Thursday, December 31, 2015

Fear Not [no.35] a subtle shift or the Grand We

I find the timing and the slightly different nature of this scripture quite the coincidence. Though perhaps there are no coincidences...

This is the 21st post in this series--the number that some research supports as the number of times/days one must take on a new task before it becomes a habit.  Other research debunks this indicating it is effort, always, to form new patterns of behavior and maintain them. I do think the forming of new habits, behaviors, etc. is worth delving into (as that is the whole purpose of this project), and I plan write about it further in another post when I have more time... Yet, here it is: Day 21.

Notice, too, the subtle shift. Here it is not God re-assuring us. Or as Joanna suggests in her blog post that I linked to yesterday... not so much of a 'there-there' pat on the head kind of "fear not" but as a commandment "Fear Not." This is worth considered reflection... What if there were 11 Commandments? What if one of them was Be Not Afraid. Or maybe there were 12: Cause no fear. How differently would Christianity function in the world? Indeed, why, if "Fear Not" is the most repeated phrase in the Bible, do we not take it more seriously? Why do we call this kind of calm "zen" instead of "Christian"?

Anyway, back to what's different... It is us speaking. It is the Grand "We" that includes me with the author of the Psalm, as though we are finally forming a new habit, finally promising back to God "we will not fear" even when things are scary.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Fear Not [no.34]

For an explanation of this Fear Not series, read my first post on the nature of fear.
I am also pondering this blog post on FEAR by Mennonite Pastor Joanna (& her other on Elisha).

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Fear Not [no.32] Psalms

Felix Just (S.J., Ph.D.) created one of the resources I have used extensively to find the "fear not" verses in the Bible. So if you consult his list you can see the ones I've skipped over.

I also like his comments at the top of the page. He reminds us that

The most commonly repeated phrase in the whole Bible, 
in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, is 
“Have no fear!” or “Do not be afraid!”

Also, he sums up the various verses thusly:
  • On the one hand, God tells us that we need not be afraid of any person, circumstance, or created thing. God loves us and cares for us; God is with us and protects us, even in times of suffering or hardship. God's faithful love extends even beyond the limits of our mortal lives.
  • On the other hand, it is good to have an appropriate "fear" of God, but of God alone. This "fear" is not meant as a terrified expectation of punishment, but rather in the sense of a "reverential respect," similar to but even greater than the respect we owe to persons in legitimate authority: parents, civic leaders, or religious leaders.
With that, I move on to Psalms and perhaps one of the most widely known ones...

For an explanation of this Fear Not series, read my first post on the nature of fear.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Fear Not [no.29-30] comfort for fathers

Skipping to the New Testament for the season.

It's not easy to be a parent. Hear words of encouragement for the fathers.

The second verse cracks me up a little. Call it the Biblical version of "Be careful what you wish for: you just might get it." I also think it's amusing that Zechariah, logically, doubts he and his old wife can manage this, so God renders him unable to speak until the birth of the baby. If he was going to say stupid stuff to God's angels, imagine what he would have said to his pregnant wife and how that would have gone for him! God was probably doing Zechariah a great service, saving him from himself and hormonal wrath.

For an explanation of this Fear Not series, read my first post on the nature of fear.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Fear Not [no.28] David to Solomon

David says this to his son Solomon, so while there is the larger context, the verse is strong in its own way.

Contextually, this is when David is saying Solomon, of his many sons, will be the one to follow him as king. Interestingly enough, it is a charge to build God's temple. God has told David that he is not to build the temple because he has shed blood, but that his plans should be given to Solomon to complete. Fascinating. Is this a sort of shift, I wonder... I have not read closely (yet) the stories surrounding this to see if this is some sort of change that indicates the spilling of blood is not favorable to God. I'll have to see if this theory is substantiated at all...

In itself, I like the quote's emphasis of strength, courage, and action. It seems fitting as the next step to conquering fear... Let's say this is working on me, that I am less afraid. Great! Right? But then what? Do I use that for self-serving purposes? It is not enough just to sit at home unafraid, I need to (we need to) take that unafraidness, that calm, out into the world to alleviate fear in others.

For an explanation of this Fear Not series, read my first post on the nature of fear.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Fear Not [no.27]

So, I'm going against my own guidelines already, as it suits me. Here is a person-to-person "fear not" message instead of God speaking to person. It's one of my favorite Bible stories, so I had to explore it. It's so heart-wrenching and powerful...

