Dear pilgrim, right now it is your heart’s faithful beating that is keeping you alive. Night and day it is attentive to its life’s task. Even before you were born it was busy learning its trade in your mother’s womb – an apprentice heart becoming familiar with the timing and tuning of its teacher, adapting, like second nature, to the rhythm of its model. It wept when your mother wept; it was happy when she smiled.
In mid-life my doctors were worried about the irregular beating of my heart. I had many ECGs. They all proved negative. I never worried. My mother’s pattern was the same as mine. As you listen to Heartsounds, you will know how wonderful that awareness is, how intimate, how beautiful – and how powerful.
Of all the attributes and traits infused into my spirit by my mother’s heart-bond, I have always felt that courage was the strongest. Time and again when, confounded by fear or loss, my heart would begin to shrink, from nowhere would come a breath of resolution and confidence that would transform my fear, and draw from it a new energy. Whether in truth or fantasy I do not know, but, at those times I would see my mother’s eyes, deep and dark with love, whispering her spirit into mine – you are not alone, in your deepest being you will hear my heart beating within you like a far wave.
In this context I often think of the baby Jesus and his mother Mary. His tiny heart would have imitated the tempo of his mother’s. His divinity would have come straight from the radiant humanity of her beautiful heart. He would have looked into her eyes and imbibed her courage with her milk. From where else could the power of him, his utterly compelling presence, his inner authority, have come?
Whenever his sense of self, or of the success of his mission would falter, whenever he stumbled beneath the weight of his temptations, his passionate emotions and his Cross, what else could empower him to absorb his fear and transform it, but the enduring memory of his mother’s eyes and heart.
There is no distance between the heart and the eyes. They work as one. Shining with tears, memory or vision, the eyes cannot lie. In the last parish I served I remember a funeral at the local crematorium. As the coffin of the grandmother was drawn through the curtains, her nephew, released from jail for the occasion, rushed up and threw himself on it, his manacled hands clawing at the grips on the casket, his voice loud and distraught. The wardens ran up too. In the struggle he fell back into the lap of his frail mother seated near the coffin.
I looked at this amazing scene – a strapping young man lying on his back across his mother’s lap. I saw them looking at each other as in a modern day Pieta. What, I wondered, were their thoughts. Did she see, not a criminal, but her beautiful baby, the joy of their home, around whom their lives revolved? Was her breaking heart remembering those special moments that only a mother would treasure for ever. Was she trying to infuse into her son, at that moment, the love and the courage that she had always infused into him from the moment he was born – and before?
On Good Friday we meditate on the Crucifixion. And we ponder on that poignant moment when Jesus, spun out from his physical and mental torture, is now going through his spiritual crisis – his loss of faith in his Father’s love. What an utter desolation that must have been for him – the twisting of his soul, the loss to end all losses, the final destruction of his fragile spirit. There was no comfort for his tortured mind. ‘Father, have you, too, abandoned me?’
And maybe it was then it happened – the moment when Mary looked up at him and found his burning eyes. Then it was that heart spoke to heart – those two hearts that had beat as one all their lives, as they did when she held his divinity and his humanity together in her womb.
‘My son’, she may have said, ‘my dearest son, flesh of my flesh, heart of my heart, please, oh please remember. Remember our love, my arms holding you tight, my heart beating against yours, my eyes filling you with strength and courage for your terrible destiny. Feel it now.
‘Your Father has not abandoned you. He loves you like I do. Do not be afraid. Look into my eyes like you did when you were small. Nothing has changed. Your Father’s heart, like mine, beats in yours. In two days you will understand this. The darkness will have gone. The pain fulfilled. The loss restored. A new and beautiful light will fill the world. It will shine from your suffering. It will save the world’.
Dear Lord, through all the changing scenes of my life, keep my mind and heart open to the surprises of the Holy Spirit. Give me your joy in accepting new ways, new thoughts and new experiences, so that I may grow in grace to the end of my days.