With Hearts Outside our Bodies

heart outside your body

A few years ago, a good friend and I were talking about our children. How we loved them, how we were exasperated by them, how we struggled to parent well, mostly how we hurt when they hurt. She talked about a quote she had read somewhere, that when we have children we wear our hearts outside our bodies.

We walk with our hearts outside our bodies.

I later found the full quote: “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”*

Think of the heart, the most important organ in our bodies. Our hearts make sure the rest of our cells and other vital organs get oxygen in order to function effectively. They are well protected behind skin, muscle, and the strong bone barrier of our rib cage — it takes a bullet to get to our heart.

That’s the physical heart. That other heart, the heart that holds our love and emotion is not so well shielded. And with the coming of children, any skin, muscle, or ribs that we had lose all their efficacy. We lose any semblance of protective covering; suddenly our hearts are on the outside of our bodies, vulnerable and exposed for all the world to see and hurt, taunt and discard.

With five children, my heart has been outside my body and exposed for a long time.  Each child has their own place, their own shape, in my heart. With adult children, I can only witness what they allow me to witness, can only be a part of what they let me see. The range of emotions that I experience are extreme. There are times when the temptation to burst into tears is ever with me; those watery, salty drops at the ready. Other times my joy is palpable. Still other times, I feel angry and rage at these wretched people that I gave birth to. My heart is outside my body.

And I think that’s what happened with God when he decided that we, above all other animals, would be in relationship with him. He put his heart outside his body. He walked with his heart outside his body. He would hurt for us. He would rage at us. He would have compassion on us. And if that was not enough, when he decided to reveal himself through Jesus, his heart was further outside his body.

The heart of God was outside his body. And we broke it.

Gone was any rib cage of protection. Gone was the skin and muscle that could guard. “My God, My God Why Have you forsaken me” echoed to the Heavens. The God of the universe had put his heart outside his body in the form of his beloved Son.

In the most extreme act of love that the world would ever witness, God wore his heart outside his body and all of life changed.  It’s an amazing mystery. 

In my faith tradition, this week is Holy Week. All week we will remember in a special way this life-giving sacrifice. We will remember that God put his heart outside his body and all of life changed. 

*Elizabeth Stone

Note: This post is a reworking of an old post.

Away in a Manger?

View of Bethlehem, 1898

Away in a Manger…a repost.

Away in a manger,
no crib for a bed. 
The little Lord Jesus lays down his sweet head.
The stars in the sky look down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

I’ve read many lovely Christmas pieces — how alone Mary and Joseph were during their night-time trip to Bethlehem, her heavy with child and all; how there was no room, and so they were put in the stable; how the cows came and licked the face of Jesus (like any new mom would let that happen….) These pieces are written in beautiful prose and I find myself tearing up a bit.

Cold, alone, dirty stables, animal excrement, mooing, neighing, hay — it’s all there, and for the person who is an artist with their words, it is perfect material.

But the thing is, we’ve got the stable and the manger thing a bit distorted. It’s the limitations of language and translation coupled with our own misconceptions about life in Bethlehem at the time.

I don’t wish to be a cynic or spoiler – those who have written pieces have done a beautiful job in capturing our emotions. But when did we begin to re-write Biblical stories, church traditions through a western pen?

When did the familiar story become so familiar that it became incorrect?

Living in Pakistan and the Middle East helped me to view the scriptures in a different way, to think about the Bible beyond western thought and tradition.

And that is why I appreciate Ken Bailey and his scholarship around Middle Eastern life during the time of Jesus so much. Bailey lived for over 60 years in various countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, and Cyprus. He is an expert in New Testament scholarship.

He wants to set the record straight on the dirty, cold stable and in his book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, he challenges our western assumptions and guides us to a more complete understanding. He does this so that the stories can, “like a diamond, be restored to their original brilliance.”

So let’s see what a more complete picture looks like:

First off – there was no inn in the sense that the west knows it. There was no commercial space with a fireplace and breakfast in the morning for a price. Instead the word in Greek refers to a guest space, an ‘upper room’ commonly used for hosting guests, relatives of the family. Likely the relatives had others staying with them as the census was being taken “throughout the known world.” Joseph was from a royal line and as such there would have been a space for them to stay. Early Christians when hearing the narrative of the birth of Christ would not have assumed a public inn where there was no space, rather they would assume there was no room in the upper room where guests usually stayed. Instead they were put in more of a ‘family’ room. At one end of this room would be an area a few feet lower where animals were brought inside during the night and led outside first thing in the morning. The family room would also have mangers dug into the ground where animals could feed during the night should they be hungry.