Elijah asks the widow woman to give the last bit of her flour and oil to him, God's prophet, though she knows that surely she and her son will die of starvation if she does so. But she makes Elijah his loaf of bread first, and behold, God's miracle: she never runs out. Later, though, the son does die, but when Elijah prays over him God returns the boy's life to him.

This is a lovely foreshadowing of the Eucharist and the Son returning to life. There is always enough bread, God's body, for us. Through prayer and God's grace, our lives are returned to us.

Now I am not especially fond of Abundance Theology...  the notion that if you have faith you will be rewarded financially with a life of comfort and ease. I'm sure this story is used to support that line of thinking, but I think it's exploitative and uses doubt and insecurities as a motivator--and often, this theology is used to line a preacher's own pockets. It further excludes a hard look at the economic realities of the world. (Not to mention that "not starving to death" hardly means a life of comfort and ease.) Besides, Jesus, time and time again, shuns material wealth and accumulation. 

The lesson here, I believe, is a reminder to be generous, to not be afraid to do what is difficult. Elijah promises her that she will not run out. And though she was prepared to die, when given this hope, she seized it. Logic and the ingrained human drive for self-preservation would have probably said otherwise... It begs us look at the our need for self-preservation and where it may lead us astray.

There are modern parallels here for us, too. We will surely die, just as the widow and her son. No escaping that reality, and we, too, are given a chance to live generously, with the promise it will make the world better. Whatsoever you do for the least of these, you do for me. Forget the personal reward of a ticket to celestial-Heaven, eternal life, or monetary wealth here in this time... To live generously mends the broken world here, helps to bring a Heaven on earth, now.

Fear not.

For an explanation of this Fear Not series, read my first post on the nature of fear.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fear Not [no.26]

Samuel recounts for the people how they have, despite God's help/blessing/love, turned against him time and time again. He summarizes many of the same stories I've recounted in previous blog posts, but then offers these words:

It is a reminder that despite doing the same stupid thing over and over, God gives us fresh starts through forgiveness. More incredible, this is the Old Testament God. Of course, he still threatens that if they don't accept the King they've begged for and if they don't put aside the other gods, there will be consequences... But they're given a fresh start.

Indeed, we have a fresh start no matter what "evil" we've done. Regardless of the past, there is a present and future in which we can serve the Lord with all our hearts.

I don't mean to suggest that we can escape the natural earthly consequences of our actions, but I believe we have the power to change ourselves. God would like ever-so-much to help.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Have No Fear [the lie]

The context: The prophet Deborah tells Barak that Sisera will be delivered into his hand, and when Sisera and his army are routed, he seeks shelter and rest... Jael (a woman) offers it to him with the above words... and then drives a tent stake through his temple as he sleeps.

Sooooo, perhaps. from now on, I will just mention the verses when God or God's angels are speaking these words. Although, that means I will leave out several instances of women comforting other women not to be afraid during childbirth. I'm glad those were included in the Bible.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Fear Not [no.25] *facepalm*

Good heavens. The story surrounding this quote is nothing short of facepalm material.

So, God says this to Gideon... and Gideon promptly builds an altar at the spot and names it The Lord is Peace. I'd find that refreshing for the OT, if the entire interaction between God and Gideon wasn't about fighting the Midionites. Gideon can't figure out why God would even choose his clan to prevail in this fight, as they have behaved so wickedly... and then Gideon proceeds to ask God for proof after proof, setting up tests for God to pass--and God follows the tests! I guess God asks Gideon to jump through a few hoops, too, involving a sacrificed goat and pulling down the statue of Baal (which he does in the dark of night, so no one will see him, because he's scared). After Gideon goes on a killing tear across the country and frees Israel from Midion, the Israelites beg him to be their ruler, but he refuses, saying the Lord is to be their ruler. (Ah! Could they have learned something?) He then proceeds to ask the Israelites for a boon, gold earrings, which he casts into a false idol, and as soon as Gideon dies, they all go back to worshiping Baal.


I guess God gets to patiently try to teach his chosen people the same lesson, yet again: love of family, love of one God...

