By Kathy Berken
The world has always been a little chaotic. Okay, a lot chaotic. This year is no exception. Except that we’re in a very unusual election cycle and all the major news networks are clamoring to get the best ratings from the strangest happenings. But that’s not all. What occurred in Milwaukee in August hit close to my heart because I lived the first seven years of my life a few blocks from Sherman Park, where all that violence took place after a young black man was shot and killed by a police officer. Granted, I haven’t lived there for a very long time, but it was home at one time and I have fond memories of a very different neighborhood.
More, when I was checking out at the grocery store recently, the clerk whispered that a lot of people steal food here, and she sees it and does not know what to do about it because security is insufficient. She said she feels helpless. I understood.
I feel as if I am re-experiencing the social and political turbulence of the ‘60s. But I’m older now and my heart hurts more now than it did when I was in college and the upheaval was new. Honestly, I often feel sad and helpless, too. I told the store clerk that she was a good person, that’s all I could think of to help. She smiled and said things are changing fast. I know. I know.
That evening I attended a friend’s 70th birthday party. Funny how things matter differently as you get to be a certain age. The only talk of politics was a comment about sarcasm and everybody laughed. Not that we don’t follow politics, but I sensed that we just wanted a little reprieve from the news. Then a friend I hadn’t seen in years asked me how my heart was. People my age talk a lot about our latest medical conditions, but she asked about my spirit. It was the best question I’d heard in a long time and just having that conversation brought me a great sense of peace.
Coincidentally, the day before I read an article about finding peace in our lives by connecting with others’ hearts. Have real conversations, feel compassion for the other, listen to each other’s hearts. This is one way to calm the chaos, to find God in the midst of the turmoil.
This article reminded me of two Scripture verses. “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1). And this from Paul: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ” (Phil 4:7).
Sadly, even words from Scripture can remain superficially only letters on the page to some people who want and need more than what they view as platitudes. People feel restless and afraid. What we need are words with flesh on them to give us relevant meaning to help us through the dark nights of chaos. Can the words we read, write and speak reach our restless hearts and offer viable solutions? That seems like an impossibility in times like these when we so often feel bombarded from all sides with violence and unrest, both physically and emotionally.
I go back to that article, written by an Imam from New York University. The Imam describes a heart that is “makhoom,” swept clean of anything harmful. It is pure and has “no oppression or aggression, and no bitterness or jealousy.” Not all that different from our Christian understanding from John and Paul. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Wisdom requires no identification papers.
How is your heart? I invite you to join the conversation.
(Kathy Berken has a master’s degree in theology from St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minn. She lived and worked at The Arche, L’Arche in Clinton 1999-2009 and is author of “Walking on a Rolling Deck: Life on the Ark (stories from The Arch).”)