More Beautiful in Person

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

 

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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.

 

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.

Listening with Wide Open Hearts

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We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others.             -Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

Observing the political climate, both in the U.S. and around the world, I’ve been thinking a lot about fear and anger and the absence of compassion. I’ve seen these at play, usually aggressive play, in both far-off places and close to home.

In the Bible we read the oft-repeated message: “Be not afraid.” Do we trust these words? Do we heed them?

The message we receive from the media, which many of us see and hear more often than the Bible is “Be afraid. Be afraid! Be very afraid!” These words cater to our basest instincts. When should we trust them?

Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.      – George W. Bush

When we fear – the “other,” terror, pain, loss, death – we judge unequally and act defensively, assuming the worst of people and situations; our fight, flight, or freeze response kicks in. Instead of seeing other beloved children of God, we see threats and we act accordingly.

I won’t deny that many scary things are happening around us; our world is broken and continues to break into pieces.

But we have a choice about how to approach broken places and broken people.

We can choose fear.

Or we can choose love.

We can choose to close ourselves off or open ourselves wider.

Ever since I heard about it, I’ve been fascinated by the Urban Confessional, a loosely connected group of people from thirteen countries whose sole purpose is to listen to other people, strangers on the street. Participants in the project go to public places and stand with signs that say “Free Listening.” When someone approaches a listener, the listener puts the sign down, focuses attention on the person who wants to be heard, and listens to whatever he or she might offer. The listener may ask questions, but gives no advice or critique. Only the gift of listening. “Only” the gift of open-hearted time.

I want to join the Urban Confessional. I plan to. I need to practice listening… a lot. I preach the importance of listening much better than I practice the skill.

A few people in my life know how to push my buttons. Though most of the time I am able to heed my better senses, sometimes I allow myself to get caught up in heated exchanges, too often in the online sphere (mistake #1). When I do it, I feel my body tense, my heartrate speed up, and my sense of self-righteousness swell. These are not moments I’m proud of. My goal in “listening” then is only to form a better argument: why I’m right and how they’re wrong.

I was telling this story to someone who responded, “If you have to be right, you’ve already lost.”

I’ve lost many times. I’m sure I’ll lose many more. But I’m trying.

“I will give you a new heart,” the Lord says, “and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). That’s what we must pray for… a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges of our fellow citizens.    – President Barack Obama

Recently a local visionary led a workshop in which he spoke about the year he spent listening to talk radio that didn’t align with his belief system. In doing so, he hoped to diminish the power of ideas and words that triggered his ire. He wanted to learn to listen in a way that always honored the common kinship of humanity and always recognized the inherent dignity of the other person, even when they saw the world through very different lenses.  He wanted to  honor relationship over ideology.

Maybe listening to strangers will help me listen better to people I know and help me to honor relationship over ideology. Maybe listening to strangers will slowly pry open my heart, so there is space for the fears and hopes and challenges of anyone I may encounter.

Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”  And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” [Abraham] said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”  Genesis 18:23-26, 31-33

We are all affected when one person treats others with compassion. The goodness, while perhaps seemingly insignificant, ripples and magnifies, bonding pieces once broken apart. Through listening, wide-open-hearted listening, we walk through fear and anger, towards compassion. Through listening we create an abundance of mercy. This abundance can sustain the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Through deep listening, love and understanding can make us forgiving and caring, just and fair. As we grow in the presence of mercy, we free ourselves as much as we empower others.

By Cory Lockhart. Article originally written on August 4, 2016 for use by JustFaith Ministries (www.justfaith.org). Copyright 2019-2020 JustFaith Ministries. Do not copy, share, or forward without permission.