What troubles your heart today?
Easter 5 Sunday 10th May 2020
What troubles your heart today? For me, the list is long and it’s not pretty.
Probably as in the forefront of most of our minds is those suffering from CoVid 19. Those separated from loved ones. All healthcare professionals. I think about those grieving and mourning the death of a loved one. I think about families that are struggling, spouses that are divorcing, children that are hungry, and people that are hanging on by a thread. I think about my own sorrows, losses, and disappointments. I think about the ways today’s gospel gets interpreted and used to exclude, condemn, and intimidate others.
Despite what Jesus says about not letting our hearts be troubled, my heart is troubled, and I suspect yours might be too. What would you add to my list? None of us get through this life without a troubled heart. I don’t think we can look at the pain of the world today, the suffering of a loved one, or our own wounds and hurts and not have a troubled heart. At least, I hope we can’t.
That is the context in which I hear Jesus say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” It’s not that different from the context in which Jesus said those words. It is the night of the last supper. Jesus has announced his departure from this world, his death. Feet have been washed. Judas has left the table and stepped into the nighttime of betrayal. Peter will break his silence with a threefold denial. Thomas is lost and asks, “How can we know the way?” Philip has lost his centre and cannot see what is right in front of him. “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied,” he says.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says. Are you kidding me? Is Jesus really serious about that? Does he know what is happening in our lives and our world? How can Jesus say that with a straight face when he was troubled at seeing Mary and the Jews weeping at the death of Lazarus, when he said that his own “soul is troubled”, and when St. John tells us that Jesus “was troubled in spirit” ? What is Jesus telling us? It is not as if there is an on-off switch for troubled hearts. How do we begin to make sense of today’s gospel in a world whose heart is constantly troubled?
It’s not hard to understand why this text is so often used in funerals. Death troubles our hearts and we want to find some balance, stability, and harmony. This text, however, is about more than the afterlife. It has something to say right here and right now. It speaks to the very circumstances that trouble our hearts today.
Think about times when you heart has been troubled. Maybe it is now. What does that feel like? We all experience it in our own ways but see if this sounds familiar: isolated, paralyzed, overwhelmed, powerless, off balance, out of control, disconnected, afraid, thoughts spinning in your head, no stability, despair, grief, tears, anger. Do you recognize any of those?
In the midst of a troubled heart the unspoken question is this: Will the centre hold or is everything collapsing around us. Thomas and Philip are feeling the collapse. Much of the world is. Maybe you are too. Will the centre hold? That’s our question.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus recognizes that our hearts are troubled. He is not warning us about a future condition. He knows the troubling has already begun. He can see it in us because he’s experienced it within himself. He also knows that our lives and the world are not defined by or limited to what troubles.
What if not letting our hearts be troubled begins with looking into our hearts and seeing and naming what troubles? That means facing ourselves, our lives, our world. That may be the first and most difficult thing Jesus asks of us in today’s gospel. I don’t know about you but sometimes I don’t want to see. I don’t want to name. Its too difficult and too painful. “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Thomas speaks for us all. Where do we go when it seems everything is collapsing around us?
Here’s the paradox. Sometimes we have to lose our centre in order to find it. I want to be clear about this. I’m not suggesting that God purposely de-centres us. De-centring happens. It is a part of life. It is a part of the human condition. Sometimes it comes out of circumstances we did not create or choose. Other times it is a consequence of our choices or actions. Regardless, Jesus says that is not a place to stay or a way to live. It is not the life he lives or offer us.
If your heart is troubled, then it’s time to re-centre. Re-centring does not mean our hearts won’t be troubled. It doesn’t necessarily fix the problem, whatever it might be. It means that our lives are tethered to something greater than ourselves. It means that our hearts are held secure by God and we are not free falling into the abyss. Jesus is reminding us that there is a centre and it is not us. It is not the church and her creeds and doctrines. It is not our success, accomplishments, position, or power. We do not have to be the centre, nor do we need to establish it. In fact, we cannot. Instead, we awaken to it. We already know the way to and the place of this centre Jesus says.
“Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied,” Philip says to Jesus. He’s bought into the lie that the Father is apart from, outside of, and distant from himself. The centre, however, is within. The Father’s house is within. The kingdom is within. Wherever you go, there is the centre. Whatever you face, there is the centre. Whoever you are, there is the centre, regardless of what troubles, there is the centre. Wherever you are, there is the centre. Not because you are the centre, but because God is within.
In the language of today’s gospel, the centre is the Father’s house and there are many dwelling places in this house. In the Father’s house there is a dwelling place for every troubled heart. I am not talking about the afterlife, and I am not thinking of this as some sort of celestial dormitory for those who have enough right belief and right behaviour. I am taking about the dwelling places as the ways God’s life intersects our own: mercy and forgiveness, justice, generosity, compassion, healing, love, beauty, wisdom, hope, courage, joy, intimacy. These are the dwelling places for troubled hearts, places of re-centring. Every time we live into and express the divine attributes in our way of being, with our words, or by our actions, we regain our centre, restore balance, and take up residence in the Father’s house.
What in you today needs re-centring?
How might centeredness, balance, and harmony within yourself help you see and respond to your troubles or the troubles of the world differently?
What if in the midst of troubles your heart could maintain a normal rhythm and beat with God’s life?
Let us pray
May we centre our lives on you.
May we abide in you and find rest for our souls.
May we trust in your promises and may we hope in your Son.
Rosemary Donovan 10 May 2020