But the story digresses into brother killing brothers, God avenging them, the burning alive of a thousand people trapped in a temple tower, and a millstone being dropped on Abimelek's head by a woman and cracking his skull (which was such an embarrassment to him he asked his servant to run him through with a sword so others couldn't say he'd been killed by a woman). Next, the man who promises God, if God will just make him victorious in battle, he'll sacrifice whatever first exits his home when he returns-- and of course, it is his only child, a daughter, who graciously accepts this fate as he must uphold his vow to God.

Lord have mercy on us. Be patient with us when we are slow, so slow, to learn your ways. Help us not to be afraid.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fear Not [no. 10-24] & a few problems

I will start by stating my bias: I am a pacifist. I am a pacifist because of the religious tradition I was raised in which comes from years of theological thinking and seeking to understand how Christians are called to live in the world. I know there are plenty of Christians who believe killing people is OK, or a necessary evil, but I simply do not agree. Please don't pose the "what if you could have killed Hitler before he..." problem to me. (Try a current-event extension of this line of arguing and see if you don't sound like a terrorist/murderer yourself.) I'm tired of the Hitler question anyway. I'm tired of all the "what ifs" - I've run them in my head. I was raised on the stories from the Martyr's Mirror: faith should be in God (not humans/capitalism/governments) and it should exist regardless of laws, popularity, or persecution.

Show me the person Jesus killed. He is the example.

So, yes, I have a problem with these:
That's the gist of the above verses, obviously taken out of their contexts. Yet--What to do with these?

I believe we are all God's children and killing any one of them is painful to God -- regardless if they are Christian or not. There are good people not attending church and horrible ones attending regularly... that is not the standard. It matters how we treat people and frankly, killing a person is about as poorly as you can treat one. The idea of God encouraging slaughter/slavery/hamstringing the enemy's horses doesn't square with me.

Verses like these are troublesome. We all throw out parts of the Bible we don't like and justify it. (Puhleeze. Don't pretend you don't, too.) Over time, I have come to a place where I can hold contradictions in the text without throwing out the entire text. Also, I have come to acknowledge there are contradictions.  (Some people don't and it takes them in horrifying circles.) When confronted by opposing ideas in the Bible (i.e. Thou shalt not kill vs. kill the men and take the women as slaves), I look to Jesus and historical context I may have been ignorant of previously. I am also under the impression that our idea of "what God is telling us" has evolved over the years as we have evolved. I think there are some Bible stories where people didn't quite understand what God wanted and I think there are modern instances of this too. Plenty of them.

I am open to the idea of a God that changes (while still remaining 'perfect') and I am open to the idea that God has different expectations for humanity over time. Piano students begin with Hot Cross Buns before they move on to a Mozart Minuet. Likewise, I believe humanity began with the basics love of family, love of one God... and is now working on love of the stranger, love of the enemy... God is love.(1 John 4:8) That's where we're headed: to Love, to God. The broken world we are to mend? It is mended through love; a difficult, ongoing, fraught-with-error task. A war is terror. A war on terror is terror. Somehow, though, are to fear not. Perhaps, too, we need to think create no fear.

For me, these verses mean... Don't be afraid even when your life is on the line--as it surely was in the battles referenced. They are a reminder to me, as they come from the Old Testament, that God has made progress with us in many ways, but that we have a long way to go, yet, before being able to treat each other as Christ treated us.

So, if I err in my understanding of what God is asking of me, I will err on the side of loving too much, rather than killing. May I never fear, even when my life is on the line, to love.

--- Added Later ---
After writing this entry, I saw this video floating around on my fb feed and thought it seemed far more reasoned, researched, and articulated than my above post.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fear Not [no.9] Moses. Again.

Moses is quite the guy: super-smart and daring Hebrew mom, brave sister, educated and powerful adopted mom... and he still grows up to be a murderer. Yet, he is more because he answers God's call (albeit reluctantly and with a noble attempt to pawn it off on his brother). The poor guy gets tasked with freeing the Hebrew people from slavery, then motivating them and keeping them on track through the desert for forty years! (Though how you keep people on track while wandering seems like an ironic/futile task.)

So, while I have two quotes in a row from Moses to the people, I'll bet he actually said this a whole lot more than the scriptures recorded.

For an explanation of this Fear Not project, see my first post on fear.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Fear Not [no. 7]

This is out of chronological order, but the timing in the liturgical year is more appropriate...

