Guard Your Heart

Since my grandmother died over a decade ago, she comes to me from time to time in my dreams. In moments of pain or struggle, confusion or doubt, she will suddenly come visit me while I sleep. As we neared the three-month date in this time of physical distancing and social upheaval, everything felt very heavy and into that heaviness she came.

In my dream, my family were gathered back at my grandparents’ house in my hometown—my grandmother sitting in her old tan recliner, wearing red. There was a feeling of deep, deep peace that washed over me as I leaned toward her and we held one another. Time stopped at that moment, and we just sat with one another for who knows how long. I looked at her and asked her what she had to tell me right now. Her face focused as she leaned forward, placed her hand on my chest, and said, “I want you to know that I am always with you. And my purpose is always to help you guard your heart. Guard your heart, Stuart.”

A few days later, I was cleaning out the guest room, reorganizing my space for prayer and meditation. There on the table, I saw a bag with a small, blue, glass bead that someone had brought back as a gift from their visit to the Taize Community in France. As I held the bead, I remembered my own visit there with Brother Roger in April 2005 when I was struggling with my sense of vocation, of what God wanted me to do—who God wanted me to be. I had been talking with friends about becoming an Episcopal priest, but there were so many unknowns. So much uncertainty.

I remember he pulled me toward him, going so far as to pull my face against his chest. I could feel the fabric from his white robes as he held me and said, “Je t’aime.” I love you. Then he offered a prayer in French, asking God’s blessing for me. In that moment, my heart knew what the next step was supposed to be.

As I looked closely at a small card included with the bead, I realized it had a short Bible verse, and as I read it, something like electricity shot through me. It was from Proverbs 4:23: “More than all else, keep watch over your heart, since here are the wellsprings of life.”

I can feel them, still: my grandmother’s hand on my chest, the fabric from Brother Roger’s monastic robe against my face. “My purpose is always to help you guard your heart, Stuart.” “Je t’aime. I love you.” “More than all else, keep watch over your heart.” These encounters, these moments, will forever support me in stressful and frightening days. I will be forever grateful for them, and others, that have rejuvenated me and helped me realize that the most important thing is not to figure out how I can hold all this—how we can hold all this—but to realize again that we are being held together.

I confess that I have been caught up in how we are “going to figure this out.” I know many of us have felt this way. I have stressed over this sense of needing to solve the problem of online services; of uncertainties with the budget; of unknowns for the Fall; of when a vaccine will be available so we can all be together; of frustrations with some that they can go to eat out or go to the Club for lunch and cannot come to church. I confess my fear—and fixation—that some may not stay in the parish. That I will fail. That faithfulness as a community has to do with succeeding. The pressure of somehow needing to figure out the perfect balance has been enormous, and I have failed to guard my heart.

On top of that, there is the pain and anger that has risen with lingering social pressures from racial injustice in this country. I believe we are entering more fully into a Great Awakening of Oneness, a realization of how our fixation on power and social constructions have harmed so many whose skin is darker than mine.

How to hold all this? The pressure of somehow needing to figure out the perfect balance has been enormous. And how to navigate church life in general right now, in this climate where there is so much anger and frustration with politics and the election, on top of the ongoing pandemic and frustrations with racial injustice. It honestly feels like hate has infected everything.

Into all this, I hear my grandmother’s voice from my dream: “Guard your heart.” And I remember that time with Brother Roger, being reminded of God’s love. And discovering the prayer card saying, “More than all else, keep watch over your heart, since here are the wellsprings of life.”

I come to a deeper awareness that I am not going to solve these problems on my own. And, we are not going to solve these problems on our own, because these are problems of sin, and that is the space of the Spirit of Christ who reminds us that instead of feeling like we have to hold all this on our own, we are called to a greater awareness that we are being held in God’s loving embrace.

Friends, let us be prayerful people who realize more and more that we are all held in the heart of God. Let us guard our hearts, so that when the Spirit shows up in the heat of our own day, our hearts will be open to receive the message God is bringing us.

A longer version of this piece can be found here.

June 06, 2020 by Stuart Higginbotham
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