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Spiritual Welcome

Opening my heart to God

Not long ago I suffered a tremendous loss. The circumstances were complicated and relationships were broken. In the midst of all the pain, I noticed my heart felt like it was stuck full of pins and needles. It was a physical sensation in my chest. My heart felt small, tight, and hard like a pincushion.

I am not someone who spends much time noticing how my body feels—let alone my heart. I like to do tasks and think interesting thoughts. And I don't check in with my emotions all that often. But my recent loss jammed me not just into my emotions but back into my body. I began to contemplate what it means to feel one's heart.

Jesus spoke with grief about people having hard hearts (Mark 3:5; 8:17; 16:14). He said, "For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes—so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear" (Matthew 13:15). To have a soft heart takes more than biblical understanding and sweet feelings toward people. A soft heart takes eyes and ears. It takes a body that notices what is happening around it.

Before I go any further, take a moment to consider two questions.

1. What does it feel like, in your body, to have your heart go hard?

2. What does it feel like, in your body, to have your heart wide open?

Taking time to feel our hearts reminds us that our bodies aren't cars we drive around to get us from here to there. We don't simply have bodies or inhabit bodies. We are body beings—beings who interface with the world through limbs and organs and senses. Yet in our insanely busy lives we detach from our bodies. We don't take time to feel our tight necks or grumbling stomachs. We push and drive and get caught up in what we think: our opinions, ideas, plans, and strategies; or in what we feel: loneliness, joy, frustration, boredom, anxiety, etc. Even our prayers, when we get down to them, focus on what we think and feel. Loving God with our hearts and our heads matters. But hearts and heads are part of bodies. And prayer is something that happens in bodies. In fact, bodies can sometimes tell us how to pray.

Are you overwhelmed and rushing about? Take a moment to feel what is going on your body. Ask yourself one of the questions below:

• Where are you tightening up or closing down?

• How does your heart feel?

• When has your heart melted? What was it like?

• What are you actually seeing and hearing at this moment in time?

Then welcome God into your body and situation. Welcome God into what is. Let go of your need to control the moment and receive the moment in your body. Open your heart.

When it comes right down to it—we love through the gift of presence. And presence happens in our bodies as our hearts open up to who and what is happening now. A soft heart doesn't happen in your head. It happens as you practice being present to what is. It happens when you pay attention to what you see and hear…It is so easy to look right through people or to be so preoccupied with what we want to say that we don't really hear people. It takes practice to see with your eyes and listen with your ears. It takes practice to be present in our bodies and open our hearts.

I often ponder how Jesus' glorified body has scars. His scars are evidence of the love in his heart for the world. The scars point to the cost of loving not in theory or feelings alone—but in a body. I don't know if we will have scars on our bodies in heaven—but if we do, they will be like Jesus'. They will give glory to God and be a sign of how we learned to love. This week, pay attention to what you are hearing in your body. Notice if your heart is open or closed. Then enter into the conversation God is inviting you into as you notice these things.

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun currently co-pastors Redeemer Community in Wellesley, Massachusetts, with her husband, Doug. She is the author of Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.

July30, 2012 at 1:22 PM

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