Images imprinted on our hearts and souls

by Barbara Smith


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Our lives are so tied to our mobile devices, to the "dings" announcing the arrival of another piece of "breaking news" or a text demanding our attention. Each announcement of information draws our attention away from what we were doing or the person with whom we are talking and creates a type of disconnection.

Yet, when and how can we carve out that silence, attentiveness to and awareness of life that is not tethered to our electronics? When we are able to do this, we reconnect with our own heart, spirit, soul. We welcome an openness to capture our heart, to leave an imprint upon our lives, to stir us out of complacency.

This space can be described by Jan Richardson's poem, "Blessing in the Chaos," which ends:

Let there be
an opening
into the quiet
that lies beneath
the chaos,
where you find
the peace
you did not think
and see what shimmers
within the storm.

Allowing ourselves to disconnect from all the inbound information enables us to draw our attention to our center. What a difference this could mean in our lives. As we enter that sacred spaciousness in our lives, we begin to touch more deeply that for which our heart hungers.

This silence can bring us to that deep inner space where we find our God already waiting. It is a space of quiet, where our hearts are tuned to the gentle whisper of God, to simply be still and know the God of our encounter.

It is in this space that we are like the disciples on the way to Emmaus who welcomed, listened deeply to the stories retold and — in this hallowed space — sensed their hearts burning within them. This time with the Risen Lord strengthened them to return to the other disciples to share the good news.

This is one of many beautiful images that can nourish our sacred experiences. It invites us to be attentive to these moments that we encounter in our daily journeys and open our lives to a new awareness of this gifted time.

Recently I saw a short YouTube video that showed a family trying to comfort a small baby who was crying uncontrollably. The baby is handed from one loving person to the next: a loving grandmother passes to a woman who passes the baby to a man, who could possibly be the baby's father, to another woman; each was unable to quiet the crying baby. Finally, another man comes and offers to take the crying baby in his arms and he holds the baby close to his heart. Almost immediately, the baby begins to stop crying, and soon the baby smiles so big and with great emotion looks up at the man's face. The subtitle — a public service announcement for organ donations — says, "This young man was the recipient of the baby's mother's heart."

I was so moved by this video, and how immediately this tiny baby was able to identify the "missing other's" heartbeat, becoming so connected once again to this lifeline experienced in the mother's womb.           

Can we allow those sacred moments, those quiet times when we are deeply attentive to God's abiding presence, to nurture our awareness, to keep us connected to that holy ground of our being? Will we take the time to listen to our own breathing, open our eyes to see what is really before us, what beautiful moment we just passed by on our way to work? As we encounter a crying child, can we go beyond wishing that the child would simply stop crying and wonder, what it is that brings this child to tears? Can we allow these experiences to capture us, repeatedly drawing us deeper in awareness of what is beyond our immediate speculation?

One significant image was imprinted in this way upon my heart, and continues to call me to act with a consciousness that sees beyond this first glimpse. The disquieting image was the picture of the small refugee boy's body lying on the seashore. It was not only the photo that affected me, it was also the heartbreak that his parents, family, friends and all on the boat had to feel; their endurance of the long days and nights at the mercy of the ocean waters, in crowded conditions with a lack of food and drinkable water. Then, upon getting off the boat, they are overwhelmed to see the dead body of their son on the shore of the land that had held the promise of a new beginning as a family: That had to be devastating.         

To this day, this photo continues to tug at my soul questioning, "What I have done? What can I do to stop this tragedy from happening again"? I cannot forget this image as I see more refugees continue to seek places of welcome, in escaping from the tragic lives they experienced before leaving their homeland in search of life and hope. If I were they and living this moment, from where would I draw strength and the courage to face this unknown future?        

I believe that at some point we must be able to look more deeply at situations that are happening around us, so we can sense at a profound depth what imprint they are making on our lives, our hearts, our spirits. This deeper looking will demand that we take quality time to be attentive to what is being called forth in us at any particular moment.

Do I have a sensitivity to others, to the hidden heartbeat of a crying child, to justice for those on the fringes of my vision? What distracts my focus? What inner tension must I let go of in order to tap into the God-given whisper to live, to reach out, to respond with the richness of my sacred inner being?          

It might be a great practice at the end of each day to recall those images, those moments of encounter that found a place in your heart. Why are they tethered to your heart? What still needs your attention? To what are you called to respond? What attentiveness or awareness will bring an image of grace to your sacred ground of being and leave its imprint there? Perhaps for some, it may only be a heartbeat …

[Barbara Smith is an Adorer of the Blood of Christ. Her ministries have included work at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas, and parish ministry among the Navajo in Crownpoint, New Mexico. Called first to regional leadership and most recently congregational leadership in Rome, she is now awaiting God's surprising call to the next part of her journey.]