~ By Sara Wolbrecht
For the season of Lent our church is holding central an image from the Celtic Christian tradition: John the Beloved. A most cherished image in the Celtic Christian world is the memory of John the Beloved leaning against Jesus at the Last Supper (John 13: 21, 23). It is said of John that he therefore heard the heartbeat of God. John becomes an image of the practice of listening. Listening for the heartbeat of God. Listening for the beat of the Sacred deep within ourselves and one another, and deep within the body of the Earth.
Last Sunday, standing awkwardly in the lobby of our church at the beginning of worship (where we’re beginning the service for Lent), we were all asked to find our own heartbeat, to get in touch with ourselves, as we prepared to enter the sanctuary.
It grew quiet in the room as most movement ceased and most adults pressed two fingers gently to the side of their throat. Then as our feet shuffled into the sanctuary we heard the resonating sound of a heartbeat pulsing through the sound system. The heartrate increased, moving us into the tempo of our first song.
I loved the drama of the moment coupled with my own connection with my body – experiencing the rhythmic heartbeat of God in my own. But it was not until that evening that I realized what an impact it had on my 6-year-old daughter – or how her question would impact me.
The question bubbled up during the bedtime debrief of the day’s events. We spoke of our time at church. “Momma, when we were told to find our heartbeat – why did everyone put their fingers on their neck? That’s not where their heartbeat is.”
“Oh, it isn’t?”
“No – our heart is in our chest.”
I told her how our heartbeat hides in a few sneaky places on our bodies, including that sweet spot next to our throat. As she found that spot, she gasped and smiled. Yes, indeed, my Love.
This simple exchange caused me to catch my breath, too. How counter-intuitive that our heartbeat would be found on our neck.
How counter-intuitive that the heartbeat of God is also found in unpredictable places.
In the sacredness of our bodies and sexuality.
In bodies so different from our own.
In the quiet.
In the chaos.
In last night’s sleeplessness.
In the spring rain that will not quit.
In the timeout.
In the crying out.
In the grief.
Not that God is the source or cause – but God claims it all as holy. Yes, we feel the beat.
Lent is about wandering into the unpredictable – often uncomfortable – places in search of that sacred rhythm of God. We often look to practices of prayer – journaling, fasting, meditation, intercession – to help us slow down and lay our fingers alongside the spaces where we can feel that deep pulse.
I am grateful for my daughter’s reminder to make it a practice to feel for the unpredictable places. The uncomfortable ones.
The first posture that captures this is that of John, the Beloved disciple, reclined against Jesus. The second is more playful: a stethoscope. To help our kids grab hold of this image and practice, on the first Sunday of Lent, our church handed out stethoscopes.
Because this is how we should carry ourselves in the world.
With stethoscopes armed and ready. With our ears and eyes and hearts attuned to seeking out the heartbeat of God.
My daughter’s stethoscope has become a great piece for our family to play and have conversation as we continue, together, to joke and explore all the sites we can place that stethoscope – and name how God is there. With her help, I have begun to step into a few vulnerable places of discomfort – being buried by a deluge of work, grief around areas of transition – and even in those spots, to have moments where I find the heartbeat and I gasp and smile. Yes, indeed.
Where in your life, in this season – even today – is it hard to hear the heartbeat of God? What might it look like to don your stethoscope or to recline into a place of discomfort to listen for God’s faithful heartbeat in the midst of difficulty?
Sara Wolbrecht is mom to two young children and a pastor at a new-start Lutheran (ELCA) church, Salt House (www.salthousechurch.org), on the Eastside of Seattle, that innovates on being a school of love for folks living through transition.