May 13, 2019

“Take heart” in this sacred need

By Elizabeth Kelly *
Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil / Credit: Ckturistando on Unsplash 
Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil / Credit: Ckturistando on Unsplash 

It started with a terrible crush I had on a drummer. “Alex” was living in Alaska for the summer, spending some time with relatives when we met. He was a successful musician in New York, a small town boy who’d done well for himself in the big world, and a devout Christian. He sat in at clubs around town where I was singing and we ended up attending the same church for a while. He was sweet and very hip, an excellent drummer, and I liked him immediately.

I was young and had virtually no experience with romantic relationships, so I pined away silently for him as we hung out, just friends and fellow musicians.

One night I will never forget, we were sitting in a coffee shop late in the evening on an Alaskan summer night with the sun still high in the sky when we fell into deep conversation. I was trying to express what I wanted - out of life, out of our friendship, many things - and I was fumbling awkwardly. After listening patiently to me a long while, his summary of my thought was piercing. “You want to be known,” he said simply. It was the emphasis on the last word that nearly crushed my heart.

I was ashamed by my own need, and I could not deny that he was exactly right. 

Just then, almost in response to the embarrassment I felt in being exposed so flatly, we noticed a very unusual cloud approaching. It was black and ominous and beginning to blot out the Alaskan evening sun. We sat, speechless, watching it unfold, growling and low, ready to engulf the whole world. Slowly, we realized, a volcano across the inlet had erupted and this was an ash cloud. By the time we got to my car, we had to cover our mouths; ash was filling the air - something like tiny, bitter shards of glass.

At the time, I thought that volcanic eruption was an omen, warning me off any real attempts at intimacy. I have thought better of it since then. Truly, we have been created with many needs: for intimacy, for grace, for love, even fiery passion. If the Sacred Heart teaches us nothing, it must teach us that.

Some of the defining moments of my life have been in prayer with art based on the Sacred Heart. I don’t know exactly when I fell in love with this image, but oh how I have. I love it for its burning passion, for its willingness to be pierced and rejected, and for its fearlessness in longing for love, for souls. I adore it for its purity and clarifying power. How often Jesus begs us to “take heart.” And how often just as he is pouring out his healing. “Take heart, your sins are forgiven,” “Take heart, your faith has healed you,” “Take heart, it is I!” (Mt. 9:2, 22 and 27). “Take heart,” he says. That is, “take my heart. Let my heart be your heart, burning, pure, full of holy, sacred need for intimacy, for souls, to be known and loved.”

The theologians tells us that God has no need; he is perfect act, perfect joy. And of course they are right. But God also chooses to reveal himself in the Son, and to take on himself even human need. I “take heart” indeed, that Jesus knows my needs, not as an abstraction, but as an intimate, human ache, and enters into them, that he may know me, love me, and save me. 

Jesus, I offer you my heart to you to do with as you will. Let your loves be my loves. Let your longings be my longings. Let my heart hide always in your Sacred, Burning Heart

Elizabeth Kelly is an award-winning speaker and the author of six books, including including Jesus Approaches: What Contemporary Women Can Learn about Healing, Freedom and Joy from the Women of the New Testament. She is trained as a spiritual director in the Ignatian exercises and leads retreats with a particular focus on helping women to flourish in their faith. She teaches in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas (MN). Her website is: www.LizK.org.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.