Witnessing Hearts

A year ago I didn’t know yet that I was creating heart portraits. I didn’t know yet that I would soon come to see and interpret symbols and messages in the hearts I was drawing.

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I had been drawing hearts since fall of 2015. So many hearts. It started when I was preparing to go to Palestine to do human rights and accompaniment work; I was feeling afraid for many reasons. As I was trying to talk myself out of the fear, an image came to me: a heart- my heart- nested in others, like Russian dolls. I drew the image. Then I drew it again. And again. After that I kept drawing hearts. The forms and styles changed over time. But I couldn’t stop. Occasionally my thinking brain heaped judgment on my creative brain, trying to convince her to draw something other than hearts. Thankfully, Creative Brain didn’t listen and kept producing hearts. Eventually, Thinking Brain ceased trying to stop her.

Early in those heart-drawing days, as part of a New Year pay-it-forward activity, I drew a heart for an acquaintance. I sent her a digital photo of it, but never gave her the actual drawing. Fast forward two and a half years.

I had started studying Reiki and found that I had intuitive gifts that I hadn’t known about before. As I practiced Reiki with people, words and images came to me that felt connected to the clients. I shared what came to me and very often, the clients told me that the messages and images made sense to them or that they’d experienced similar images or words during the session. I wanted to understand this newfound ability, so I sought out intuitive people who might help me comprehend. One was the person I’d made a heart for years before.

The morning of our meeting I created a second heart image for her. When we met, I sheepishly gave her both, conscious that in over 2 years I hadn’t managed to get the first heart drawing to her. She received them graciously and told me the meaning each one held for her.

Then she looked at me and asked, “How long have you been tuning into people?”

I shifted in my seat. “Uuuuuuhh.” More shifting, “Since I started Reiki training?” About 6 months before. Then I realized I’d just given her a “tuned-in” drawing I’d created 2 1/2 years before.

Whoa.

I don’t remember much of the rest of the conversation. I do remember creating an intention shortly after our meeting: I want to draw people’s hearts.

Heart images came and this time they were connected to particular people. One of the first was a friend’s heart that seemed to be shattering, in pain, even as a brightness was emerging from within. After I drew it, I sent a photo to my friend.

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“When did you make this?” she asked.

“Just now.”

“I’ve been working with this imagery today,” she told me.

Whoa.

More images came. I began to sense that, as with Reiki, the hearts I was drawing had significance beyond the image. What appeared in the hearts symbolized struggles, pains, joy, love, points of high energy, energy available, and energy depletion. I was hesitant to share the interpretations at first. When I did, the recipients told me that what I was seeing and saying resonated, made sense, gave them a sense of being seen.

Witness.

I realized that was showing up in the drawings and interpretations was not necessarily public knowledge. With this realization, I knew that I needed to ask permission of the intended recipient before drawing and interpreting. Not doing so seemed like a violation of trust and a misuse of the gift I was given.

Trying to understand this new manifestation of intuition, I sought out volunteers, people I didn’t know well or at all (I didn’t even know where some of them were located geographically), who would allow me to draw a heart for them and offer an interpretation. I asked for their feedback in return.

The recipient of one portrait said I’d identified an issue in her life that she rarely talked to anyone about.

In another portrait, created for someone I only knew by name, I got a sense of a “spiritual crisis.” I was hesitant to use those strong words, so when we spoke, I talked about a deep spiritual pain. At the mention of it, she proceeded to describe a spiritual crisis she was working through.

Whoa.

After these trials, I felt an urgency to share this gift with the world. Only about 6 weeks after discovering I can see people’s hearts and lives in this way, I started offering heart portraits on a commission basis. I’ve created dozens of them now for friends and strangers alike.

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Over and over, recipients have asked, “How do you know that?” as I offer some reflection about their life. My truthful answer, “I don’t know.”

Over and over, recipients have said, “This is beautiful,” even when the hearts show signs of brokenness and pain.

I do not tire of saying, “Yes, this is beautiful and it is a reflection of you. You are beautiful.”

The portraits seem to be getting more detailed and the interpretations longer. I continue to be surprised at what appears. I continue to be in awe of the beauty and complexity of people. I continue to be curious about how this gift will evolve.

I have inklings…

Recently I experimented with heart sketches- heart drawings created quickly in the presence of the recipient and interpreted on the spot. I look forward to creating more of these.

I believe there are other ways this gift will manifest as I rely on an Imagination Greater Than My Own.

And so I keep drawing.

And I lean into trust.

And I treasure this gift I have discovered of witnessing hearts.

Mending of Hearts

For more than a year, I’ve been playing with hearts…artistically.

I didn’t know when I started that I was working on my own heart in ways words couldn’t express, but my hands, given the freedom to do so, could.  

First by cutting and ripping pieces of paper and forming hearts or broken hearts or mending hearts in collages.

Then by drawing hearts within hearts within hearts, smaller hearts nested, protected by the larger ones. All open hearts, sometimes naturally, sometimes broken, jagged-edged.