Second giving birth was a big deal, a community event that took place with female members of the family, one of whom would have been a midwife. There is no way Mary gave birth alone and Joseph cut the cord and delivered the placenta. No.Way. That is 21st century thinking right there. Although probably not with her mom, she would have been with Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem. There would have been a clean space, water heated, and women to help. Stop for a moment and imagine you were the midwife at the birth. Can you picture the miracle moment, that moment that happens after every successful delivery, when you realized this one was different? When a chill went up your spine and a ‘Glory to God’ was spontaneously shouted  from your soul? For it wasn’t an emergency birth, rather it was a common birth of an uncommon child.  

Third – He was worshiped by shepherds, the lowest of all in the social strata. And their sign, says Bailey, is indeed the manger. Because they would find him in a manger, they knew he would be in a home of a peasant and the family would not dismiss them as unworthy and unclean, not allowing them to come and offer their worship. The gospel of Luke says that “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Bailey goes on to say that the word ‘all’ refers to the “quality of hospitality”.

“If they had found a young mother with her first child in the middle of a filthy stable, scared to death with no older women around to help her, the shepherds would have said, ‘This is outrageous! Come home with us! Our women will take care of you!’” Bailey, Open Hearts in Bethlehem

Ken Bailey summarizes it this way:

“To summarize … the holy family traveled to Bethlehem, where
they were received into a private home. The child was born,
wrapped and … ‘put to bed’ … in the living room in the manger
that was either built into the floor or made of wood and moved
into the family living space. … The guest room was already
occupied by other guests. The host family graciously accepted
Mary and Joseph into the family room of their house. … The
village midwife and other women would have assisted at the birth.
After the child was born and wrapped, Mary put her newborn to
bed in a manger filled with fresh straw and covered him with a
blanket.” Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, 34–35.

He goes on to say that understanding the context and the real story makes the story better, richer, and more filled with meaning.

Because the truth about the birth of Christ is this:

That this Jesus laid aside all that was rightfully his, putting aside his glory to become Incarnate. This is the beauty of Advent, the mystery of the Incarnation.

He, a King, was born in a peasant’s home. He, the Lord of all, was reduced to a newborn baby with an umbilical cord that needed to be cut. He, the Saviour, needed breast milk and human warmth to survive.

And if we could wrap our heads around that, we would have no need to make the way he was born harder than it was. 

Note: Rachel Pieh Jones and I both wrote on this topic a couple of years ago. Here is her piece that is more indepth than mine and a great read: Rethinking the Nativity. 

Enter the Story of a Stranger

refugees quote

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

The verses are from a well-known and oft used passage in the book of Matthew. Through the years, they have been used as a challenge, as an admonition, and as a reminder:

Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit those in prison.  Why? Because God. We don’t do it because of politics or out of guilt – we do it because our love of God compels us to love others.

We will soon enter the Season of Advent, where we have a choice. A choice to step back and make a conscious decision to welcome the stranger. It’s easy to write a status update on social media, it’s much more difficult and costly to live out our strongly held beliefs.

 Let’s change the conversation and welcome the stranger this season.

Here’s how:

    • Find out your local VOLAG (voluntary agency that works with refugees) See what they need and how you can help. Here is where you can find a VOLAG.
    • Open your home for Thanksgiving. This is an amazing holiday to invite people from other countries into your home.
    • Watch this 17 minute film and encourage your friends, your church, your colleagues to watch it. It’s another way of entering the story of a stranger.
    • If you are a mom, consider sending a contribution via Moms for Moms. Take a look at this video and see how to contribute.

https://www.indiegogo.com/project/moms-for-moms/embedded

    • Host a gathering to make kits for refugees. Here’s what you need and where you send them:

Family Refugee Kit (~$28):

4-pack of toilet paper
3.1 ounce bar of soap
22.5 ounce bottle of shampoo
4 toothbrushes
2 6.4 ounce tubes of toothpaste
2-pack of bath towels
36 count sanitary pads
2.5 ounce hand sanitizing gel
4- to 10-pack of shaving razors with travel size shaving cream
$4 for shipping costs
Note: kit items can be donated in any bag or box,

Infant Refugee Kit (~$19):

36-pack disposable diapers
Travel pack of wet wipes
15 ounce bottle baby shampoo
Tube of diaper rash cream
Washcloth
 $4 for shipping costs
Note: kit items can be donated in any bag or box, drawstring garbage bag preferred.

drawstring garbage bag preferred. All information courtesy of  Medical Teams International

See Medical Teams International for more drop off information and more information about the organization.
I cannot stress enough how useful these kits are. We have taken over 100 to Iraq and Turkey and sent even more. It’s an excellent Christmas project. I reached out to the folks at Medical Teams and here is what they said:

“Thank you so much for your email – and your support for our mission. We will gladly accept shipments at our Tigard Oregon Distribution Center – 14150 SW Milton Court, Tigard OR 97224. Again, thank you for your interest in our project – We are so touched by the kindness and compassion from people around the US!”

