Prayer for a Wounded Heart

Sir Joshua Reynolds-Colonel Acland and Lord Sydney-The Archers 1769

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Colonel Acland and Lord Sydney: The Archers, 1769

Archer, Hold Your Arrows Now

O God, make soft my wounded heart, which
wants to grow a dragon’s skin so it cannot be
pierced again, a coat of armor to deflect the
daggers and the arrows that with deadly aim
would make it bleed. But I need courage more
than shielding now, to keep my heart exposed…
to open and remodel it. I wish it to become a warm,
inviting heart, O God, one that is friendly, even
welcoming, for there are those it would embrace
and make for them a fragrant garden, sweet and
safe and scented with the rose, the lilac, and the
honeysuckle vine… a place above the grime of city
streets where visitors can climb to find security,
as squirrels sniff the air and scurry to their nests
before a storm. Here is my heart, my precious
ones, I cry to them. Here is protection; here is rest.
Now close your eyes and listen. You will find that
everything there is to know about reality is said
between the steady heartbeats and in whispers
at the pausing of the breath. And I would teach
them that to love is not a risk at all; it is an antidote
for death. Love speaks the language of the soul, of
sunlight, of the nightingale, the hum of summer in the
grass, the old oak groaning in the wind. If love is
stolen from an open heart, there is in heaven an
unlimited supply of it, and innocence as well.

My wounded heart, left to its own devices, would
have long since withered, gone to seed, all but
invisible among the weeds whose thorns make
inhospitable the space around. How could it heal,
this heart inflamed, when barely capable of
pounding blood through arteries and veins?
Created durable enough, it must have maintenance
just like the rest of us, with exercise and fresh air
and a diet rich in love. Admonishment to toughen
up is well regarded, and the heart is, after all, a
muscle not to be neglected, but its nourishment,
the best of it, is heaven-sent. No heart can thrive
on bread alone.

O God, make whole and clean my wounded heart
and sweep away the scales; it needs no armor from
now on. I call to the archer, Hold your arrows. I am
friend and no one’s enemy today. Almighty God,
endow me with endurance and vitality, for I would
serve thee and be happy, as my heart, by nature wise,
by thee restored to purity, advises me.

Amen.

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Where God Sojourns

sunrise-cameronhighlands-malaysia

Sunrise, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia 

I Can Always Find That Place

It might have been a dream I prayed. It was a
good prayer and a good dream anyway. I gave
everything to God that day, with all my heart but
otherwise no sacrifice on my part—I had nothing
anyway. It was early—in the moment when the
muted indigo of morning first begins to break and
streaks of color emanate from where the sun waits,
as if to tease and tantalize the watchers eager for
the blazing red and gold and lavender. Sunrise is
never commonplace, each one unique and never
ceasing to surprise, like rainbows after summer
storms, though you’ve seen rainbows many times
before.

We stood for warmth around a fire, and each of us
threw dry sticks into the flames, giving them the
names of our afflictions. And the flames burned
higher as if they delighted in the fuel, as if their
favorite food were of the devil’s manufacture.
Angels came, reminding me of streams of starlings I
had seen at dusk, returning by the thousand from
the fields to where they nested in the isolated
stands of elm and chestnut east of town. We sang
then, lively hymns of praise and solemn chants, with
awe and reverence, and then the sky began to
change and for a moment so transparent it became
that we could see a hundred miles or more,
to forests fluttering with poplars, tips alight with yellow
morning… to the shore and to the islands in the
sea; and everything we looked upon was glorious,
more beautiful than anything a mortal had beheld—
until the fiery curve breached the horizon.

The sun moved quickly then, efficiently, a goodwife
washing trees and hillsides clean before it reached
our valley to immerse us in redemption as it had the
grass and leaves. A whirlwind, light and easy, stirred
the ashes, lifting up our cares and bearing them
away.

The next day, angels came to carry me to the
gathering at the dawn. They wrapped me in a
blanket like a robe, a fleece of creamy white. An
angel said his name—Abdullah, “servant of God” —
and lifted me above the snow and kept me warm
against the lingering night, but I could see below—
apple orchards, not yet heavy with their crop but
light and lacy with the promise of it; farms and
chapels, people rising early to their chores; rivers,
lakes, clear water lapping at the verges—such
unearthly loveliness, a hazy color wheel that slowly,
lazily came into focus, nothing hurrying, released
from time.

We came at last to highlands overlooking tidy fields
and greening vales where sheep were going out
to graze; and there, beside a waterfall, the others
waited to be healed and purified. And all was as it
had been yesterday except, upon that hill, what had
been new the day before was newer still today.

I never did confide a word of my experience
among the penitents and angels… the ashes of
our suffering and pain ascending to oblivion…
for I confess I feared they’d say that it was “just
a dream.” But who can know what streams of
love and peace might course throughout the
universe, and where, and when they might flow
by? Yet I have seen the world created, new and
luminous, and I can always find that place,
where it is always morning, early in the spring. I
only close my eyes and fly on angels’ wings to
Eden, where God sojourns peacefully at dawn.