I wrote this piece on a Sunday more than four years ago; the poor test results were just the prelude to my cancer experience. Everyone dealing with serious illness has to have a lot of heart; the same is true for their caregivers.
On Thursday morning, a medical professional used the words “wake-up call” about a chart of my numbers, which are nearly all too high, putting me at risk for heart disease or a stroke. I struggle to rise out of the warm, comfortable bed of beliefs I’ve lived by for years, but I’m no happier about a medical wakeup call than I am about the literal alarm clock going off. Another of my favorite foolish beliefs, the one about the rules not applying to me, has gone by the wayside. I’m facing facts, and I don’t like doing so one bit.
In this somewhat truculent mood, I betook myself to church today, where every other word was heart. It was the subtext of the entire worship service, even if no one heard it except me. It’s in the Collect for Purity that the priest says at the beginning of the service: “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open. . . cleanse the thoughts of our hearts.” I’ve heard that prayer hundreds of times over several years, but I heard it differently this morning. The word was also in the collect for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, “Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love.” Our Gospel hymn this morning was an old favorite, “Come Thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace. . . Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it.” In the Gospel reading from Mark 2:1-12, the scribes are “questioning in their hearts” Jesus’ statement forgiving the paralytic man’s sins. We pray the collect for peace after the Prayers of the People, which begins “Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart. . .” And in our confession of sin, we admit we have not loved God “with our whole heart.” The priest urges us at the beginning of the Eucharist, “Lift up your hearts.”
Heart was the quality of four friends in the Gospel story who opened a hole in the roof to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus. Arriving at a house in Capernaum where Jesus was staying and finding the crowd blocking access to him, they eschewed the door and conventional means for the roof. I have to wonder about that. It’s a creative solution, no doubt, but wouldn’t you think there’d be a point at which Jesus, noticing that the noise overhead wasn’t just a mouse, would stop preaching and direct the crowd to make room? I’m trying to imagine the state of the homeowner’s heart, watching his or her roof being dismantled.
Heart is what does the seemingly impossible, this 10-ounce pump moving a third of a cup of blood with each beat, for a total of 1,500 to 2,000 gallons per day. It beats about 38 million times every year. I’ve been asking a lot of my heart lately. It’s time to lift it up to the Lord and change how I’m living, to take better care of that amazing muscle.