Living open-hearted

What I want in my life is compassion,
a flow between myself and others
based on a mutual giving from the heart.
Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication

When I read this heartfelt post today, it reminded me of a conversation I was part of last week.

It was evening, and everyone around our close circle was tired. But we had gathered to talk about leadership and grace and how the two relate.

Most of the folks in the room were women. And most of those women are in preparation to become ministers. What I mean to say is: these are people with presence.

They know how to listen, how to hold space, how to be with the pain of others. They also know how to speak wisdom and truth, even to a room of strangers. That’s what they’re about.

But in the course of this conversation about what holds us back from being authentic and present, one woman shared an experience that was deep and heartbreaking, mostly because so many others in the room understood her story.

“I can’t live every day truly open-hearted,” she told us with certainty. After a pause she said, “I’ve tried before, and it doesn’t work. It isn’t safe.”

And she told us about a day when she opened her heart as wide as it would go, and walked around the whole world offering all the love she had to give — to her loved ones, to her fellow students and teachers, to strangers.

And it was beautiful —

until–

she passed a stranger who looked at her, as she said, “as though he could kill her.”

This person who didn’t even know her. But with her heart wide open like that, the hatred in his eyes came like a blow. And she closed her wide open heart to protect herself.

Living open-hearted isn’t safe.

I was moved by her telling of this experience. By her commitment to live in authentic love, by her painful honesty in sharing with us. And by her courageous willingness to consider trying it again.

“It might still be possible…” she said.

And hope grows just like that, like a tiny planted seed waiting to break ground, like daring the impossible and believing.

I can’t say I’ve lived an entire day with my heart as wide open as it will go, but I can say that thinking about this woman’s story made me open mine a little bit wider.

May we all drink ever deeper from the well of authentic love. May we believe, always, that the radiance of God’s love can shine through us even into eyes filled with hate, even in times when it is not safe.

Perhaps that is where it’s needed most of all.

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