Have You Whispered To Your Heart Today?

Heart painted with many different pastel colors.

I consider singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer one of the truly prophetic voices in our world today. If you have ever listened to any of Carrie’s songs, you know that she gazes upon the world through a lens of compassion. You come away from hearing her words and music feeling like you can be a better person than you are.

Carrie shares her reflections in a wonderful blog called “The Gathering of Spirits” on Substack.com. She recently wrote about a practice she has that I want to pass on. It makes a great deal of sense as we try to cope with the suffering we see in Ukraine, worry over the threat of a new Covid variant and weariness with the constant fact-bending and never-ending vitriol in our political discourse.

Carrie writes, “When I bump into the things that are difficult, when my heart jumps or my mind races, when I’m disappointed or grieving, I lay my hand on my heart and tenderly say to myself, ‘Oh Honey.’ It sounds like such a small thing, but it can really shift a moment. When I lay my hand on my heart I do it with the kind of tenderness I would give to someone cherished. I do it with the kindness I would have no problem giving to a stranger. I feel the weight and warmth of my own hand and send compassion right down into my body, mind and spirit.

“Oh, Honey,” Carrie says to herself, “Of course this is hard. [But] it’s going to be alright.”

Songwriter and singer Carrie Newcomer holding her acoustic guitar.

This simple practice reminds me of something Benedictine Sister Agnes Honz used to say to me. Sister Agnes was a wise woman who had a massage therapy ministry at Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, KS, the monastery I wrote about in my 2013 memoir, Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, A Spiritual Home and A Living Faith. Sister Agnes would encourage me to pause and put my hand on my heart during the course of the day and thank my heart for its faithfulness.

When I was stuck on a passage in my writing, Sister Agnes would advise me to run my hand over my head to get a better blood flow going. Somehow that small act of caressing my head would unclog whatever was blocking me.

The pandemic has made me more aware of my body and just what a wonder and gift it is. How often do we think of our hard-working lungs, or the drumbeat of the heart, the miracle of our eyes, ears, tongue? Not usually — until something interrupts our breath, causes our heart skip a beat, clouds our eyes, silences our ears, and removes the blessing of taste.

During the pandemic I was inspired to write a poem celebrating the wizardry of the human body. I won’t quote the whole poem, but just a few lines:

Anatomy

Have you saluted your heart today,

that tireless laborer, persistent percussionist

beating its bass drum as we work, eat, make love, sleep?

Have you placed your hand on your chest,

whispered to your heart as you would a lover?

Have you marveled at its hip-hop rhythm:

Eighty beats a minute,

five thousand beats an hour,

forty-two million beats a year …

Have you knelt in wonder at the sight

of a cell’s inner workings, how it looks like a grid of Manhattan,

or set of archipelagos tossed in an ocean:

the mitochondria, the endoplasmic reticulum,

the Golgi apparatus, the membrane-bound organelles …

I continue to marvel at how the human body operates with the efficiency of NASA’s Mission Control, and that my own body, in mid-life, can still do sit-ups, push-ups and jumping jacks … most days. I marvel too that I wake each morning with eyes that look out on pine trees, ears that hear the conversation of crows and cardinals, that I can smell the scent of spring in the moist earth, and taste comfort in a warm cup of tea.

I can’t help thinking that being aware of the blessing of our own bodies makes us more appreciative of the other bodies around us. I’m reminded of something the late poet and peace activist Father Daniel Berrigan would say, that when he walked down a crowded street, he would pray the faces of the people he saw as if they were beads on a rosary.

This week, can we pause periodically and say to our bodies, “Thank you, honey. It will be alright.” And then, can we look upon the bodies we encounter as though they were beads on a rosary, and say a prayer of thanks for each one?

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Author of 4 spirituality books & 2 poetry collections. Award-winning reporter for Wall Street Journal, PBS-TV, Washington Post & 2 IL public radio stations.

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