I thought I didn't have to say anything about this one, but I do.

The image is taken from this (from MorgueFile). Yes, it's a swan, not an actual angel. By all accounts, if I saw an angel, I'd be too scared to take a photo. 

This is a beautiful photograph in it's own right... it reminds me of the phrase in Psalm 91 "under his wings you will find refuge." And that reminds me of how irked I get at inappropriately placed masculine pronouns. Having raised chickens, I will tell you it is the mother hen's wings that protect the little flock. It is in her protective shadow they live. I find the many references in scripture to "his wings" lovely and subversive... They got the image of a mothering god right and it sneaked through to survive all these years... Years upon years of people who've raised birds knowing the pronoun was wrong.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Rules for Meetings

Between church, school, theatre, literary festival etc. I have attended a fair number of meetings over the last 20 years. Some I dread, some are effective, some are social events, some are rewarding... I just got to thinking what if I could make rules for meetings...Hmmmm. Granted, meetings serve different functions for different personality types, but if I could make rules for meetings, they would be these:

#1 - No complaining.
#2 - No saying anything about other people not in attendance you would not say to their face if they were present. 
#3 - If you have identified a perceived “problem,” you may only bring it up if you can suggest two potential solutions to that problem that are within the scope of the committee’s personnel and finances. 
#4 - A thank-you card must be written and sent to at least one person not present. 
#5 - We will make assignments of specific tasks to be accomplished by the next meeting and everyone at the meeting will take at least one. We will report back to the committee when that task is done. 
#6 - We will set a next meeting date before people leave. 
#7 - There will be agendas before meetings (well in advance) and minutes afterwards (shortly thereafter).
Make it so.
These are primarily rules for my own personal conduct - so I bring my best self to the table.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Fear Not [no. 5 & 6]

Sometimes it's hard to see the relevance between an Old Testament story and modern day... and sometimes it slaps you in the face.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Fear Not [no.2]

This one is especially appropriate for today, in my opinion. When I set out to post the meme, I didn't mean to expound upon it; but as I dealt with my own fear today, I found comfort in sussing out the larger context of this little bit of proof-texting.

Jews, Muslims, and Christians all look back to Abraham as their father, the father of monotheism. In him, all three were one faith in one god. (Hmmm. Sounds oddly familiar.) What is interesting to me is that when Abraham and Sarah decide to take the matter of children into their own hands things seem to go awry. Sarah is afraid for her position because she cannot have children. So, she gives her slave Hagar to her husband and Hagar mothers the coveted oldest son. Her precarious position makes Hagar run away, but God speaks to her and convinces her to go back. Years later, despite Sarah laughing at God's promise of children, Isaac, the actual child of both Abraham and Sarah, is born. I find these verses from Genesis especially telling:
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him.
(11) Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. (12 ) So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
(13) Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ (14) Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
(15) Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”
But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

She was afraid, so she lied.

Next comes the story of God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, followed by Abraham trying to pass Sarah off as his sister instead of his wife because he was afraid.

Then, Sarah gave birth to Isaac and her position as wife was secured. Except for that pesky oldest son of whom she was jealous. So she convinces Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael off into the desert, which he does, after taking council from God.

It is at the point where Hagar is convinced that Ishmael will die of dehydration and sits away from him so she will not have to see him die, that God sends and angel to comfort her with the message above--and shows her a spring/well. The Qur'an has essentially the same story except that she is running desperately between the seven hills looking for a spring when the angel appears and shows her water. Muslims hold Hagar in high regard, as a matriarch of monotheism, someone who submitted to God's will despite troubling circumstances. During the hajj, Muslims remember her run between the hills.

Indeed, God promises his blessing to Ishmael's descendants just as he does Isaacs. It is just that the Bible follows Isaac's descendants more than Ishmael's from this point on.

It is worth noting, though, that both sons are present at Abraham's burial and there is no mention of ill will between the two (to my knowledge, which could be spotty).

I am fascinated by this story for so many reasons. First, because God speaks to Hagar. Twice. A woman. The subservient slave. She is the first woman since Eve to whom God speaks. God didn't even speak to Sarah or send an identified angel. (There were the three men, yes.)

