is difficult and challenging. We get wounded, disrespected, fearful, and anxious. Childlike wonder turns to adult paranoia. Fear keeps us from playing outside in the dark with the twinkling stars above and the fireflies guiding our way below. The big generous hearts of our youth can turn into cynical adult hearts. The wounded heart, Rolheiser says is “the heart within which we feel the unfairness of life, the heart within which we sense others as a threat, the heart within which we feel envy and bitterness, and the heart within which greed and selfishness break through.”
Betty and Michael continue to sing. “Never thought my heart could be so yearning. Why did I decide to roam? I gotta take this sentimental journey, sentimental journey home.”
Home is in the heart. “The core of our being,” say Henri Nouwen. “We will discover an order and a familiarity which deepens our longing to stay at home.” Is home where we rest in God and God rests in us? Is home where love, joy, and peace reside? “Entering into the heart is entering into the kingdom of God,” writes Nouwen.
Yet, our hearts can be big and small. Our hearts can be soft and hard. Our hearts can be generous and stingy. Our hearts can be forgiving and unforgiving. The quality of our lives depends on “which heart we are connected to at a given moment,” comments Nouwen. “At any given moment we can feel like Mother Teresa or like a bitter terrorist.”
Which heart do we feed or cultivate?
After our service, I walked by the nurse’s station. Ruth was still sitting next to Mary, holding her hand while Mary slept. “Gonna take a sentimental journey. Gonna set my heart at ease.” At some level, I wondered if Ruth, despite being over a hundred years old, despite forgetting her name, despite not knowing where she was, I wondered if she was walking Mary home.
Heart speaks to heart.
A few days later Mary made her final journey home. Amen.
Blessings and peace,