Wear Your Heart Outside Your Chest
It was 11:00 in the morning, twenty years ago almost to the day. So much of that time in my life is a blur. I do remember our nurse Olivia with her beautiful dreadlocks and reassuring smile taking baby Charlie back for his pet scan and saying, “All is well. See you back here in an hour.” If she had only known what a beautiful thing would transpire in that holy “time-out-of-time.” Aimless, heart-clutched, I took the elevator down from the pediatric oncology floor at Sloan Kettering, and made my way across the busy New York City street, oblivious to the theater of blaring sirens and honking taxis, even the burnt smell of roasting chestnuts at the corner. I solemnly entered the Church of Saint Catherine of Siena, dipped my fingers in the stone fountain and drew a water cross on my forehead. There were several gathered in the Chapel of St Jude, “the Patron Saint of Lost Causes,” so I walked up the center aisle, and took a right turn at the intersection of the cruciform.
There He was—Jesus—this beautiful life-size painted wooden icon of the Prince of Peace. The first thing one notices about him is that his heart is outside his chest—exposed to the world. At a closer look, this heart is pierced through by a cross with a crown of thorns around it, and gilt rays radiating from every side. I was transfixed.
Later, I would ask the young priest preparing for the afternoon mass about this Jesus with his heart outside his chest. He explained that the “sacred heart” represents God’s boundless, passionate, and never-ceasing love for us. Since then, I have found other works of religious art where Jesus is actually holding his heart in his hands outstretched to us. I believe this is the model for how God hopes we will choose to live here on earth.
In that moment, I knew something about what God must feel about us. He would do anything, even risk the terrific vulnerability of exposing his own sacred heart if it meant we would have life, heal from our brokenness—be saved for another day. Remarkable it is how God empowers us to do the same for one another. When we dare to wear our hearts outside of our chests, we can give people life, aid in their healing, maybe even save them for another day (and ourselves in the process).
It has been twenty years since that day that I made a promise to wear “my” heart outside my chest like Jesus, and commit my life to help another poor, vulnerable soul like myself—find hope—over and over again. It would be dishonest to claim these last twenty years have been the path of a saint. I am sure God is laughing me even saying it. Many times I have met the world from a posture of fear, insecurity, self interest, and ego. Let’s just say I wear my heart outside my chest slightly askew. No halos here. Thankfully, God’s modus operandi is to choose imperfect people like me to be conduits of grace here on earth.
I am not comfortable with titles, but one that I am drawn to in literature, in the Bible and in my own life is “healer.” Barefoot in my kitchen making a chicken soup to sustain a body in a battle against cancer, anointing the wrists, the forehead, and the heart with scented healing oils and prayers to bring peace and healing, trying my best to make sure every person who crosses my path feels seen, loved, and celebrated in my presence—this is where life’s holy dots connect for me. This is what it looks like for me to wear my heart outside my chest. The spiritual work for me is learning how to get out of my own way so that my heart can speak for me. The reward for wearing my heart outside my chest is a deeper experience of this one precious life I have been given. Jesus’ words, “I came so you would have life in all its fullness,” becomes my reality.
The present world gives us so many reasons to choose self-protection over vulnerability. There are risks to meeting the world from your heart. You will suffer for it. My heart has been bruised many times. But I just can’t see any other way to accomplish a life of meaning, one that feels good from the inside out, and radiates joy.
When I live the way of love, my life makes sense, and the world doesn’t feel all doom and gloom, but surprisingly sacred. Over the course of our lives, we will need many nudges to wear our hearts outside our chests. It’s our only chance of experiencing a little bit of heaven here on earth. I’m hoping this is one for you today!
Happy Heart Day!