When we think of the heart, we think of the life-giving organ whose beat represents life. We often take its hard work on our behalf for granted. Exactly 10 years ago I had a wake-up call related to a 95 percent blockage of an artery leading to my heart. It was life-threatening and resulted in triple bypass surgery. Thanks to caring and competent medical people and the heartfelt caring of loving friends and a loving congregation, I am doing well today. I appreciate God's gift of life in a new way and have made lifestyle changes in diet and exercise to be more heart friendly. My heart blockage was literal, but we all have blockages of the heart to deal with.
The biblical understanding of heart is that of a central and unifying organ of personal life. In the heart dwelt the thoughts, plans, fears and hopes that characterize who we are. Biblically, the heart is the seat of emotions, intellect, moral life and personality. The heart could be glad, sad, troubled, courageous, truthful, generous, hateful and loving. It was a place of contact with God where God could implant new thoughts and feelings. So the biblical understanding of heart is as life giving to our entire being, while the literal pumping of our heart is to our survival.
I invite all of us to take a look inward and outward for blockages that need to be opened in our lives. We need to open our hearts to the joys, sorrows and struggles of life. The biblical book of psalms is so loved because it deals with the realities of life with heart. In fact, the word heart is used 120 times in the psalms. At the center of life's joys and struggles are heartfelt realities. There is an intimate connection between our relationship with ourselves, God and others that are issues of the heart.
As we live our lives in this very special place we call home, how can we let the heart define our life together as a community? Are there people who we are excluding from heartfelt care? What attitudes, stereotypes and resentments do we hold on to that need to be opened? Take a look into your heart for blockages that cause needless pain to you, God and others.
How might we build openness and caring rather than blockages? Blockages endanger us and others. Reaching out to all God's people can be difficult in our complex and busy world, but God seeks to implant new thoughts and feeling so that the circumference of our hearts will grow in life-giving ways.
An issue of the heart that is too often treated as a blockage is that of homelessness and hunger in our community. We have many homeless teens, families and adults who need the same openness of heart that we all need. Compassion and care are universal needs that are not universally given. Homelessness has its roots in many different realities. There are heartfelt solutions and heartless solutions. I invite you to consider openness of heart as a gift to apply to the issue of homelessness and the many other issues that impact our community and lives.
The issue of homelessness will be the focus of a community forum on homelessness tonight (Sept. 14) at 7 p.m. Northern Light church is hosting this important opportunity to learn more about some of the root causes of homelessness and how we might together find meaningful and heartfelt solutions. Awareness and compassion are vital to an open heart. Together we can make sure that no one is blocked from the gift of community.
A recent visitor to our church's busy food pantry left a note that said, "Bless your heart. Thank you very much." The heartfelt blessing when lives are shared, and needs met, flows both ways. It is good to live without blockages of the heart. May this generous community approach all its people with an open heart. Keep in mind that not all heart check-ups involve a medical professional.
Larry Rorem is Pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.