Further, just having come off the Sunday with the the scripture about Zechariah being told about his late-in-life son, which he also scoffed at (and was silenced because of it), the parallels there caught me. I'd never considered those two stories together before. Hagar accepts her role. (Abraham may have been the father of monotheism, but he was not the model of monogamy!) However, both Zechariah and Sarah, laugh at the promise of children. Laugh at God. But Hagar does not. Wait. Who was the other woman who graciously accepted her role to have a baby and was told what to name him? Oh, right. Mary. These four birth announcements/stories held in contrast to each other makes for some interesting reflection.

The father of monotheism, of Muslims and Christians, was one man who struggled mightily with himself and with God's will. His sons were separated, yes, but both were blessed by God, and had no quarrel with one another.

I also like that Ishmael's name means "God hears." What an affirming message: God hears women. God hears how Hagar has suffered and he hears Ishmael, a child, crying in the desert. It makes me believe even now, God hears the women and the children crying in that same wilderness.

It is especially fitting in the hours after Donald Trump's call to prevent all Muslims from entering the land of religious freedom. (I wish there were a font for irony.) I find myself being afraid of him and of what our country could become under his leadership, what it is now when our fears are fanned like a flame.

This story teaches me God hears and responds fear not.

Now the question is: Can we hear God telling us fear not... Can we hear the women and children crying for help?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Fear Not

When have people ever thought things are not falling apart?

As a lover of scifi/fantasy/speculative work, I have watched enough (post)apocalyptic shows/movies (Walking Dead, The 100, Battlestar Galactica, The Book of Eli)  and read enough (post)apocalyptic literature (the least of which is The Hunger Games) to see the patterns. When things fall apart, (as most think they are right now) we revert to what we call primitive, primal, survival-driven behavior and whoever has the most guns... they win. I guess the survivors also need smarts, selective-kindness (tempered with just enough cruelty), and a "group" -- but guns, too. Always the guns.

Not surprisingly, post-apocalyptic literature and science fiction is on the rise. Everywhere we turn, the news, entertainment, everyday conversations... it all too frequently reinforces the message: Be afraid. The news is a list of things to fear: factory recalls for autos and food, cancer, terrorist attacks, mass-shootings, underfunded schools, refugees, illegal immigrants, police brutality, bullying, flesh eating bacteria... the list goes on. The be afraid message is often followed by a suggestion, to the advantage of the suggestion-maker, of how to alleviate that fear: vote for me, buy a gun, build a wall, buy this food to comfort you and yours, lock them up, kill them, protect yourself with these tires/airbags/insurance, keep them out, send your pledge...

It works, because fear is a serious motivator. It changes the way our brains work. To put it simply:
"Once the fear pathways are ramped up, the brain short-circuits more rational processing paths and reacts immediately to signals from the amygdala. When in this overactive state, the brain perceives events as negative and remembers them that way. (source)
This brief overview also says:
"Moreover, fear can interrupt processes in our brains that allow us to regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues and other information presented to us, reflect before acting, and act ethically. This impacts our thinking and decision-making in negative ways, leaving us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions. All of these effects can leave us unable to act appropriately."
If this isn't a note to turn off the TV, I don't know what is. Well, maybe it's this: The more you hear a message, the more you believe it to be true, regardless of the truthfulness of the information or the credibility of the source. Nevertheless, I will quote directly from a credible source to confirm this:
"The robust findings from these five experiments merge to tell a consistent story: Repeated exposure to statements increased how truthful those statements were later believed to be, and this occurred regardless of whether they were encountered in a source that was said to be reliable or said to be unreliable. Across the studies, this basic pattern was seen at varying retention intervals (ranging from 2–3 days to 4 weeks), with varying orienting tasks, and it occurred when the discrediting information about the sources came before as well as after reading the facts."
This is from a study conducted by Linda A. Henkel (Department of Psychology, Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT) & Mark E. Mattson (Department of Psychology,  Fordham University, New York, NY).

Add to that the following:
According to the ADAA, nearly 18% of our adult population suffers from an anxiety disorder. That's 40 million Americans. And we live in a culture that repeatedly promotes a message of fear and has few gun control regulations.

     It's a vicious, vicious cycle,
     a downward, tangled spiral..
     We weave it by ourselves
     of tail-eating snakes
     of best intentions,
     of sermons preached only to the choir.

I do not write this blog post to create fear, however. I write it to explain my next project...

