The Love of Christ Impels Us

By Emily DeMoor

This past July my husband Jim, my son, and some extended family members traveled to Alaska for a long-awaited and joyfully anticipated vacation.  While in Homer, however, Jim had a heart attack and had to be airlifted to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, where he had two surgeries to have stents put into his heart.  Two of his arteries were 90% blocked, and his ‘widow maker’ artery was 95% blocked.  During the days I spent with Jim in the Cardiac ICU, I would go to the chapel to pray. There was a red banner in the front of the chapel depicting a heart with red rays emanating from it and a cross in front of it.  It read, “the love of Christ impels us” – the motto of the Sisters of Providence — in three different languages.  Sitting silently in front of this banner, I witnessed a transfiguration that went beyond seeing, but also involved hearing and sensing.  I felt myself inside of a giant, beating heart that was filled with tremendous love that was radiating outward in networks that extended in all directions.  I could hear the steady, eternal heartbeat, set long ago by the Master Drummer, not through the air, but through another, deeper conduit.  And I knew I was an integral part of it, and would be no matter where I was.  But, for now, I was at the center of it – the source – and it was so beautiful that I could only be there for a few minutes at a time.

I had read Cynthia Bourgeault’s book on Mystical Hope, Trusting in the Mercy of God[1] shortly before the trip, and experienced this heart space as le point vierge[2] described in her writings – the innermost part of mercy; “the  center of our nothingness where, in apparent despair, one meets God – and is found completely in His mercy;”[3] the center of our being that is “an innermost point of truth which shares not only the likeness, but even the substance of God’s own being;”[4] the center of the body of Christ of which we are “inevitably and inalienably, living cells.”[5]  The branching patterns of this vast circulatory system were reiterated in, connected to, and entangled with the roots and circulatory system of the Spruce trees that stood with such a powerful presence outside the third floor window of my room at the Hickel House,[6] as well as with all of creation.[7]

I am reminded of St. Augustine’s Confessions.  Although Augustine’s thought was framed in a static, Aristotelian, rather than evolutionary worldview, his words capture the idea that Christ impels us forward: “You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Augustine continues, “… No, my God, I would not exist, I would not be at all, if you were not in me. Or should I say, rather, that I should not exist if I were not in you, from whom are all things, through whom are all things, in whom are all things?”[8]  In Romans 8 St. Paul affirms that this restlessness is present in all of creation, which groans in labor pains as it awaits completion in Christ.

            There is always forward movement in Christ.  In the story of the Transfiguration from the Christian scriptures Jesus’s face changes in appearance and his clothes become dazzling white while in prayer on a high mountain.  Moses and Elijah, who represent the Jewish law and the prophets, appear at his side and speak of the exodus that Jesus would accomplish in Jerusalem. Becoming fully awake, Peter, James and John see the glory of Jesus, Moses and Elijah and seek to prolong the experience by suggesting that they build dwellings for them, perhaps referencing the booths used for shelter during the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.  A voice then comes from a cloud saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen.[9]  Listen to him.”[10]  Moses and Elijah vanish, and the disciples are left with a deeper revelation of Jesus’s identity. Rather than camping out in the experience, Jesus moves them forward toward Jerusalem and the inevitable journey through death to resurrection.

            When the flow of blood stops moving, the heart begins to die.  Stents are needed in order to open up spaces for blood to flow, restoring the system to health.  So it is with our spiritual communities as well; we must stay open to the lifeblood of love, mercy, compassion and healing in order to be vital.  Sr. Annette Seubert of the Sisters of Providence writes, “Our Provident God is always drawing us forward to create something new – in some cases not without a bit of foot dragging and experience of loss!. …Yet Sisters of Providence are always invited by our God of change, to meet the unmet needs of our time by ‘moving’ and letting go into the future.”[11]  If we are to continue to evolve together in community, our task is to create and maintain open systems in which spaces of encounter are increased exponentially through multiple networks, each with its own sentient center, wherein we awaken to ourselves as part of one another, creation and the divine in a Christic whole.

            What might this look like in practical terms?  I suggest that we examine what blocks us.  What arteries have we closed to hope?  What limiting beliefs do we hold?  Do we trust that there will be gifts in suffering?  Do we trust that there is transformation ahead?  Do we trust the revelatory power of the visions we are being shown?  Can we hold them loosely enough to allow Spirit to flow through them so that we may move forward toward wholeness?  Referring to the Transfiguration, the apostle Peter instructs, “You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”[12]  A poster in the elevator of the Hickel House similarly reflects, “Providence is the practice of living what we know and relying on the God that is within us.”[13]  Surely, we hold and are held by Christ in unfathomable love that impels us ever forward, beat by beat, so long as we remain open.  And, in community, we network this love outward into the world through systems within systems, that we may transform them.

[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God. (Lanham, MD: Cowley Publications, 2001).

[2] This translates literally as “the virgin point.”

[3] p. 37.  Bourgeault draws upon Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966) in explaining le point vierge.  Merton had picked up the phrase, which was of 9th century Sufi origin, from French scholar Louis Massignon.

[4] Bourgeault, Mystical Hope, p. 38.

[5] Bourgeault, Mystical Hope, p. 74.

[6] The Hickel House is a facility for families and caretakers of patients at Providence Alaska Medical Center.

[7] According to Bill Mollison and Reny Mia Slay, blood vessels, trees, rivers, lightning, mineral crystals and other aspects of nature share the same tree-like or dendric branching pattern:  They branch 5-8 times, and the number of branches arising from each larger stem average 3, while each is about 2 times longer than the next smallest.  The angle between each branch is about 36-38 degrees.  Bill Mollison & Reny Mia Slay, Introduction to Permaculture. (Tasmania:  Tagari Publications, 1991, p. 69.)

[8] St. Augustine, Confessions https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/ourheartisrestlessuntilitrestsinyou/] posted on July 01, 2021]

[9] In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark Jesus is identified as “my Son, the Beloved.” (NRSV)

[10] Luke 9:36, NRSV.

[11] https://sistersofprovidence.net/spokane_legacy/

[12] 2 Peter 1:19, NRSV.

[13] Anonymous.

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