While we often marvel at the beauty of creation, tragedy and sorrow are also a part of our experience. We wonder how a good God can allow horrible events to happen, such as genocides and injustice, and why in nature we cannot control earthquakes, drought, and hurricanes that produce death, famine, and disease. Job tried to figure out this dilemma. Elie Wiesel dramatized the problem in his play, “The Trial of God,” presenting the horrors of Jewish holocausts. But even with our excuses given for God to allow these losses, we can only come up with ways to deal with them. If we were God we wouldn’t allow evil to exist.
We are not God, of course, and have to deal with many broken hearts. Fortunately, loving and compassionate natures bring healing to those who hurt; and on occasion great goodness arises from the trauma. Some have turned the pain of tragedy into an opportunity for new life.
The phoenix, a fabulous bird that periodically regenerated itself from the fire, has become a symbol of death and resurrection for many. When the phoenix reached the end of its life it burned itself on a pyre of flames, and from the ashes a new phoenix arose. And so it is for some who have experienced broken hearted events in their lives, but from the “ashes” new life and hope has arisen.
Mary Oliver in a poem tells the story of loons who came to her harbor and died, one by one. She writes, “A friend told me of one on the shore that lifted its head and opened the elegant beak and cried out in the long, sweet savoring of its life which, if you have heard it, you know is a sacred thing, and for which, if you have not heard it, you had better hurry to where they still sing. And, believe me, tell no one just where that is. The next morning this loon, speckled and iridescent and with a plan to fly home to some hidden lake, was dead on the shore. I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.” (Poem Lead)
There are times when breaking open our hearts is just what God might wish us to do – to cry with God to express our mutual feelings of suffering and loss.
By example, a young peacemaker, John Leary (1958-1982), while pursuing his degree from Harvard College, devoted the last six years of his life to ministry with prisoners, the homeless, and the elderly. He engaged in protests over the military draft, capital punishment, and abortion regarding all such issues to be joined in a “seamless garment” approach to the defense of human life. He kept his broken heart open to minister to the needs of those who suffer and who would minimize the beauty of human life. He died at the age of twenty-four from a heart attack while running.
Leary’s broken heart can be a reminder to us to engage in ministry to those in need and not to turn away from the pain around us. We cannot solve all problems, but we can at least bring healing to those who suffer because of human neglect. A broken heart may be all we need to get started.