Spilling the Heart...

Mystic Micro-Gospels; small spiritual stories in and around my neighborhood in Southeast CT

The two lines face one another like Napoleon and Wellington drawn up for battle. I've never met my partner, my mock-angry opponent; I'm to be the angry one on the other side of the issue. Can we contain our rage? ... resist our own capacity for violence?... that's what the training is about. On the instructor's signal, the sparring begins; a snarling madness that springs to life, filling the space with scarlet-hate.

My partner is good at this... she knows what to say. Her tone is intense and biting, powerful and condescending... she uses phrases intended to hurt, to shame, to draw emotional blood. I'm not there to change her mind. Ours is a ministry of presence and the people we are trying to influence aren't even at the demonstration; potential allys sitting on the fence who might join next time because we took courage this time. So I just listen quietly... head tilted to the left in that submissive posture I know to use with hospital patients, the one that invites them into conversation, even in their weakness. I nod to the rhythm of her syllables, punctuating her vocal inflections with my head.

She has all the say. It's the strategic thing to do and it's the pastoral thing to do... to put her need to be heard ahead of my need to be right. She fires a "whatabout" question and pauses for my answer, ready to strike with a verbal punch; but there is just silence.

Soon, discomfort forms on her face. My inner-chaplain knows the agonizing pain of silence for some. Few can resist the burning need to fill the quiet void or the subtle arch of an eyebrow that invites them: "go on...". Patients will spill their hearts rather than endure the Chaplain's silence and there is so much healing for hearts that get emptied... for hearts welling-to-the-brim of their locks and levees. Catharsis floods into the spillway... secret and shameful things from the depths, aching to be said out loud... to be heard by the loving ears of another... so they can be declared openly, at long last, to their own broken hearts.

She breaks the moment with a volley that brings me back from the bedside. I try not to look angry or anxious or bored; just kind. The words swing like swords and if they hit flesh... cleave into solid emotion; fury will come alive. But they swish and swoop at the air. Anger returns as feathers... as loving-kindness that absorbs, that embraces, that softens the hard edges and robs rage of its power. She runs out of things to say and I smile... she laughs.

A laugh; not a fist.