Atherosclerosis of the Soul
The phrase “hardened hearts” appears all the way through the Bible. In the Exodus story it is used to describe Pharaoh as he fails to see and understand the plight of the Hebrew people he has enslaved.
In the Gospel of Mark Jesus refers to a conversation among the disciples and asks: Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts hardened?
April 24th was both Armenian Martyrs’ Day and Yom Ha’Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). We remember so that we can never forget what happened to those two communities of people. We remember so we can never forget that we as human beings are capable of genocide. And yet these are not the only examples of genocide. Nor did genocide end with the liberation of the last death camp. We remember so we can never forget – but do we remember so we can care and prevent. Or have our hearts hardened to the brutal treatment humans have the capacity to inflict on one another?
It is so easy to read the Bible and shake our heads when we read the phrase “heart was hardened” and assign that capability to the really “bad” people of the world. And when we read that phrase in relationship to us it is too often with a particular biblical interpretation that suggests the hardened heart is when we refuse to accept Jesus as a personal Savior.
Sisters and brothers a hardened heart is possible with each one of us, and it has nothing to do with a ticket to heaven. Each one of us is susceptible to the condition of a hardened heart because each one of us carries the vulnerability to that spiritual disease, atherosclerosis of the soul. Our spiritual arteries get clogged by the gradual build up of complacency, disengagement, disdain, prejudice, assumptions. These insidious little pieces of death build one upon the other until the life giving flow from our hearts to one another is stopped in its tracks and our hearts are hardened to the pain of the world.
The disease creeps up on us.
· We hear that there is going to be a special commemoration of the Holocaust somewhere and we sigh “not again – that happened 70 years ago – time to move on – ‘they’ got Israel”. Or even worse some say the Holocaust was a myth.
· We might see an article about the Armenian Genocide and we ignore it because we haven’t a clue whom the Armenians were and are nor do we know anything about that piece of history. And even here, some give more value to Turkey’s interpretation of events. What’s more we pay little attention to a growing autocratic government in Turkey that has little tolerance for those who do not agree with them.
· We see articles about sex trafficking and dismiss it as an isolated incident even though it is a major problem that is only getting worse
· We commemorate with great love and honor those World War II veterans that are aging and now dying at a steady rate. Yet we who are not part of the Jewish community give little thought to those Holocaust survivors who are also aging and now dying at a steady rate and who have powerful stories to tell us.
· We might see a news story of starvation in Southern Sudan but that seems so far away from us and so inconsequential.
· We hear of the plight of the Syrian Refugees and we want to postpone any thoughts about how to ease this humanitarian nightmare.
The disease of atherosclerosis of the soul creeps up on us. Each bit of indifference adds another clogging element. Each bit of rationalization on behalf of those who victimized others narrows our spiritual arteries. Each bit of moral or religious presumed superiority over the “other” tightens the arteries. Until finally we just ignore those difficult realities and our hearts are hardened to the sufferings and the memories of others.
I want to prescribe some spiritual anticoagulants for us, including for myself. It is my intention (and I hope the good folks at St. Paul’s UCC will keep me honest in doing this) to provide a focus for the month in our prayer list. That focus is to be around one of these situations, realities, concerns. It is my hope that we not only lift that specific focal point in prayer, but that we also take the time during the month to learn more about the situation or the event. And then, if our individual research and our praying lead us to some concrete action we feel called to do we will answer that call as individual people of faith. The preview for May is going to be the Holocaust. It is my prayer that all prayer and contemplation will lead us to a renewed sensitivity to the rise in anti-Semitism hate speech (a rise of 86% in the first three months of 2017).
May prayer and changed behaviors become the spiritual anticoagulants to a destructive epidemic in our world – hardening of the heart because of an atherosclerosis of the soul. Let us open the vessels of our souls to let God’s healing love flow out of us and into a wounded world.
Grace and Peace,