According to Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” It is where we harbor the weeds of bitterness, resentment, jealousy, self-pity, self-centeredness, unforgiveness, anger, pride, arrogance, fear, hatred, and hopelessness–just to name a few. However, the heart also has the capacity to bear the fruits of the Spirit such as “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control .” (Galatians 5:22-23) It is up to us to determine which we will allow to flourish, and we can be assured that God knows the difference, for in answer to the question in Jeremiah about who can know the heart, the response was “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” That is why Proverbs 4:23 cautions us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Guarding the heart and doing regular self-examinations of the heart are essential and ongoing processes, and sometimes it is in the wilderness while God has our full attention, that God wants to do an intensive de-weeding, a spiritual angioplasty, a pruning–if you will, so we can be more authentically who we be.
Now, in following the Spirit, there is always a time to come and a time to go, and I try to pay attention to the signs so that I don’t miss my exit. For in order to hear Spirit and not the random opinions of the crowd or your own insecurities, you may have to be silent and attentive to the myriad of ways in which Spirit speaks to know when to come and when to go. In coming here, I saw a job announcement on Facebook within seconds of my friend Clarissa (who would become the project’s new Executive Director) posting it, and I was led to investigate the opportunity. I went through the interviewing and screening process in November 2014 which ended in an invitation to begin service in March 2015 and in a need to raise about $10,000 per year to supplement the small stipend that volunteers received. At the time, I had no idea how it would all come together, but I knew from experience that where God gives vision, God also gives provision. Therefore, I said yes to Guatemala without having an airline ticket, monthly supporters, and not even 1% of my $12,000 annual budget.
As God has promised not to leave us comfortless, the true essence of who I be that transcends race, culture, and relationship status was not deprived of the bonds of family defined by our connection to Spirit. This brings to mind my grandmother’s certain but comedic way of discerning folks. If she did not like what she discerned, she would say, “my spirit don’t agree with” him or her. And just like everywhere else I have been, I have found those with whom my spirit “don’t agree” in Guatemala, as well as those with whom my spirit does agree–my extended spiritual family. In this family, there are no hierarchies or boundaries that separate but only the Spirit who unifies. So, although I arrived in Guatemala without a defined support system, I did know the three people that the Spirit used to get me here–the executive director, her husband, and their son–and while I’ve been here, the Spirit has connected me to an extended spiritual family.
Since we are talking about God getting our full and undivided attention and about getting to the heart of the matter, I felt it appropriate to share about how God has gotten my attention in beautiful Guatemala. I am currently in the midst of a 4 part series on my Go Be Serve Guatemala Mission blog site about my volunteer in mission experience, and because this season of my life is so relevant to our Lenten Safari journey together, I am sharing Part 2 from that series.
For while the heart is a necessary organ for us to experience being “alive,” it is also necessary for us to experience “life more abundantly.” It is the place where we store up the emotions that animate our actions and behaviors. This can be tricky, though, because unlike our actions and behaviors which can be observed, the purity of one’s motives, the quality of the emotional soil of one’s heart, cannot be seen and certainly discerned, if we lack healthy self-awareness and are not intentional.
To do this work, however, God has to have our full and undivided attention. Since many of us tend to have the attention span of a gnat, this usually means that God has to get us alone, remove all the crutches that have been propping us up, and peel back all the pretenses. It is not a pretty nor a comfortable proposition, and that is partly the point, because comfort has the uncanny ability to lull us back to sleep, while a little pain and discomfort will wake us up like a cold shower.
Now although the manner in which we are generative may vary, I believe we are all born with the capacity to be fertile, but the fact of the matter is that good soil requires not only capacity but willingness and mastery. This willingness begins with a readiness to hear as Jesus states in Luke 8:8, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” We all have ears, but we don’t always have ears to hear, or we are too busy talking to hear anything, or we believe we can talk and hear at the same time. Unfortunately, the art of listening is almost a lost craft and the capacity to hear what is being said not only by words but by body language and by what is left unsaid, is practically non-existent. Yet, being good soil begins with being willing to hear, so that you can become willing to heed, and in so doing, you can become a willing participant in your own healing–bringing forth a harvest that blesses you to be a blessing.
In seminary I was required to take Church History, and as we took an invasive and interrogatory look into the history of Christianity, the professor advised us that it was our responsibility to accept both the good and the bad as part of that heritage. From Christianity’s hook-up with the Roman empire during the reign of Constantine in 313 after the Edict of Milan decriminalized Christianity, to the sanctioning of the Inquisition, the Crusades, antisemitism, slavery, world-wide colonialism, and intolerance to name a few, Christianity has been and continues to be pretty brutal, violent, and anti-Jesus. We don’t have to go back far in history either, as in we only need go back a few months, a few weeks, a few days, or even a few moments ago. But if we were to consider a poignant moment in time, 11/9 of 2016 is as damming as any when 80% of American evangelical Christians helped elect a rabid racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, bigoted, fascist, white supremacist to the White House. On the heels of completing only two months in office, the unethical, unjust, immoral, unpatriotic, and plain un-Christian faux pas of 45 and his cabinet are too numerous to count and too painful to rehash, but rehash and resist and resolve, we must!
The bottom line is that knowing and acknowledging our ancestral context, which can be much more difficult for some us, is a worthwhile process to engage. In fact, Henry Louis Gates hosts a series on PBS that traces the roots of famous people called Finding Your Roots. About two years ago the show traced the roots of Ben Affleck, and Affleck asked that they not include the slave-owning history of one of his ancestors, and that truth was not aired. Trust me, we all have some characters in our family trees, but we have to acknowledge the good and the bad, the controversial and the commendable if we are to live our most authentic lives consciously preserving worthy legacies and creating new ones as we abandon worthless legacies and their remnants.
Jesus knows the pain of Black and Brown people who are living under a set of laws that were designed to kill them physically, spiritually, economically, psychologically, and emotionally. Jesus knows the pain of being arrested on “trumped up” charges, and being held without due process. Jesus knows the pain of being treated as less than human, of being assumed a threat without any provocation, of being unjustly convicted and brutally murdered. Jesus knows this pain, because Jesus lived it under a Roman system that sought to kill him from birth, that legalized the killing of boys of His ethnicity, that continually saw Him as a threat, and that eventually executed Him–capital punishment style. It is this Jesus, Who paid the price not just through death on a cross, but through life in a hostile system that I hope we recognize and reconcile with our history that we may find a way forward.