...for, time and time again, I hear God's voice through the Bible saying


I don't have a good suggestion as how to alleviate fear. I just want to pass that idea along--to counter-act all the be afraid messages out there. If we can make decisions free from the negative impacts caused by fear, perhaps we can make better ones for ourselves, our families, our communities, our countries, and our world. I have to be open to transformation, to changing my mind, to letting the best idea win out. As David Roberts writes in his article about gun-owners' take on mass-shootings: "A cherished myth of American politics (indeed, of democracy generally) is that it's fundamentally about persuasion, the contest of ideas." Maybe, with less fear, we can restore that myth to reality. Perhaps we can be a part of a less-divided, less-polarized, less-stratified culture.

I need to be less afraid, too.

So, I set myself the task of finding (with the help of other resources) the many passages in the Bible where the "do not be afraid" message is repeated and have decided to post one a day here. I have chosen to follow Jesus as the example of how I should live in this world, so the Bible is the holy text I refer to when seeking guidance. Christianity works for me, for the most part, so I begin there. (That said, I hope I never shut myself off from being influenced by others' sense of divine goodness. I am sure there are other sacred texts that also reinforce love, kindness, charity, and the message "fear not" and I do not want to diminish them in any way. I am just not as familiar with them.)

So, I begin today:

If repetition matters, regardless of the credibility of the source, this project just might work. Ha!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Words I Don't Know

It is not very often I hear words or phrases I don't know, so to be confronted with the same, strange phrase two Sundays in a row was too much for me. I couldn't even remember it after the first Sunday. Then, Pastor Steve said it again and I quickly pulled out my notebook and wrote down "sterm and drang."  Granted, I got so caught up in the newness of the phrase that I missed the context... but it sure seemed like the hubbub and the repetitive minutia of daily life. (In hindsight, this was pure projection.)

The phrase is actually sturm und drang. German for "storm and stress." Dictionary definition as follows:
a style or movement of German literature of the latter half of the 18th century: characterized chiefly by impetuosity of manner, exaltation of individual sensibility and intuitive perception, opposition to established forms of society and thought, and extreme nationalism.
It seems like, of all people, I should have known it was a literary movement that began with playwrights, the foremost of whom was Goethe. The writers of the time sought to combat Enlightenment and rationalism with a more personal expression of extreme emotions, or proto-Romaticism, as the Encyclopedia Britianica definition called it.  (The Wikipedia article was the first place I turned and might be a better source than my brief re-cap.)

The Sturm und Drang literature aimed at "shocking the audience or imbuing them with extremes of emotion." Whereas rationalism was en vogue before, now subjectivity and emotional roller coasters were popular.

Ah, perhaps this is why the term came up: our popular and political culture does seem to be more concerned with individual perceptions, extreme emotions, nationalism, and subjectivity than rational thought or thoughts of the larger, global, society.  

But honestly, I don't remember the context of the phrase very well. If it is used again, a third Sunday running, I will finally get it!

What I did get on a superficial level was the message taken from the Thessalonians reading: May God strengthen your heart. It was much later, upon reflection on the metaphor, that a greater understanding of what that might mean unfolded.  I always enjoy pushing a metaphor to see what else might be revealed, so let me explain how I unpacked this one.

What makes a heart stronger? It is not building a wall around it. It is not closing it off. A strong heart, quite literally, is one that is wide open. Wide open to all the depleted, un-oxygenated blood.  On the other side, a strong heart does not hold on to the blood too long, but lets it go. In fact the heart propels it, re-energized, out to the body to do good work.  (As someone who might have a slight mitral-valve prolapse, I know it is the regurge, the retention of blood, which could lead to the heart's infection--a most dangerous proposition.)

A heart is strengthened through use, through exercise, through practice. Just as one can have a couch-potato belly, one can have a couch-potato heart. 

So, if our prayer this week is 
God, strengthen my heart.
we should expect to exercise our hearts, to take in the depleted, and send them out renewed by our love -- by God's love.

Then, just this morning, I was confronted by this quote by Dorothy Day:

I know enough to know better than to be overly swayed by the reposted memes on facebook, as they are in constant contradiction to the advice preceding and following it on my feed. Yet this one seemed to balance the sturm und drang, the storm and stress, and echo in my cardiac chambers the challenge
May God strengthen my heart.