“(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.“ Luke 2:35
Tensions and hurt are never worse than when they strike in those places where love is also shared. Tension at work is hard, but if the job is just a source of income then they the hurt can be abandoned when we clock-out and leave for home. Hurt is difficult to bear when purposely inflicted by a foe… but excruciating when even accidentally inflicted by someone we love. In the family of Christians we call the Church, love and hurt are both ever present. When we expose our hearts and souls to God’s call, in amongst a community of others, who are also laying bear their inmost being to God – we discover both amazing love, and also the capacity to be struck to the very core, with pain.
The title of this post comes from a translation of the Gospel of Luke. Mary and Joseph have taken the baby Jesus to the temple to fulfill the Jewish customs and the old man Simeon comes up and, recognising the saviour that he has been waiting and praying for, takes the baby in his arms and gives thanks to God. Then he blesses the whole family and says to Mary: ‘This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed -and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ Luke 2:34-35 NRSV Bible
There are some religious paintings, which I have never really been very fond of before, which depict the risen Christ -looking very beautiful and dressed royally, but with his heart exposed in his chest… He is clearly alive, and usually looking directly at the viewer, and one of his hands is sometimes holding aside fabric or pointing to his heart -sometimes painted as quite realistically bloody and often depicted in a stylised way with shiny radiant beams shooting out around it as though it were backlit.
Coming from a staunchly Protestant background I had always thought them an unappealing combination of unrealistic sentimentalism and creepy ghoulishness. But today a new allegorical understanding has come to me…
… We human beings instinctively avoid emotional pain -when we try something and it upsets us emotionally, we tend to try and avoid it in future. Only if we deem it truly worth the risk, will we try it again, or work through the pain. Examples of this are: a couple who long for a child, but have suffered several miscarriages, continue to try, despite the emotional pain, because the desire for a child is greater than the pain of loss or of living without. Or someone who time and time again seeks reconciliation with a sibling and parent, despite the fact that the relationship is full of hurt or even costly and destructive…
When a marriage or partnership breaks down, sometimes the couple will try to work it through in an attempt to save the love they had -but increasingly these days, one or other partner will find the personal emotional cost ultimately greater than the shared love in the relationship -and divorce or separation result.
Humanly speaking, only when there is some love on both sides, is the continued exposure to pain deemed worth the risk and ongoing suffering.
-And this is the allegory that one can see in these ‘sacred heart’ paintings… in them is depicted the Son of God, exposing his heart to suffering, to all that we do to him and to one another… there is no suggestion of this bloody wound healing over, of Christ wrapping a bandage around himself and turning away. We may come and go -we may consider love not worth the risk of pain- and, taking time by ourselves to lick our wounds and recuperate, may find, eventually, the wound healed over, and a part of our heart hardened by scar-tissue. But God does not. He remains open to our evil and unkind behaviour to one another, to our dishonouring of his name, to our rejection of his self-sacrificing love… and he does so through his own will.
There is a strong desire amongst Christians -almost an overwhelming desire, for the Church, to be a pain-free place. For everyone to rub along, either in complete agreement, or in mutual disinterest – in order to avoid suffering. The trouble is, that suffering is part of life on earth, indeed Biblically-speaking, earthly suffering is inextricably identified the calling to be a Christian, ‘we are killed every day‘ writes Paul in his letters -and he is not speaking just in a physical sense, but also emotionally, spiritually. And these ‘deaths’ are not caused, as some Christians might argue, by imagined non-christian baddies, but first and foremost by one another… by the very family members with whom we share bonds of love.
Sometimes our hearts are pierced when we feel betrayed or abandoned by the family of Christians, and particularly by those Christians in our own church with whom we meet most often, our hearts are injured when the hearts of others start to harden against us. Other times our hearts are pierced, when deep thoughts are revealed that cause us emotional pain… great differences in belief or behaviour that we judge impossible to overcome without withdrawing and licking our wounds, or worse still – bandaging our wounds and arming ourselves for a counterattack.
But we are not called to harden our hearts; or even to bandage our wounds… we are called to keep our hearts open to one another, raw and painful as that is… and to let truth and love be seen. We will fail. We do fail… ourselves and one another. But we must never stop taking the risk, because the only sure way to protect ourselves from pain and suffering is to cease loving. And if we do not love, then we are dead.
So this post is dedicated to all those whose heart I have pierced, and all those who have pierced mine -in the certain hope that one day, we will all see truth, and be united within the love of God.