The Heart of God

The disciple Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus… He leaned back on Jesus’ breast.” ~ John 13:23, 25

As a child I remember playing catch with my dad and hitting baseballs as he pitched to me. We would stay outside until it was too dark to see. On Sunday nights mom, dad, and my sister and I would sit on the thread bare brown couch and watch the “Wonderful World of Disney” while eating buttered popcorn. We kindly fought over who got to eat the half-cooked kernels, usually Dad.

Dad watched me pick three boxes of asparagus on a small family farm one Saturday morning. He caught me stealing a baseball and some baseball cards from the local five and dime store. I had to earn the money, hence picking asparagus, to pay for the stolen merchandise. Dad did not really say much to me. He just told me, “Be honest.” That night we were out playing catch again.

Time passed and when I left for college, I was dreading saying goodbye to my parents, especially my mom. She’d been crying on and off all summer long just thinking about it. Dad made sure my car was ready for the trip to Amarillo and he “kinda” kept to himself, working in the barn he’d built.

When the day came, Mom and I hugged each other and expressed our love. Dad hung back in the shadows under the eave of the garage. He stepped forward and shook my hand, but neither of us could say anything as we tried to hold back our tears. I got into my car which was spotless because Dad had cleaned it yesterday for me.

In my mid-twenties Dad and I flew to Dallas for Dr. Sewell’s funeral, a good family friend, who had died suddenly from a heart attack. I remember walking down the aisle of the United Methodist church I had grown up in. As Dad and I passed the open casket in front of the communion rail which our family had knelt at many times with Dr. Sewell and his family on either side of us, I saw my dad cry for the first time.

Much later in life, when my father was in hospice care, I remember sitting by his side while he lay in bed. His green eyes slowly opened and closed. We instinctively reached out and held each other’s hands. He told me he loved me, and I said the same to him. The words and the affection that both of us struggled to say and manifest came easily at last, an intimate gift I will forever cherish.

Father Ron Rolheiser writes, “More than anything, our hearts crave the warmth and trust of intimacy.”

“Intimacy involves being vulnerable, taking risks. Allowing another person to see us as we are. Intimacy is a desire to be deeply known,” says Victoria Smith, a clinical psychologist.

And what is our biggest fear? To bare our souls and be rejected or abandoned.

Henri Nouwen reflects, “Whom can we level with? To whom can we bare our souls? Whom do we dare tell that we are benevolent and malevolent, compassionate and vindictive, selfless and selfish, that beneath our brave words lives a frightened child?”

I do not know if anyone escapes childhood unwounded, so we learn to share our hearts carefully; and we run the risk of never opening our hearts to another. Why risk being hurt again? But we crave and yearn for intimacy. Nouwen says, “If fear is the great enemy of intimacy, love is its friend.”

If God is love (1 John 4:16) then God is intimate.

“The disciple Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus… He leaned back on Jesus’ breast” (John 13:23, 25). Brennan Manning writes “that we must not hurry past this scene in search of deeper revelation, or we will miss magnificent insight.” The disciple John completely trusts Jesus; he is not afraid of him. John rests his head on the “heartbeat of the Great Rabbi” and comes to experience tremendous intimacy. He is deeply known, vulnerable, and accepted.

“Only in a relationship of the deepest intimacy can we allow another person to know us as we truly are,” says Manning. Isn’t this what we desire? Jesus shows us that grace, love is “terribly personal, terribly immediate, and terribly urgent.”

May we love as Christ loves us. May we risk intimacy and fall into abundant life.

Blessings and peace,