Give back your heart to itself

08-14-2013 | Bob Sabath

Today we shared several stories from the Gospel of Matthew and some stories from the ancient Irish Celtic lore. Comparing them is a helpful practice. The Gospel passages are: Matthew 9:18f — the story of the woman in need of healing who touched Jesus' robe. "I will be well," she said. Good words for us too. And the story of Jesus taking the hand of a dead girl and raising her to life ("Arise, My Love...") in Matthew 15:21f — the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman.

The Irish Celtic stories are: the story of the seal woman and the story of the fox woman. In both the Celtic stories the man in the story is faced with a decision. Although he shares Jesus' struggle in the moment, he responds in the end very differently from the Jesus in the Gospel story.

The Beatitude today was: "Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy."

Questions included: relating to the story of the Canaanite woman and Jesus. Here is a beautiful example of how Jesus grew in understanding (explicitly stated in the story of the boy Jesus in the temple) and was continually transformed through his encounters with others. The woman is a voice of the Spirit calling Jesus to even deeper awareness. She challenged Jesus to re-think his mission and see himself and her in a new light. He did. He shifted. He grew in understanding. He changed.

What was it in Jesus that enabled him to change his mind? What capacity of heart? Can we say that the experience of encounter is a powerful agent of transformation? What is my experience of this? When in my 'rightness' am I wrong? What is my experience of "getting it wrong in order to get it right?" And once again it's the unexpected encounter that moves Jesus. He is not in control of this. He responds to what presents itself to him in an evolving way.

n working through the Beatitudes today we moved into the saying "Blessed are the merciful..." I believe that this capacity of the heart — to give and receive mercy/forgiveness and to give and receive compassion — is at the heart of the process of becoming peacemakers and at the core of the Beatitude movement from poverty to peacemaking. The danger of seeking justice is that we become full of ourselves. We think we know. We assume a self-righteousness in our noble work. We become the very opposite of merciful, understanding, compassionate and forgiving. So the progression from hungering for justice to becoming more merciful is a movement of the spirit moving us into a fuller humanity and a wider heart.

Can we speak of this capacity of heart from our own experience? The giving and receiving of mercy/compassion and forgiveness? This of course includes and especially so the capacity for self-compassion, self-kindness, self-forgiveness? What is my experience of this?

Love after Love
by Derek Walcott

The time will come when with elation
you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome
and say, sit here, eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self

Give wine, give bread.
Give back your heart to itself,
to the stranger who has loved you all your life
whom you ignored for another
who knows you by heart

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Perhaps a practice today might be to say this poem over and over to yourself. Perhaps memorizing the opening paragraph before bedtime. Sleep well.

Listen to song: Lord Have Mercy
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Collected Poems, 1948-1984
By Derek Walcott