Start a project TODAY in your community.

“God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”*

Will I live out my response to the Incarnation? Will I welcome and enter into the story of a stranger?

*Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

Fractions of Understanding – a Repost

These days my waking and sleeping moments are filled with questions and thoughts on the Incarnation. A week ago I ended a post with these words:

“That this Jesus laid aside all that was rightfully his, putting aside his glory to become Incarnate. This is the beauty of Advent, the mystery of the Incarnation. He, a King, was born in a peasant’s home. He, the Lord of all, was reduced to a newborn baby with an umbilical cord that needed to be cut. He, the Saviour, needed breast milk and human warmth to survive.”

As I was thinking about this last evening, after a day that was filled with the pain of a broken world, I remembered something I wrote almost two years ago after visiting our oldest daughter, Annie, in Cairo, Egypt. These are my thoughts from that time. Thank you for reading them.

*********************

Annie on rooftop

Every once in a while I am given the gift of understanding a fraction more about the incarnation, a bit more about incarnational living. Over this past holiday I experienced one of these fraction gifts.

Prior to going to Cairo we were asked many times “Is it safe?” “Are you sure you should go?” The queries grew more urgent in tone as Egypt began making news headlines the week before we left. While I believe that safety is a relative term, I appreciated the concern.

But safety didn’t enter into our decision. We wanted to see our oldest daughter and experience her world. Where did she live? Shop? Eat? Who were her friends? What was daily life like for her? What are her current joys and struggles? We wanted to experience these because we love her. We don’t want to be absent from, or oblivious to, her world.

It was this epiphany of sorts that struck me as I entered gladly into her world. That God, in his love for us, entered gladly through the person of Christ to live out the joys and struggles of life locked within the limitations of the human body, ultimately conquering sin, suffering, and death. This is the story of incarnation.

Through visiting Annie and entering her world I know more than I ever could from talking with her. I have met her friends – I know their names. I have seen where she lives – I know she is on the 9th floor with a view of the Mokhattam Hills. I know she has an elevator that can break down and send the passenger into a raw fear. I know the places where she eats and shops, I have seen the faces and eyes of men who ogle her and know the blind rage that she has felt at being seen as an object, nothing more than a piece of meat. I experienced the boundaries she lives with as a single woman in a predominantly Muslim country. I saw the limitations she has in the area of the city where she lives, where barbed wire and walls are placed without notice blocking movement. I felt her frustration with the nonstop crowds when she feels she needs space. I learned about her world. I felt what she felt, saw what she sees, ate where she eats and walked the steps that she walks. I had the joy and struggle of being locked in her world.

I have not just heard about her life, I have experienced her life, walking with her through her neighborhood and beyond.

A couple of years after the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers, there was a terrorist attack on the International Church in Islamabad, Pakistan. There were several of our friends present in the church that day, one was the father of Robynn Bliss who readers know from Fridays with Robynn. Another was a friend of ours who was there with her husband and small children. In the attack she shielded her small child from flying shrapnel and was severely injured in the process.  

In a poignant letter describing the event, she tells of her response. “I had always thought it was ‘hard-nosed’ of God to allow His son to be offered as a sacrifice for us and experience the pain and death of the cross instead of us”. She went on to say that in that moment, protecting her child was her greatest joy, the thing she wanted to do more than anything. To save him despite the cost to her  – a severe injury and punctured lung. In wonder she realized that it is God’s great joy to send Jesus – who wrapped his body around us as it were, so that we would be saved from the sin shrapnel that would kill us.  The cost for her was great, but nothing in comparison to the joy of saving her child.

The wonder of incarnation – whether understood through walking in the shoes of a daughter and understanding her world, or protecting a child at the cost of great injury and potential death. All of these are picture gifts to help me in my finite mind and ability to understand a fraction more of  the mystery and wonder of the incarnation – to comprehend a bit more of the ultimate love that walked this path willingly. Fractions of understanding – not a full picture but an important piece of the whole.

“You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself, and seek out His lost sheep…” St. Athanasius on The Incarnation

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32

A Way in the City

I step off the subway at the Park Street stop and walk up the dark staircase that takes me out to the Boston Common. It’s still dark and winter is all around me. The annual tree lighting ceremony has taken place and the lights shine brightly in this early morning hour.

White, twinkly lights brighten other trees in the area as well – symbolic of the season. But despite the attempts at magic and celebration, all the lights and decorations in the world can’t hide the homeless man who I just passed, can’t hide the dirt of yesterdays’ tourists, can’t hide the brokenness of the city.

All around me I see evidence of this brokenness. It is in the glum, moodiness of passers-by. It is in the grocery cart pushed by the homeless woman, piled high with bottles and filthy blankets. It is in the impatient honking of a car, driver angry at the vehicle in front of him. It is in the sadness in the eyes of the young woman on the street.

