Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection July 7,2019
"The Way of the Wounded Heart" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
On Sunday, June 30, I preached “We Don’t Know How” - a reflection on Romans 8:26-29. I would like to place most of that sermon in this week’s issue of the Advance. There are many, many pathways to prayer. As we know, there are thousands of religions in our world. But here’s an important truth: God doesn’t belong to any religion. All religions belong to God.
In our continuing preaching series on prayer, I’d like to explore one special pathway to prayer. I call this path the Way of the Wounded Heart. We’re probably all familiar with the phrase The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. We may have read Carson McCullers’ 1963 book of that same title. But we may not be aware that the phrase comes from a 19th Century Scottish poet, William Sharp: “Deep in the heart of summer, sweet is life to me still, But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill.” This is another way of stating that our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee!
Courage is critical in prayer. As we may know, the word courage comes from the French word for “heart.” So today we’ll keep looking at the human heart.
Here’s something from the German theologian Karl Rahner’s The Need and Blessing of Prayer: “The courageous acceptance of life and of oneself, even when everything tangible seems to be collapsing, is the primary way of praying.”As I mentioned in last Sunday’s sermon, in prayer we open our hearts to God. But how do we open our hearts? This is what I wish to explore in today’s sermon.Your heart, my heart, everybody’s heart has a wound in it, like Jesus himself. In John’s Gospel, at the death of Jesus on the cross, a Roman soldier pierces Jesus’ side, pierces Jesus’ heart, with a lance. We walk with a crucified, heart-wounded Redeemer. So it’s no surprise that we who follow Jesus also carry a heart wound. None of us, not one of us, gets through life without our hearts being wounded. This is a basic truth of humanity. We are all wounded in our hearts. Part of this wound is caused by the realization that we will die and that those we love will die. This truth broke open my 11 year old heart when my father died.Prayer, in one of its basic distillations, is getting in touch with our wounded hearts. But here’s the thing: no one wants a wounded heart. Jesus didn’t want a wounded heart. I surely did not want a wounded heart. There is no one here this morning (or anyone reading these words) who wants a wounded heart. Wounded hearts hurt. There are many strategies for dealing with a wounded heart. Today I’ll mention three of these strategies:
(1) One way to deal with a wounded heart is to protect the heart at all costs - to harden the heart. You pretend to be mighty. You pretend to be invincible. You pretend to be undefeated. You pretend to be fearless. You pretend to be highly successful. You protect your heart by puffing up, like a blow fish, full of arrogance, full of pride.We don’t have to look very far to see many examples of this strategy for protecting the human heart. But this strategy is a dead-end path and is far-away from the example of Jesus Christ. This strategy also leads inevitably to violence, to war, to human cruelty.
(2) A second strategy for dealing with a wounded heart is through addiction. Let me state here clearly: we are ALL addicts! Trust me in this. We may not be addicted to heroin. We may not be addicted to opioids. We may not be addicted to pornography. But we might be addicted to television. We might be addicted to being right. We might be addicted to acclamation. We might be addicted to anger and rage. We might be addicted to anxiety. We might be addicted to petty jealousies. We might be addicted to easily being offended. The list of possible addictions is virtually endless. All such addictions are ways to keep us from fully facing our wounded hearts. All are ways to distract us from our heart-wound; a wound from which you and I are slowly bleeding to death!
(3) A third way of dealing with our wounded hearts is to pray our way fully into our wounded hearts. It is there, on the holy ground of our wounded hearts, that we most easily encounter the wounded God who loves us all without exception, without any strings at all.
But we, believers, harbor a terribly disturbed and dangerous notion of God. This distortion plagues much, if not most, of Christianity. This distortion plagues all the world religions I’ve studied and taught.
Rahner has these important words for us (slightly edited): “The God of earthly security, the God who saves one from life’s disappointments, the God who protects one from pain, the God who makes sure that children never cry, the God who brings divine justice to all the miseries of the earth, the God who never lets human love end in disappointment, this God DOESN’T exist!
I suspect we all know by now that praying to God will not help one win the lottery! I must add here that the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” is a profound distortion of the Bible. I believe it is blasphemy, pure and simple. God doesn’t want everyone to be wealthy. God doesn’t you to be a billionaire. God doesn’t want you to gobble up everything in sight. Conspicuous consumption is a sickness. It’s certainly not sanctity.
Prayer opens us up to God. Prayer opens us up to God’s great creation, to all creatures great and small. Prayer opens us up to all our sisters and brothers.
We’re meant to travel light. Such a simple phrase may sum up much of Jesus’ teaching: Travel light!
It’s our wounded human hearts that best guide us on our earthly pilgrimage. We’re called to a life-long pilgrimage. We’re not tourists. We’re pilgrims, traveling with wounded, open hearts - through all the joys, all the sorrows, all the ups, all the downs of life.
I believe real prayer arises within our wounded human hearts. But this prayer arises in cooperation with the Spirit of the Living God. The Spirit of the Living God has taken up residence in our human, wounded hearts. But the Spirit can only enter our hearts through the wound. As a matter of fact, the Spirit of the Living God becomes a squatter in our hearts if we let the Spirit in!
The deceased Canadian singer, song-writer Leonard Cohen had a significant impact on me over the years. In his 1992 song, Anthem, we find these words: There is a crack, a crack in everything - that’s how the light gets in … Every heart, every heart to love will come but like a refugee.
My parents were refugees. My father fled his native Ireland because of getting caught in the violence of Ireland’s struggle for independence (1919-1921) and a subsequent civil war. My mother fled her native Ireland because of crushing poverty. I’m the son of refugees. So I have a sweet spot in my heart for all refugees. The symbol of the refugee is surely a symbol for our time!
Our brother Paul calls us in 1st Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray without ceasing.” What can this admonition mean? Do we stop working? Do we stop eating? Do we stop sleeping? Do we say prayers every moment of every day? Of course not! Paul wasn’t a fool. Prayer is an attitude. Prayer is an attentiveness.
There is much wrong with our wounded world. There is much to weep over as Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Have not most of us shed tears over the cruel treatment of children at our southern border?
As Rahner writes: “Why is the scoundrel successful? Why are lies so prevalent? Why does injustice prosper? Why is world history a single stream of (human) stupidity, crudity, and brutality?”
I have no good answer to Rahner’s questions but neither does Rahner himself. But I agree with him when he concludes thusly: “Have you not yet comprehended that God’s glory in this world is the cross of God’s Son?” (It would be good to re-read that statement!)
We, Christians, cling to a heart-pierced, cross-broken Redeemer. Our prayers arise from this truth and this truth alone! When we are in touch with our wounded human hearts, prayer not only becomes possible, we then truly pray and we truly pray always.
I end these meager reflections with a poem from Mary Oliver:
Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.