See. Do. Be. Free.
Issue 016: “Wholehearted”
An Open Letter to the Community around this year's theme.
And Happy New Year! Each year, we choose a theme to reflect on together as a community. In 2023, our theme is wholeheartedness.
This word came as a gift upon completing a series of personal retreats last year where I spent four weeks at different monasteries, listening.
Like most of us emerging from COVID-19, I sensed our world had changed. I needed to get quiet and sort some things out. I needed to hear the voice of God hidden inside my own heart.
With the guidance of a spiritual director (Father Pete SJ who is 83 years young!), and with the help of many wise souls, we designed a series of retreats around the eucharistic movements modeled by Jesus.
On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, gave it to his disciples and said, “this is my body given for you…”
I have come to trust these movements enacted by Jesus, not merely as the liturgical language of the communion table, but as the life-giving action of God’s heart at work in creation. Yes, all of creation is being taken, blessed, broken and given in love, so that we might become the spoken word of God’s love. In God’s eucharistic love, we become part of the mystical body of Christ. I think St. Augustine was right – when we participate in communion, we become what we receive.
If this sounds a bit “out there,” I get it. But I assure you that undergoing these movements gets really, really practical and that’s exactly what I needed. I needed to know not only the shape of God’s heart, but also the shape of my own heart, and how I am being called to show up and serve as Street Psalms enters its 25th year of service.
As you might guess, I was not given a road map or a plan of what’s next. Instead, I was given a word: wholehearted. The invitation was for me to lean into my role at Street Psalms and to do so wholeheartedly.
It’s a kind and reassuring word. But let’s be honest, the problem with whole-hearts is that they are easily broken in a half-hearted world. And so I received the word with some hesitation.
Here is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to the Street Psalms staff and board upon completing the retreats.
…I had no way of knowing how consoling these four weeks would be. They have been four of the most peace-filled, kind, heart-warming, affirming and gentle weeks I’ve ever known. The consoling space created the room I needed to do some soul searching and come face to face with some things including what I will call “half-heartedness” and how that undermines me and what we are being invited to do together as we look to the future.
Perhaps in due time, I will share some of the specifics of what I have experienced on these retreats. Here’s what I can say now.
Each retreat was marked by something of a “visitation” or “encounter.” Not sure what else to call it. The first week was marked by a simple conversation with Mother Mary which opened up a sense of “overflow.” The second week featured a hugely impressive fog bank that enveloped the retreat center (Mt Angel Abbey). It became for me the womb-space of God’s mercy. The third week included witnessing a Navajo healer in Carhartt pants performing a cleansing ceremony for young leaders. He ended with these instructions, “Be gentle.” And these words went straight to my heart. The fourth week included a personal naming ceremony that reacquainted me with my own name and the call to “free others.” Strange stuff but I’ve come to see these as gifts to help me show up wholeheartedly in my call.
I am emerging from these retreats even more committed to our call to free leaders from all walks of life to create cities of peace for all people, but I feel led to increasingly part ways with my half-heartedness and trust the call and my own participation in it. I’m sorry to burden you with this, but I’ll need your ongoing support and patience in this area. Half-heartedness is a bit of a chronic issue for me.
Here’s the irony…my pathology perfectly mirrors the chronic condition of ministry leaders and much of the human condition being revealed in our world today. There is something about our profession that has ministry leaders scratching and clawing to gain some kind of reputation for themselves. This is almost always achieved by trying to prop up and maintain our own goodness. Sadly, the way we go about this leaves us, in the end, like the walking dead. We become half-hearted creatures filled with contempt and a seriously low self-esteem, or no esteem at all. We desperately look to those around us to give us our identity (resenting them for doing so). We become the puppet of the crowd’s desire and this empties our hearts. We become professional pleasers or scoreboard watchers. This creates half-hearted imitations of ourselves. This begins to explain a whole host of neurotic behaviors in our profession, most of which I know intimately.
And so, these retreats have not only helped me see just how close our work is to the heart of God and how thoroughly God is delighted in us, but it has also helped me see the ways in which I chronically deny this and settle for half-heartedness.
These retreats have helped me see that health for me includes the painfully slow work of shedding shame, layer by layer, learning to trust the shape of my own heart, and the particular shape of my own gifts and call. As you know this only happens in the context of community and requires a level of mutual trust that is not often extended in the workplace, which is why I am sharing this with you.
As we enter our 25th year of freeing leaders to love and serve in cities around the world, we will let this word have its say. In the ensuing months, we will ask friends of the network to reflect with us about their own journey into wholeheartedness. Together we will ask,
“What does it mean to show up wholeheartedly in our call, especially when confronted with disappointment, failure, and our own half-heartedness?”
Not exactly a softball, which is why I am so grateful for our friends who have agreed to open their great big hearts to us.
W.H. Auden put it this way.
“Look in your heart,
There lies the answer.
Like a clever conjuror or dancer
Deceive us with many a curious slight
And motives like stowaways are found too late.”
The invitation this year is to go deep to the center of this “clever conjuror.” And there, hidden among all the other stowaways, is another stowaway. There is the whole heart of God coming to us in the shape of our own fearful and broken half-hearts, calling forth wholeheartedness for the sake of the world.
P.S. To explore the eucharistic retreat further, go here.