We all know heartache. It’s one of our shared experiences. We love someone, and our hearts ache with them and for them at times. Other times, we feel heartache because of them. It’s all part of it.
To have a heart that loves is to have a heart that aches.
One of the great stories about aching hearts involves a prodigal son. It’s a story about love and heartache — which means it’s a story about all of our lives.
When the son returns home from spending his father’s money so recklessly and completely, he gets a totally unexpected response. Instead of being shunned or judged, he’s welcomed back with a tearful hug and a rowdy party.
A hug and a party? How could this be?
It’s what happens when someone loves you so much that their heart aches.
Most every Sunday Ruth or Lily Janousek hands me a drawing on the way out the door. I have quite a collection.
Lily and Ruth are budding theologians. They may not know that about themselves, but that’s what they are: budding theologians — they do theology. They do their best to speak of God.
They draw pictures of God and us. Like the one from last Sunday — a drawing of a bouquet with the words:
“God doesn’t love us as a flower but as a bouquet.”
This week is Valentine’s Day, the bane of singles and Scrooges everywhere. I’m just as single this year as every other year — and, indeed, even older than in previous years, which is scary — but for the first time I’m actually a little excited.
It’s not because a friend has set me up with someone she promises could make great conversation with even a zebra. Nor is it that I’m meeting up with girlfriends for a night of fondue, chocolate and When Harry Met Sally. I’m not even getting a pedicure or massage.
None of those things would be bad things to do, and I’m sure that I’d enjoy them, but almost all such plans — when scheduled for the evening of Valentine’s Day — end up feeling like eating a microwave dinner in a hospital ward while your family’s enjoying a homemade Thanksgiving together.
They’re substitute plans. And their inferior status would be instantly apparent were you given the choice between them and an evening with someone you like, who dotes on and delights in you. Basking in the warmth of another’s love is infinitely better than trying to pamper and love yourself, no matter what all the self-help books say.
I have heard it said that people of Christian faith should be more about Easter and less about Christmas. Easter is a powerful hope but it deals with things beyond this life. It is a sure and certain hope but one that eludes my imagination, confounds my concrete mind.
The crucifixion is something I can wrap my mind around. We have only to open our eyes and our hearts to the realities of the world and we recognize the darkness of Good Friday. When the season is upon us I will dwell with great gratitude at the foot of the cross.
But, Lord God, I want to stay for a while in Christmas where hope is something I can cradle to my chest. I want to dwell here where music sings the promise of love, reminding me of those Mary moments in my life when it seems truth and love are about to burst forth from within and change the world.
Let me hearken to Mary’s song and hear it as a radical claim awakening me for the sake of revolution, to grab hold of the Kingdom of God already present amongst us.
To me, "unexpected" is at the heart of how I understand grace. It is the unearnable gift, the divine reversal and sacred surprise, the still small voice that drowns out the din of the maddening crowd, the little bit extra that my Cajun friends call lagniappe, the very thing we "deserve" the least but get anyway. From God. From the One who created the world and the audacious, indescribably power of love.
Taking a cue from Nell, here are just a few of the unexpected blessings I am grateful for today:
For God's fingerprints that cover every inch of our world, seen and unseen. And for the moments where I can almost make out the holy whirls imprinted in the sky, the ocean, the sunlight, and on the faces and stories of each of us.
For the generosity and selflessness I see so vividly — all around me, all the time — even in these lean, nervous days. I saw it in Zuccotti Park, where strangers prepared and served food to other strangers. I saw it in the sober faces and strong arms of the men who helped 84-year-old Dorli Rainey to safety after she was pepper-sprayed at an Occupy rally in Seattle. I heard it in the prayers lifted at the White House, at North Park University in Chicago, and in the basement of a church in Spanish Harlem where kind, mighty souls formed Human Circles of Protection last week and stood in solidarity with the poor, the vulnerable, and the least of those among us. I watched it on display at border crossings, immigration rallies, refugee camps in the Horn of Africa, and at a glass blower's studio in my hometown of Laguna Beach where strangers arrived with shovels and wheelbarrows to help dig out an artist and his artwork from the muddy ravages of a flash flood. I saw it in the fresh coat of paint on the front steps of my elderly parents' home in Connecticut that my cousins had applied for them with great care and kindness when my brother and I couldn't be there to do it.