Batter My Heart
By Carole Crumley. Carole is Shalem’s senior program director. This blog was excerpted from an article in the 2012-13 annual report. If you’d like to read the entire article or other articles therein, please follow this link.
“Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
as yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
that I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee, ’and bend
your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.”
John Donne, “Holy Sonnets”
I recently stumbled upon a cable television art auction and was totally transfixed as the auctioneer placed item after item on the block. Evidently bidding was very slow that particular evening. The auctioneer, trying to energize his audience, began to hammer loudly with his gavel calling out, “Wakey, Wakey. Come out from wherever you are and bid on this piece. Bid on it! This is extremely rare!!! Wakey, wakey. This is important.” Blam, blam , blam went his gavel, hammering for our attention.
I don’t know anything about art or auctions, but I really responded to the insistent demand to wake up and pay attention. In a way, it reminded me of the emails I get daily, each trying urgently to get my attention about very important matters I should (and mostly do) care about. They want me to send money, sign this petition, or support a worthy cause in some other way. However, these requests come so regularly that they actually dull my attention.
John Kirvan in God Hunger talks about how hard it is to get anyone’s attention, we hope that if we just “wait a while. Maybe it will go away.”
Yet, the hammering doesn’t go away.
Recently it has been the news about gun violence that is hammering my heart with its incessant call to WAKE UP, PAY ATTENTION! In play grounds, parks, movie theaters, elementary schools, shopping malls, at the Navy Yard, in churches, in Nairobi, in D.C., in Afghanistan, in Chicago, Newtown, Aurora. It’s an ongoing plague of killings, intergenerational, non-discriminate murder. My fear is that this is happening so often it will begin to dull my senses and become the new normal rather than the obscene abnormal.
I’m realizing that not going back to sleep is also work. Staying awake to the all-ness of life, the complexity, the challenges, the griefs, the hopes, the fears, the beauty, the yearnings is the contemplative practice that stretches my heart. Holding everything in the spiritual heart is a work, a prayerful intention and a daily morning stretch. It is as much a body prayer as the stretches I do before sitting meditation.
I’ve come to realize that the constant battering to “wake up!” has a purpose. It invites my deepening trust that, in the midst of it all, God’s spirit is working in ways that I cannot begin to imagine. As I wake up to this reality, somehow I am being opened, mended and made anew, as John Donne’s poem reminds me. From that stance, my prayer becomes, “‘Batter my heart three person’d God’. Wake me up. Help me to stay awake. Please.”
I invite you to join us at the Gerald May Seminar. I am very much looking forward to seeing and hearing Mark Nepo.