Inspiration, Listening to the Heart

Think with your heart, not with your fear

We live in times that are difficult to process. Events occur that are beyond our capacity to understand and fit into our worldview as people, much less as Catholics. In a sense, we’re living in a constant state of spiritual cognitive dissonance, and it’s anything but comfortable.

I’ve been feeling that the most around two current situations: the burning of the Amazon rainforest, and the worldwide migrant crisis. The enormity of the issues is exhausting—what can one person do? How can I even begin to think about what is happening, and all the implications of what is happening, much less do anything about it? And where am I hearing the voice of Jesus in the world as it is today?

For me, honestly? The times feel nothing short of apocalyptic. Surely this is how the world will end, in flames of fire and accompanied by the cries of lost children?

Those are a lot of questions. And as always when I’m in a panic, I move and think too quickly, too superficially, I’m too ready to give up. Take a deep breath. There’s a nagging feeling that I am asking questions, but they might not be the right ones.

The very first Christian communities, the people St. Paul addresses in his letters, the early Church, they all had something in common with my current fear: they too believed they were living in apocalyptic times. Guided by St. Paul, Ignatius of Antioch, and Justin Martyr, they believed Jesus would return soon, within their lifetimes, and thus the world would end shortly. So as I struggle with my eschatological panic, there has to be something I can learn from them.

And there is. In the Epistle to Diognetes, a second-century writer describes those first Christians:

They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. To sum it all up in one word—what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.

This passage reminds me of two things. First, it reminds me this world is not the perfect world to which I aspire; “they pass their days on earth,” says the writer, “but they are citizens of heaven.” As a citizen of heaven, then, how can I view the state of the world in which I am living? And that very question changes my perspective. Instead of anger and hopelessness, I can look on the world with pity and compassion. With sadness, too; but sadness without despair. Surely that is the way God looks upon his beautiful creation and his beautiful children.

The second thing this letter teaches me is that, even expecting the end to be imminent, even living in the very shadow of the final days, the early Christians went about their lives, getting married, breaking bread together, following the laws of the land. Even as they knew they were about to leave, they continued in their callings and in their lives. My panic, my crazed thoughts about how I can effectuate change? This may not be the best use of my time and gifts. Going about my life might be a better way.

The early Church listened to the voice of Jesus, relayed to them through the apostles and early Church Fathers, and lived a way of life that conformed to what it heard that voice saying.

So where is the voice of Jesus in my world? How can I hear Jesus speaking, here and now?

When I ask, “what can I do?” the truth is I already know the answer. It is inherent in who I am. I have remarkably few skills. I’m not much of an activist, I can’t build anything with my hands, I don’t have a head for figures. What I can do is write. Jesus already spoke to me: in giving me this talent and allowing me years in which to hone it, he is saying, “this is your role.”

I think if we all slow down and think with our hearts rather than our fears, we can find many ways in which Jesus is calling us to act. What skills and talents were you given? Do you listen well? Can you teach? Do you have time to volunteer somewhere? Do you have enough money to donate some to help others? We are not all called to drop water on flaming forests or rescue children from detention centers, though some of us are, and they are heroes for sure. What we are all called to do, rather, is discern how our own individual vocations, our callings, can help us respond.

I was recently reading the forthcoming Jesus Speaking, a daily devotional taken from Gabrielle Bossis’ spiritual classic He and I, and I remind myself that many of Gabrielle’s conversations with Jesus took place in a world that had felt hopeless, too. Nazi Germany occupied her country, and all around her people were living under suspicion, privation, even terror. In some ways, that time may well also have felt apocalyptic. Yet like the second-century Christians, she stayed steady in her course, writing out her conversations, tending her garden.

When issues feel too big for us to get our arms around them, it’s time to bring our thinking down to our own level. To ask how we can live out our own individual Christian vocations, and what those particular vocations can bring to the table in this moment.

Jesus is speaking. We’ll hear him when we can think with our hearts and not with our fear.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir



Listening to the Heart

Listening to the Heart of Humanity, Listening to the Heart of God

Listening isn’t as easy as it sounds. We all know how often we hear or see something, come to a conclusion about what is occurring, only to discover after inquiry that something entirely different was happening.

Actually, this just happened to me today. The mind is prone to creating explanations for what we perceive with our senses. “He doesn’t want me here.” “She is trying to get out of helping.” “They don’t care about the neighborhood.” And on and on…. These are stories: commentaries knit together from the memories, experiences, reactions, wounds of a lifetime. These kinds of stories seem to make a lot of sense, but actually often don’t add up to the truth.

Truth. If we want to listen to the heart of humanity and the heart of God, we are seeking the truth of what it is like to be a human in today’s world, and what God feels toward us as he bends over us with great tenderness.

So why are we listening to the heart of humanity AND the heart of God? If we listen only to the human experience, we can easily lose our way. The heart of God is our GPS for understanding the true dignity of the human person and how that dignity is lived in the historic transitions the world is now undergoing.

So, to really hear the authentic heart of humanity and the heart of God, we need to navigate past stories, our own and others. We need to dig deep for the facts, which means developing skills for understanding what and who is behind the way the news is reported, and choosing our information sources wisely. We need to identify the story-telling which like weeds chokes our vision of the deepest reality of what is happening: the connections, the mystery, the needs, the dreams. And we need to really hear what is at the heart of the situation.

We invite you to listen with us. Too many polarizing issues are tearing apart the country and the world. We aren’t listening to the issues, but the hearts of the people on every side who are trying to find their way through them. We are listening to the heart of God. God teaches us in his Son to fight for our brothers and sisters, even when we disagree with them or believe what they are doing is morally wrong. Jesus loved us when we were yet sinners, and invites us to do the same for each other.

Listening together needs a method. So this is what we propose:

My Sisters will post on the blog (and share to the Group) somewhat weekly on an ongoing basis a video, image, link to a poem, scripture passage, link to an essay, or media literacy component. The My Sisters community can share comments and similar types of material. We will steer clear of political discussions regarding the issues, in an effort to hear more clearly what God may be asking of us.

And so we begin with this prayer:

New Peace Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord Jesus, give us an awareness of the massive forces threatening our world.
Where there is armed conflict,
let us stretch out our arms to our brothers and sisters.
Where there is abundance,
let there be simple lifestyles and sharing.
Where there is poverty,
let there be dignity and constant striving for justice.
Where there is selfish ambition,
let there be humble service.
Where there is injustice,
let there be atonement.
Where there is despair,
let there be hope in the Good News.
Where there are wounds of division,
let there be unity and wholeness.
Help us to be committed to the building of your kingdom,
not seeking to be cared for, but to care;
not expecting to be served, but to serve others;
not desiring material security,
but placing our security in your love.
For it is only in loving imitation of you, Lord,
that we can discover the healing springs of life
to bring about new birth on our earth
and hope for the world. Amen.