Spring Memorial, Visiting Nurse Association

Thursday, June 16, 2011

“Broken For You”

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor of Franklin Circle Christian Church

Hear This Podcast HERE: 110616VNAMemorialSermonPodcast

There is a story from the Jewish tradition that tells of a rabbinical student who was confused and deeply troubled as to why in the Holy books there are times when it is said of God’s Word that it is “set as a seal upon the heart.”(1) “Why,” the student asked the rabbi, “does the text not say that the Word of God is to be placed within the heart. Wouldn’t that make so much more sense, to have the wisdom of God deep within the heart, from where all knowledge, all emotions, all will come?”

“Ah…,” said the wise Rabbi. “Ah, that would make sense to we humans. But God is far wiser, and knows not only the way things are, but the way things will be. God knows that the human heart will not be whole for long, for sorrow and trial and tribulation come too soon and too often. God places the Divine Word upon the heart so that, when the heart is broken, as it surely will be, then, when most needed, God’s Word will, without delay, fall into the heart. (2)

You all have known that the human heart is not long to be left whole. You, more than so many folks, have known what it means to be broken-hearted. I, too, have known a sorrow so great that it quite literally feels as if my heart is going to burst… to crumble… to break. The sudden death of my mother in the summer of 1995 and the death of my closest brother only a few months later from a drug overdose made my chest wall ache so much that I felt this precious life-giving organ had, in fact, broken open. Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 95 years old today.

So, if remaining pristine, whole, unbroken isn’t in the cards for us, isn’t the purpose of human existence, then what is the meaning of this pain, this heartache, this sorrow we feel following the loss of a loved one, and at so many other occasions in our lives? Let me tell you honestly, I can say all kinds of nice things in response to that question, but at the end of the day I am as confounded as you are as to why life is so filled with such brokenness. I can only tell you hints that have come to me in dealing with my own grief, and from dealing with many, many, many occasions for grief from those in my congregations, communities, and family.

The best I can sort it out is that brokenness gives us the occasion for both receiving love and for giving love. Now, I don’t ascribe to a theology that some divinity has designed this creation in such a way as to make pain a necessary facet of it, nor to make brokenness a forced condition so that we might rely upon one another and care for one another. That would be to assign fairly evil, or at least mischievous qualities to the divine that doesn’t set well at all with me.

So, rather than a causal attribute, this care could be a responsive quality. Rather than God making us broken in order to rely upon one another more fully, I believe God, or the divine in whatever faith or philosophy you might follow, crafted a creation that allowed for painful things to happen – like the death of our beloved friends and family – and then hoped, believed, yearned, and perhaps even prayed that we would respond with care, love, and compassion.

In fact, compassion is a good word for our response. The English noun compassion, comes pretty directly from the Latin. Its prefix com- comes directly from cum, the Latin preposition meaning “with” and is joined with the past participle of the verb patior, meaning “to suffer.” Thus, compassion is literally “to suffer with.” (3) To hurt alongside… To cry with another… Brokenness, you see, if we but work through it with some semblance of awareness and as much integrity as we possibly can, gives us a perspective on suffering that allows us then to suffer alongside others. Brokenness gives us a viewpoint, or, more importantly, a heart, filled with an awareness that will help another along the way.

This is why we have such amazing organizations such as the Visiting Nurse Association. This is why being part of a community of faith is so powerful. They allow us the chance to receive compassion from those who have already known such pain and to offer compassion to those for whom the suffering is fresh, hard, and cold.

In the Christian scriptures the Apostle Paul eloquently writes of the power of this brokenness when he proclaims,

“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” (4)

There are many stories in many faith traditions, and in the history of the world itself, that exemplify this brokenness that begets compassion. Personally, I find the story of Jesus particularly compelling as it shows not simply a messenger of the divine, but the divine itself, suffering alongside humanity. Jewish scriptures speaks of such a suffering servant when Isaiah tells of one who is “despised and rejected,” “a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity.” And yet, “out of his anguish he shall see light”

One of my favorite books, “Broken For You,” by Staphanie Kallos, (5) is a poignant story about people who are broken… an older woman dying from a brain tumor; a younger woman dying from a broken heart; a middle age man dying from a broken family. And, without giving away the amazing reason why she does what she does, the central plot line involves the older woman, Margaret Hughes, knowing that she is in the final stages of life, has taken to destroying, item by item, all of the porcelain collectables her father gathered for decades and decades. Literally she lives in a house – no, a mansion – filled from floor to ceiling with porcelain: plates, dolls, urns, tureens, chocolate services, bells, ewers and basins, coffee pots, dishes, dishes, and more dishes. And not only does she suddenly take delight in throwing, breaking, crashing her family heirlooms, but she has enlisted Wanda, the young woman who has come to live with her convalescing from an automobile accident, to be her compatriot in this planned destruction. *   BrokenForYouKallos

But what happens to the pieces is stunning and completely unexpected by everyone. Late one sleepless night, Wanda, struggling with her own demons and depression, begins to piece together the porcelain – not back into their original forms – but into entirely new pieces, murals that are by all

accounts stunning artwork in and of themselves. She is able to make something beautiful out of the brokenness around her. And in the process both women find healing, and so do others they don’t even know are being affected by this wildly unorthodox behavior. And by healing I don’t mean necessarily a change in course of their diseases. Margaret’s healing led to a good and peaceful death. Wanda’s healing led to a newfound freedom from the demons of her past.

All because they were willing to be broken with one another. They found compassion… allowing themselves the vulnerability to suffer alongside each other. And that’s what we are called to do today. To risk the vulnerability of allowing others to see our broken places, our tears, even our blank stares… knowing that those who are worthy will open up to us their broken places, their tears, their stares… and together we will find healing and wholeness… and it will be beautiful, a work of art, even though it will look very different from what we knew in the beginning. Surely our hearts will be broken. But we can be assured that just as our hearts are broken the Word, the Love of God will fall gently into the cracks of our hearts.

May it be so.


(1) (Possibly Song of Songs 8:6)

(2) Unfortunately I cannot tell you where I first learned of this story and cannot trace its origins! If you know, please tell me!

(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compassion

(3) 2 Corinthians 4:7-10

(5) Broken For You, by Stephanie Kallos (New York: Grove Press, 2004)