Months ago, my dad, an artist, who I often show my not-like-his creations, noted, “Your hearts are changing.”

No longer broken and dark, but open and bright, filled with light.

I noted that the same had happened inside me. Somehow. Inexplicably. I had only a few weeks before returned from a most difficult stint in Palestine. In that place of deep brokenness, my heart returned to me, to the world, brighter and more open, willing to take in the hurt of the world only long enough to send the pain out buoyed by the light I had found in myself.

After that, I went a few months without creating anything. When I started again, my hearts made their way into otherwise abstract drawings of intersecting ribbons and swirls and strings of beads. I don't know why.

Last month I spent a few days alone in a cabin in the woods. I spent my days walking, watching, writing, drawing. Noticing the spider webs everywhere glistening in the sun, watching a spider in my screened-in porch devour one spider…and then another… I could only draw spider webs. Imperfect webs of connection against blurry backgrounds of creation. No hearts.

Almost 2 weeks ago, I was on a very different, and equally rich, retreat, spending time with the Benedictine sisters in Erie, PA, and a number of other wonderful women. For the first time since my previous retreat, I felt the impulse to draw. Again, webs. But this time, each web I drew had strands of silk that formed one heart, or a few. Ever since my sojourn into the woods, I had been paying attention to spiders and webs. They, or at least one, had been demanding my attention, biting me in inconvenient places (including inside my belly button) on more than one occasion (Side note: this was when I learned that lemon juice helps to soothe the itching and the swelling of spider bites when over-the-counter creams do not).

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In Native American traditions, according to Jamie Sands, spiders represent “the infinite possibilities of creation.” Perhaps my spider was reminding me, not so subtly, that I had some work to do: weaving love into the web of my own creations.  

After yet another bite (I hope the last), my webs have not simply contained hearts, but been made of hearts within hearts within hearts. 

I created my last simple drawing a few nights ago. Bewildered by the troubles of our world, I started the web, first with the strands that met in the center, all bright colors. Then the strands that connected one to another around and around and around. In hearts.

Shortly after I began, I heard shouting in front of my house. Reluctant to leave my heart-growing endeavor, I went out on my front porch and saw two men who seemed to be attacking, one even beating with a stick, another.

One of the attackers, curly light brown hair, striped blue and gray shirt, saw me. “Call 911!” I didn’t understand what was happening and took another moment to take in the scene, trying to process what I was seeing. After a few more seconds of shouting, the man on the ground stopped resisting, thankfully conscious and, as far as I could tell, unharmed.

“He tried to steal a purse,” Curly told me, breathless. It had happened at a bar a few blocks from my house. “Call 911!” I dialed the number and handed him my phone. My pregnant neighbor had come out to see what was going on.

As the self-appointed doers-of-justice stood and the accused sat on the ground, my neighbor and I talked and watched. The accused stood up, the other two vigilant, ready to subdue him again. The accused asked me for water.

I noticed he was sweaty, his kelly green t-shirt nearly soaked. I wanted to give him water, but equally wanted to remove myself from a situation I still didn’t fully understand.

He asked again. I hesitated.

He ran. They chased. He only made it across the street and a few houses down.

My neighbor and I continued to watch as another man arrived to stand guard, now three surrounding the accused. Then the police came. The men from the bar left. An ambulance arrived.

I went inside, not knowing if the accused left in a police car or an ambulance.

I resumed the web of hearts.

Strand by strand.

Connection.

Color by color.

Intersection.

I knew that what I could give to the world that night was a representation of the world I wish to help create.

Not fine art, perhaps, but sincere.

A simple vision, so difficult to manifest in 3-D.

But possible.

I have to believe it’s possible.

I do believe it’s possible.  

Tonight, I was reminded that I am not the only person who believes this.

We can create a web of love.  

Linking us one

by one

by one.

Me

to you

to whom?

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I Want to Talk to You

I want to talk to you.

If we have ever disagreed and you feel I didn’t hear you, let’s get together and talk. If you simply need someone to listen to whatever is stirring in you, let’s get together and talk.

I want to talk to you.

Actually, first I want to listen, I want to try to open my mind and heart to what you have to say and what lies beneath your words, and what lies beneath what lies beneath your words. I’m sure I’ll do it imperfectly, but I want to try. Or when I don’t want to try, I will try to want to try.

I want see into the core of you and witness what beauty and brokenness reside there.  

Then I will ask you to try to hear me, too, to see me, too, to honor what I hold at my center, too.

The knowledge that I need, that we need, to seek people who see the world through a different lens, became particularly clear almost 4 years ago after my first stint with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestine. After being in Palestine, where I witnessed the systemic dehumanization of one group of people by another, and I noticed my own desire to demonize (it’s so much easier), I came home knowing deep in my bones I needed to seek opportunities for conversations with people who wouldn’t simply agree with me.

