It was easy to love God in all that was beautiful.
The lesson of deeper knowledge, though, instructed me to embrace God in all things.
-St. Francis of Assisi
A couple of weeks ago I created a heart painting that particularly spoke to a friend of mine. She saw the picture on Facebook and liked the image so much she decided to buy the original. She’s in Cincinnati; I’m in Louisville. We arranged for a friend of mine who’s frequently between the two cities to deliver it to her. When she received the heart, she texted me:
My heart is even more beautiful in person.
I was delighted that my art had touched her in that way. Her statement has also led me to deeper reflection:
Isn’t it true that all of our hearts, when we reveal them, are more beautiful in person?
I can hear the voices of protest already. “But what about this person…do you really think this person has a beautiful heart? Or what about that one? Surely you’re not saying that even that person has a beautiful heart?”
My answer is yes, this person…and even that person have beautiful hearts, but some hearts have gotten lost, are in hiding, are deep beneath layers of defensive protection…and so what we see is not actually their hearts, but all the muck and armor and whatever else is there to obscure what we see. I believe that we are all made in the image of God, Love, That Which is Whole. I also believe that some people’s hearts have been distanced so long from the divine source that they’ve forgotten their true nature.
What is it that causes us to armor our hearts? Is it fear that if we reveal our ourselves vulnerably, we’ll be hurt…again? Is it fear that if we open ourselves and connect to the hearts of others- those who are suffering from the effects of poverty, racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other -isms and -phobias- that we’ll be so consumed by grief, guilt, helplessness, that we won’t be able to hold those connections in balance with the connections that bring us joy, acceptance, a sense of agency and purpose? Are we even aware of the armor?
What is it that causes us not only to shield our hearts, but to lash out defensively, assaulting anyone who might try to touch that place most sacred within us, assaulting even people who have nothing to do with us? Are we afraid of what can happen if we don’t act with ferocity? Are we aware that we are only passing on our own unhealed pain?
I can think of more than a few people in both my personal circles and in the public sphere who seem to be acting from these places of fear and anger. I can think of times when I have acted from those places. I imagine there will be more such times. When I am at my best (not acting from those places), I can both hold my own emotions and also generate curiosity about what the other has experienced that has caused them to be the way they are. in those times, I am able to practice open-heartedness. These practices are part of my compassionate communication journey.
When I know and trust my own heart’s beauty, born of divinity, I can embrace God in people where God’s presence is not so obvious. In those moments I remind myself that they are more than what I see. I hope that someday I will see the beauty of their hearts. I wish it for myself, I wish it for them, and I wish it for our world. Our world needs more hearts’ beauty revealed.
What I am learning, slowly, through practice, practice where I learn from messing up over and over again, is that if I approach people with trust in their heart’s beauty, if I embrace God in them, even when I can’t immediately see it, sometimes I may get an unexpected glimpse of their divine nature. Vulnerable. Open. More beautiful in person than I could have imagined.
In truth, this is why I love the work I am called to do. When I am commissioned to create a heart portrait, I get to see the beauty of people’s hearts in a visual image. When I offer Reiki to someone, I get to see the beauty of people’s energetic bodies. When I teach Compassionate Communication (also known as Nonviolent Communication), I get to see the beauty of people’s hearts through the language of both body and words.
The experience reminds me of Thomas Merton’s epiphany at the corner of 4th and Walnut (now Muhammad Ali) in Louisville:
There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
You are beautiful.
Your heart is beautiful.
Your heart is more beautiful in person.
I want to see it. The world needs to see it.
And whether we can or we can’t see that beauty in the moment, let us embrace each other, knowing that God is in all things and all people.