How Can I Hold a Broken Heart
without it being shattered
Reflections from a Parish Priest on Matthew 4: 1 - 11
A Note from the Editor of JJB:
Hearts can be broken by violence, depression, humiliation, cruelty, neglect and loneliness. Romantic love does not have a monopoly on broken-heartedness.
There are no magic wands. Sometimes our hearts get shattered into bits, pieces so tiny that no one can really pick them up. It's even worse when the hearts of our loved ones get shattered. We would bear their shattering any day, in their place, if only we were given the chance.
And when witness these shatterings we can only hope that the beloved One of whom Rabbi Artson speaks -- the One whose power is not that of coercion but rather persuasion -- can hold the pieces and mourn with us, until the healing begins. It can be important for some of us to recognize, with Rabbi Artson, that the One who loves us is all-loving in ways we can never fathom, but not all-powerful. The power of the One is to bring new life out of death, not prevent the death from which new life must arise. That's process theology.
The author of our lesson on the right -- the Episcopal priest Teri Daily - is not in the business of speculating on these matters. She is not a process theologian; she's a priest, and that's better. She trusts that the Life is a mystery, and that speculations on power can miss the point of holding broken hearts -- the hearts of others, to be sure, and also our own - until they can widen into love. Toward this end she invites us to learn think about how Jesus had to sit with his pain for a while, in the context of which he may have learned to become more compassionate than he otherwise might have been. Her words can be felt and heard by all. After all, Jesus does not belong to Christianity. His spirit cannot be contained by the walls of a church or the walls of belief.
If Jesus made himself available to the living spirit of creative transformation -- the very spirit whom process thinkers address as God -- perhaps we might do so as well. We are grateful to Rev. Teri Daily for these and other reflections she offers. For more from her see Love Made Gritty and Mothers of God. There will be more.
Matthew 4: 1-11
4Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
A Homily on Matthew 4:1-11 by Reverend Teri Daily
Richard Rohr, a Roman Catholic priest and a contemporary author, says that “every age has had its pain, but spirituality in its best sense is about what you do with your pain.”
Maybe that’s why so many of the world’s religions grow out of suffering. Buddhism grows out a young prince’s excursion beyond palace walls where he encounters suffering in an old man, a sick man, and a dead man. Those encounters spark a spiritual quest to understand suffering and meet it with compassion.
The most fundamental story underlying Judaism is the Exodus—a people suffering in slavery in a foreign land, watching their babies be killed, with no hope for the future, that is, until God chooses Moses to deliver them. After forty years of wandering in the desert, they become a new people.
Christianity originated when Jesus emerged from forty days in the wilderness to serve an oppressed people—healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, feeding the hungry, and crossing all types of boundaries for the sake of a love that knows no such limits. Of course, tending to the pain of others led to Jesus’ death on a cross—and beyond that cross to a love greater than anything, even death.
A few hundred years later, Muhammad watched as his homeland was ravaged by tribal warfare, slavery, and economic oppression. A series of revelations from God resulted in the Qur’an and the birth of Islam--advocating unity through one God. As Barbara Brown Taylor rightly observes, the point of this brief history of religions is that “pain makes theologians of us all.”
Be that as it may, though, even in church we approach the topic of suffering with immense care; after all, it’s a subject fraught with pitfalls and sand traps, accusations and heresies. But it’s worth diving in anyway, so here it goes…
Does God cause suffering? Absolutely not. Does God redeem suffering? Oh my gosh, I hope so. And I’ve seen enough resurrection in the world to believe whole-heartedly that God does—addictions overcome, grace in the very midst of death, freedom and new life that come only after one has lost everything.
Is suffering necessary? Is there something we learn from suffering that we can’t know any other way? Maybe. It is said that the mystic Catherine of Genoa asked Jesus: “Why, Jesus, is there so much pain on earth? Why do people have to suffer?” Jesus replied: “Catherine, if there were any other way, I would have thought of it a long time ago.”
Which brings me to the story of Jesus' temptations.
Why does Jesus relive Israel’s forty years of wandering in the desert by going into the wilderness for forty days? Why does he undergo suffering right before starting his ministry? After all, it’s not like it was a retreat held at a spa. Instead, Jesus ate nothing during that time, slept in uncomfortable conditions, and was alone. Sounds like suffering to me.
And what does Jesus come out of this experience knowing? Well, his mission. In the temptations we hear about,we see that Jesus knows what his mission is not. He knows the paths he will not take, which are the paths of self-service, power, and spectacle. In these temptations, we see what Jesus will not do with what the world gives him.
A few verses later, Jesus leaves the wilderness, filled with the Spirit. And he begins to teach in the synagogues. And as he opens and reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in his hometown of Nazareth, we begin to see his mission in terms of what his mission will embrace—bringing good news to the poor, release to those who live in captivity, sight to the blind, and freedom to those who are oppressed. We see how Jesus will respond to what the world gives him; it’s a response rooted in compassion.
Did Jesus have to grow into his mission? To come to terms with his path in the world? Is that why he went into the wilderness? Was there something Jesus needed to learn or experience there in order for his heart to have room in it for the pain of the world?
I don’t know for sure; I do believe Jesus wrestled with his mission during that time in the wilderness, just as he would later in the Garden of Gethsemane. And I do know that we have to wrestle with our mission, that we have to grow into our mission. Our capacity for compassion has to grow in order to embrace the world’s pain. And one of the ways that happens is through our own suffering, through our own broken heart. But it all depends on how our heart breaks.
In Parker Palmer’s recent book Healing the Heart of Democracy, he writes:
If you hold your knowledge of self and world wholeheartedly, your heart will at times get broken by loss, failure, defeat, betrayal, or death. What happens next in you and the world around you depends on how your heart breaks.
If it breaks apart into a thousand pieces, the result may be anger, depression, and disengagement. If a heart breaks open into greater capacity to hold the complexities and contradictions of human experience, the result may be new life.
I believe Jesus knew this. Whatever might have happened in the wilderness, throughout his life Jesus knew how to hold suffering and pain in his heart without returning it, even in the name of justice. He held the pain of the whole world and his heart broke open, not shattered. It’s what happened on the cross. And it changed everything.
Now I don’t want to say that the only way for our heart to grow is through suffering. Because who among us hasn’t looked at a range of mountains in the distance and felt a pain in our heart as it stretched to absorb the sheer magnitude of what was in front of us? And we know also that catch in our breath and ache in our heart when we glimpse a love greater than anything we ever imagined. I think the capacity of our heart grows in these ways, too.
Always we are called to reflect on ourselves and on the world around us, and to recognize those places where we experience death and where we need the gift of new life. And as Parker Palmer points out, doing that work honestly will inevitably bring us into contact with pain and suffering—our own personal pain and that of the world. And our heart will break.
Truth be told, our heart rarely follows perfectly either of the two options described by Palmer—shattering in a thousand pieces or breaking open with intact edges. Instead, our heart tends to break open but with some shards of glass lying around here and there, pieces of glass that end up somewhere down the road cutting our own feet or the feet of those who walk life’s journey with us.
But here’s the thing we need to remember as we do this difficult work of heart-holding: if we can sit with that pain a while, not dismiss it too quickly and not reflect it back out into the world but instead hold it, trusting in the one who held the pain of the whole world and whose heart didn’t shatter but broke open, then we too might find ourselves at the end of this journey with hearts broken open, ready to receive the gift of new life.
 Richard Rohr, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001, page 19.
 Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, New York: HarperCollins, 2009, pp. 155-157.
 Rohr, 82.
 Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011, page 18.