Friday, July 31, 2015

Heart Work

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

Heart work is hard work. It involves all of us, and all of our beings, which is to say that heart work includes our bodies, minds, and souls. It’s hard work; and so we need our strength. We need sustenance, food for the journey, and water for new life. We need rest.

Unlike my mother and my daughter, I am not a person of the sciences. I know very little about how the human body functions. I do know however, in plain and simple language, that the heart needs to beat and the heart needs to rest. I know our hearts work hard. I’ve been watching my mother do her heart work recently. It’s hard work to stay alive when you have congestive heart failure. It’s hard to stay alive when everything you eat goes into your lungs, you aren’t interested anyway, and you’re “thirsty enough to die.” You can’t get out of bed even though you try, but you’d sure like to do something other than sleep and sip.

My brother and sister and our spouses have spent some time together in my mother’s hospice room. Naturally, the conversation turns to what’s going on with Mom and her body parts. While we may have been confused before, we understand how her heart is working now. It’s irregular. It fluctuates. It speeds up and it slows down. It beats and it rests. Her mind still informs her body to some degree. She responds appropriately to our questions and statements. Yes, I’m thirsty. No, I’m not in pain. Yes, I love you too. I guess these symptoms are mostly true for all of us. Our hearts work and they rest; they fluctuate.

In this medical environment, I’ve learned a few new things about our bodies. I’ve learned about things that help, things that don’t, and the vast amount of what “we don’t know for sure.” Of course, like the brain, there is a lot of gray matter to consider. I’ve learned how the mind can help you, play tricks on you, and in some cases, it’s no help at all. The mind and heart work hard together, although sometimes they are on different beats. Maybe one is resting, while the other is not. Maybe one is encouraging the other to work harder, or take a time-out and rest.

Mindfulness is helpful. It, like prayer, reminds us to pay attention to ourselves, our souls and our bodies. It reminds us to pay attention to others and to all of creation. Being mindful brings us into the presence of God, whose heart never stops beating, and whose heart never seems to rest. Our hearts break open, and they feel the pain or the pitter patter of love, and then we know that our hearts are hurting or our hearts are beating. We can forgive. We can let go. We can be grateful. We can find peace. Our hearts are renewed  when we’re mindful. Our hearts are renewed for the hard work of love, renewed to beat and to rest. Ready to fluctuate with life and love.

Our bodies need balance, a certain pace, and a huge measure of grace. We need space for mindfulness. After a rest, our hearts can beat. We can offer a word of encouragement, give someone a look of love, write a short note of appreciation, and offer small acts of compassion: ice chips on a spoon gently ladled into a thirsty mouth is an image that comes to mind. Now we decide mentally, even willfully, to do certain things. Emotionally, we let the bluebird of happiness and the black crow of sadness fly in and out of our lives because we know the Holy Spirit Dove is greater, and stronger, and eternal. Then we can rest again.

Today, I’m doing my heart work. I’m still trusting in the love of God, that my mother’s heart and our hearts rest in God’s heart.  I trust that God’s heart will beat and rest and sustain us, no matter the condition of our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls… matter where we live or move or have our beings. No matter, the matter, the beat goes on and I can rest; for nothing is stronger than God’s Love, not even death.