16 January 2020

Are all hearts clear? (partly a repost)

Source: Wellcome Collection.  
"Are all hearts clear?" This question is often heard near the end of Camas Friends Church's meetings for worship. They are usually almost the last words we hear in worship, just before the closing words, "Go in peace."

At Camas Friends, we members and attenders take turns hosting the meeting for worship -- that is, calling us together to begin the worship, giving announcements, and then, at the end, signaling the close of worship with those two sentences.

On one recent Sunday, the person serving as host said that she wasn't going to ask, "Are all hearts clear?" because she wasn't exactly sure what it meant. She continued: speaking for herself, her heart was hardly ever "clear." Instead, she was going to ask whether anyone still had something on the tips of their tongues to contribute to the meeting.

Many of the Friends meetings and churches I've attended or visited end the meeting for worship, or the unprogrammed portion of the worship, with those words. The query feels warm and familiar to me. It says to me that the meeting for worship doesn't simply come to a mechanical halt; there's always space for the vocal ministry that might still be making its metaphorical journey from heart to lips.

The phrase also reminds me of a remarkable comment George Fox made just two days before he died: "...I am glad I was here. Now I am clear. I am fully clear."

I thanked that morning's host for making me think about this familiar phrase. Familiar to me, that is, but perhaps not to everyone who happens to be at a Friends meeting for worship on a given occasion. My point isn't to advocate giving up the phrase altogether, but to pause long enough to consider what we're doing as a community to learn and teach clarity of heart.

Any time I encounter an artifact of Quaker peculiarity -- from pacifism to plain language -- I am tempted to question its utility in building up our discipleship as Christians. Have we remembered to connect our peculiarities to the concern for integrity that gave them birth? Or have they become vanities, reinforcing Quaker exceptionalism?

I originally used the Wellcome Collection photo above in my post of September 6, 2007, "Open Hearts." Here's the title portion of that post:

Yesterday's The World program on Public Radio International had a remarkable interview. In June of this year, Jennifer Sutton, 22, underwent a heart transplant operation at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge, England. In the radio interview, she describes what it was like for her to examine her heart -- literally. Her old heart. The one on display at the Wellcome Collection, just west of Friends House on Euston Road in London.

As the Wellcome Collection's Web site explains, Sutton "had been suffering from Restrictive Cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscles stiffen, meaning the heart chambers are unable to fill with blood properly." Before the transplant, she was unable to walk more than a few meters without resting. Clearly, her heart was functionally inadequate for the life she wished to lead, and she was told she had maybe six months to live.

I wouldn't be surprised if all over the world preachers were finding ways to insert this news story into their sermons. If you look into your heart, what do you see? Rigidity? Without a healthy heart, how can you stay in circulation?

Actually, it's not a laughing matter, even as a metaphor. It just happened that, when I heard the story, I was in the weight room at Mount Scott Community Center. In fact, I was on the treadmill, doing the cardio part of my workout. Whenever I start revving it up on that machine, I touch my heart and tell it, "I love you." Thanks to The World and Jennifer Sutton, my words had extra weight this time.

One more thing. I thought about Jennifer's heart on public display, for all the world to see. Normally our hearts are tucked inside us, never exposed to the light of day. The world of realists doesn't honor hearts much, except in sentimental contexts -- our leaders are supposed to be hard-nosed, ready to make the tough decisions. We know that their lives don't always match up to this cerebral ideal; sometimes their other private parts don't stay private enough, but their hearts, conversely, too often stay too private. Sometimes I wish I could speak to some of our leaders and ask, "In your deepest heart, can you really not believe that the president of Iran was seriously reaching out when he asked about Christian consistency in our president's policies? Is there not ever any doubt in your heart about the efficacy of coercion over respectful persuasion in dealing with the world? Do you really believe that access to regular health care should be subject to the law of the capitalist jungle?"

I'm an organ donor, so I suppose it is possible that my heart will someday be inside someone else. I hope that the surgeons will judge that it will still give life and hope, as Sutton's new heart is doing now, and that the new owner will be able to touch it and say "I love you."

UPDATE: The Wellcome Collection's Web site has been thoroughly overhauled and now relies on archive.org's Wayback Machine for access to older pages, including those relating to the exhibit where Jennifer Sutton's heart was on display. Here's a BBC article with more information about that exhibit.

In 1980, Judy and I, newlyweds, moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, so that Judy could begin her MBA program at the University of Virginia. I worked at the Logos of Charlottesville bookstore, a Christian bookstore whose owner, Florence Skove, was a vocal supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. During the ratification campaign in Virginia, she and I (and the bookstore's one other employee) wore ERA pins.

Yesterday, the amendment was finally ratified by Virginia's General Assembly.

Is Russia heading toward autarky? And what might be the possible upsides of Vladimir Putin's newly-announced reform proposals? (By the way, Aleksei Navalny and his team wonder how [Rus.] the new prime minister's wife earned 800 million rubles.)

Jennifer Wilson on an experimental approach to Elena Ferrante and the sources of literary influence.

Internet Monk: There's a big difference between a biblical approach and a biblicist approach.

Here's a delightful video about Samantha Fish: Fil Henley, a British rock guitarist, analyzes a video of Fish performing "I Put a Spell on You."

To his observations I'd add another quality that isn't as obvious on this track as it is on some of her others, namely her melodic discipline. This is a great quality in a genre that often allows cliche chords and hooks.


Bruce said...

We Friends rely too much on people "getting it" (whatever "it" may be) by osmosis. We welcome people to our meetings but leave the culture opaque. We really ought to be more intentional about helping people participate more fully by explaining why we do what we do, and (as you note) how it furthers our discipleship.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you for "getting it"!