It’s the world of Isaiah 35 – A world of the blind, the mute, the lame, the broken.

A world that needs the hope of the Incarnation, the joy of redemption.

And in the quiet of the city morning, the melody of Joy to the World comes faintly, unexpected. I can barely make out the words and I don’t know where it’s coming from. I wonder if it’s in my head, a trick of my mind. But as I walk it gets louder and there is no mistaking Mariah Carey’s strong soprano “Joy to the World, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King…..No more let sin and sorrow reign, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his glories known, far as the curse is found….” It’s a song of redemption in a weary city; a God-breathed reminder that our world has not been abandoned.

This is the everlasting Joy that Isaiah speaks of — that our God will come; our God has come. This is the joy in the desert, the joy in the city, the joy of the redeemed. The joy of a rainy Monday in a bleak December.

(This piece was originally written for an Advent Devotional produced by Park Street Church)

20121217-081143.jpg
Boston Common Christmas Tree – Early Morning Hours

I want to thank so many of you who shared yesterday’s post “It’s not the way it’s supposed to be!” I purposely didn’t post on Saturday feeling like there were no words and that was best. I know some of your stories, and I know that you are keenly aware that it’s not the way it’s supposed to be – and yet at the end of the day, you have hope. Thank you – it shouts to me from your comments and emails.

When the Lights Go Out and Jesus Isn’t Enough

Lightbulb quote

I was tucking him in tight, sheets pulled up to his chin, blanket over the sheet, pillow fluffed. His attic bedroom was a chilly room and his toddler body was curled up tight.

I had read.  We had done the “Great green room” and  “a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of a cow jumping over the moon”*. Several times.

I had sung.

I had prayed.

Time to go. Time to turn out the light and go downstairs where 4 other kids waited for bedtime tea and talk.

“Mommy, I scawwed”

“Jonathan you don’t need to be scared. The boys are right next door. I’m right downstairs”

“Mommy, I still scawwed”

“Jonathan, Jesus will be with you”

“I hate Jesus”

BAM! OUCH! WHAT??.

This was not the way this bedtime scenario was supposed to go. My words were supposed to comfort. These were the words of a good Christian mama – Or were they?

I suddenly saw things from this tow-headed toddler’s perspective.

The light was out, mom was leaving, and Jesus wasn’t enough.

Each night I read. I sang. I prayed. And then I told him Jesus would be with him, shut off all the lights and left him alone in a cold room. In his mind, left alone in the dark with Jesus, he was cold and scared. Jesus was proving a poor bedfellow.

No wonder at that moment he hated Jesus.

It was this pivotal night that turned around our bedtime routine. I found a night-light. I tucked him in tight. I told him we were right downstairs. I prayed with him. I shut off the light and, with night-light glowing, I stayed until I saw his eyes close. I no longer left him in the dark with a cold-hearted “Jesus is with you.

I have many parenting stories, many tales of my inept parenting and resilient kids, but this is one of my favorites.

For it served as a good reminder; a reminder that Jesus needs skin and we are that skin, to our children and to others. A reminder that there have been times when I have translated the original bedtime routine to others. I have in essence patted them on the back, made appropriate noises and told them Jesus would be with them. And I imagine them saying to my back as I walked away, so busy with other things, “I hate Jesus” for what they needed was me being His hands and His feet, me offering bread and tea, comfort and love, a heart of compassion, but most of all — being present and offering a night-light.

The light is out in their lives and Jesus isn’t enough.

And isn’t this why there was an Incarnation to begin with? Because the lights were out, and it was cold and dark. We lay in our beds curled up, far from God. And God knew we needed Him with skin on.

Every year at Advent we set aside time to remember the coming of God incarnate. Remember that everything changed when this baby was born. Remember that people still need to see the mystery of God incarnate lived and offered — A night-light and presence to replace the dark, fear, and cold by offering light, safety, and warmth.

On this first Sunday of Advent may we be a people who sit for awhile and offer a night-light.

*From the beloved children’s book Goodnight Moon.

This post is linked up with The Parent ‘Hood hosted by Kelly at Love Well blog.  http://www.lovewellblog.com/2012/12/me-and-my-shadow.html

Meditation from a Reader

From a CAB Reader on Pieces of Childhood

One of the lessons of the Incarnation (God become human) is that the material world isn’t intrinsically bad or ‘evil’. Matter matters. It is the material world by which Christianity finds the vehicle of its redemption and grace. Thanks be to God.

So holding on to a few significant items, and/or mourning their loss, is appropriate and in a real sense, part of the Christian tradition. This is what allows us with confidence to say ‘this is my body, this is my blood….’ From outtasiteoutamind.

Resting in Truth this Saturday!