Throughout my life I have tried to have an open mind. Travelling has offered me the great gift of meeting people from many cultures and life experiences. Those people have given me so many opportunities to open my mind, to stretch my heart, to let it break open, and to help it heal. But one doesn't have to travel to expand. Here at home, family members and friends offer these same chances.

On social media, I see a range of perspectives. I have made a deliberate choice not to unfriend anyone because of a view they express or a bias that I find problematic (we all have our biases). Sometimes I address differences on social media; other times because of the tone of a message, or lack of time, or my own desire to respond in a way that’s not helpful, I decide that it is better to be silent. Sometimes when I choose to enter an online conversation, it becomes  unproductive, maybe ugly, and I choose to leave it. When I do so, I may invite the person(s) to continue the conversation face to face. I’ve made several such invitations recently. Unfortunately, those people have rarely, if ever, chosen to continue the discussion outside of the impersonal forum of social media.    

The invitations are genuine. They are my way of saying: I disagree with you, but I want to hear you, I want to understand you.

I want to see your face, so I can remember that you are so much more than whatever it is we’re discussing. I want you to remember that about me, too.   

I want to be in dialogue with you. If that interests you, let’s set a time to meet. 

But if you want to debate or have shouting matches or prove that you’re right and I’m wrong, I am not interested. If you want to ridicule or name-call me or anyone else, if you want to judge others without doing any self-examination, then no thank you. 

There’s too much of that going on in our country and world already. Hate-spewing. Fear-mongering. “Them”-blaming. Self-inflation and “other”-deflation.

Is that really who we want to be? 

I ask this not only of you, but of myself, too. I am not immune to sinking lower rather than rising above, not even close. I’m really good at self-righteousness.

I want to get better at humility.  If you want to do this, too, let’s talk. I want to be reminded that not only do I have a piece of the Truth, so do you. And while my truth and your truth may be different, it doesn't necessarily mean that they can't both contribute to the larger Truth that none of us will ever fully comprehend. 

Over the last several years, I have reached out to a person here or there, seeking conversation about difficult issues. When they have said yes, the conversations have been respectful, but definitely not easy. We didn’t come to neat conclusions or solutions to the complex topics we discussed – we weren’t trying to -  but we did (or at least I did) come away knowing that we had had an encounter with another expression of both humanity and divinity. Each encounter was a manifestation of the connection that already is, that always was, and always will be between us.

I want to live into that connection.

I want to look you in the eyes when we talk, so that I can see you, the you I can’t see with as much clarity in a Facebook post. I want to be in your presence, so I can read the nuances of your voice and body that can’t be communicated through written words.

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A couple of months ago I had the great honor of attending a conference in Rome with people from around the world who are committed to nonviolence – through scholarship, theological study, and practice. So many of those people, coming from their particular contexts of violence, expressed this simple and oh-so-difficult idea:

We must talk to each other.

This morning I watched an interview with a former CIA officer.  Her message: we must talk to each other. In the documentary "The Gatekeepers," made up of interviews with former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel's security agency, the same message came through loud and clear. I want to honor the wisdom of their lived experience of conflict that I'll never fully understand. 

We must talk to everyone, whether they are acting peacefully or violently. Whether we agree with them or not. They all agreed on this point. 

We must talk to each other and we must do so with love.

With love.

Mairead Maguire, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner from Northern Ireland, made that point over and over again. So did many others from Colombia, Uganda, South Sudan, Croatia, and other places.

I want to honor the wisdom of people who have chosen love over fear, who have chosen to risk their own lives, but not to harm another, because they know to harm one is to harm us all. 

We are all connected.

Our country cannot move forward if we cannot or will not talk to each other, if we cannot or will not recognize and live into our interconnection. .

Tonight at a rehearsal for a community choir made up of locals and refugees, we sang the words, “We are one America.” Our country does not look that way right now. The longer we talk at each other or about each other, rather than to each other, the harder it will be to mend the fabric we are ripping apart.

Our country and our world will only become more polarized, more violent, more frightening, if we cannot or will not speak to each other.

 

I want to talk to you.

Karen Pace and Dionardo Pizaña created a beautiful and challenging document called Qualities of Authentic Relationships across Differences. Each of the qualities begins with the word “willingness.”

Willingness to be challenged. Willingness to be compassionate. Willingness to be an active listener even when I am not ready to hear. Willingness to hear anger and not take it personally. Willingness to remain in relationship.

They offer a thorough list of the many ways we can aspiring to be willing in order to cross divides. When I came across the list, I knew that practicing these many ways to be willing would occupy me for the rest of my life. It will always be practice.

I want to talk to you.

If we have ever disagreed and you feel I didn’t hear you, let’s get together and talk. If you simply need someone to hear you, let’s get together and talk.

I have made the invitation. The ball is in your court.

Are you willing to be willing?

Are you willing to invite someone else to be willing?

Let’s find ways to talk to each other.

Please.

Peace.