A disciple asks the Rabbi, “Why does the Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The Rabbi answers, ‘It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until one day the heart breaks and words fall in.”
(from The Politics of the Brokenhearted, by Parker Palmer)
Let me start by saying I haven’t read Parker Palmer. I know nothing about the essay/pamphlet from which this is quoted. I only know that this was printed in a handout I received at church yesterday. And I can’t stop thinking about it.
Since I wrote last Friday, I’ve been in transition, coming back from visiting my family in Texas, enjoying the California sunshine with my little clan, and reacquainting my toddler with the unhappy reality of the Pacific time zone. (Wondering why it’s taken me all day to get this post up? The sweet boy was grouchy and awake during this morning’s 6 am writing time.)
I also can’t stop thinking about what I wrote on Friday: my struggle to believe God is speaking to me in love. How it’s difficult to acknowledge what my friend shared with me: that God is growing me into a sturdy tree, that I can maneuver my roots into this city and that those roots can follow me, resulting in something beautiful.
As I was praying in church yesterday, 12 hours home from our trip, I realized I do believe God would speak to me in kindness. Of course I do. God’s words to me have always been spoken in kindness. It’s my brain that distorts God, that feeds me guilt and grows debilitating fear inside me. My belief is a whole lot more complicated than an easy explanation. Belief comes to me, but softly and without fanfare. Sometimes it takes a few days to soak in. Sometimes it’s easier to diminish the faith I have than to acknowledge its complexity.
I just finished rereading my brother, Jason Boyett’s new book, O Me of Little Faith (I was honored to read it for the first time in its draft form). It was just released a week and a half ago and it’s a beautifully written contemplation of his (and I believe, the contemporary evangelical’s) struggle to believe in a God he can’t live without. (I’d review it but I’m biased so I’ll leave it at that.)
While writing last Friday’s post, I was shoulder deep in his book and I had his doubt on my mind. Jason and I have shared doubt in common since I was adult enough to realize it was in me. That would be around my freshman year of college, when my older brother was 23 and already married. It’s been a common thread for us, something I could share honestly with him long before I could speak it to anyone else.
Doubt has been debilitating for me in some sense, but not completely. I didn’t go into full time ministry in order to hide my doubt, but in spite of it. I love Jesus not simply because I love the idea of him, but because I’ve experienced him. I don’t read the Bible because I’m trying to convince myself, but because my soul finds life in it, despite my brain’s refusal to cooperate from time to time.
So when I read the above quote as I sat down to worship yesterday, my insides resonated. I understand that when I open scripture, my brain and my soul take different stances. They shout at each other. And then, at some point, one wins over the other. The words sit on my hard heart. And, eventually, something beautiful happens: my heart melts just enough for the words to soak through.
So, everything I said on Friday? You can chalk it up to this process I’m in. Someday, I’m hoping I’ll believe the moment the words land on my heart. But for today, I’m letting them sit quietly. And quiet is very monastic.