Heart Fire

I have struggled with how to write about the Trump presidency. From the moment he was elected, words flowed out of me. Yet they were so raw, so jumbled, so full of emotion that I hesitated to share them at all. It all seemed so ugly. So messy. So hopeless. What could I offer to the palpable grief, anger, fear and chaos I felt all around me? But it continues to hound me, like my sister did when she was little, trailing at my heels wherever I went, whatever I did—pay attention to me Er, look at me Er, listen to me Er! It won’t let me go. So I must, somehow, dive into this topic.

I thought it would just go away, if I ignored it. He wouldn’t get far as a Republican candidate, he certainly wouldn’t get elected. Then it was– he can’t do much, he doesn’t know enough about what it takes to govern. And here we are. It seems a lot of bad is happening. It feels like we’re slipping backwards as a country. The weakest and most vulnerable are targeted. The rich get richer. For a good Catholic steeped in the Magnificat (God will send the rulers from their thrones, the rich She will send away empty), versed in social justice (Life & Dignity of the Human Person, Preferential Option for the Poor, etc., etc.) this all seems really, really bad, the opposite of the common good, anathema to the heart of Jesus the Christ.

Yet it is happening. And I, like so many of us, easily feel helpless, impaled by my own rage, numb with grief and at a loss as to what to DO. Yet there is a fiery energy creature inside of me that knows I MUST DO SOMETHING. It really is a living force—I listen to NPR or read the news about Trump & team’s latest action, the way they treat human beings, and my belly roils. My skin crawls, my fists clench. My brain seems to be in utter disbelief yet my body is responding, moving, flowing in a fire that must get out.

This holy body! How good is THAT, when I take a moment to reflect—that despite the narratives of victimhood, despite feelings of helpless, this humus of me, this earth of me, this body, not only knows something must be done but compels me toward action in spite of myself. She burns at the core of me, like red-hot lava at the center of the earth. In some ways it is literally a matter of life and death—do something, let this fire out, or it will boil YOU. My body seems to be telling me: if you don’t let this fire out into action, it will burn away some essential part of yourself that really will leave you numb and deadened, apathetic and asleep, like so many of the walking dead that inhabit this earth.

Last summer I had persistent heart pain. Real, stabbing pain, every time I took a breath. There was no mistake—it was located right in my heart. It was difficult to get a deep breath, yet deep breaths made me feel better so I struggled for them. I told my brother about it and he said, in his matter-of-fact, somewhat bossy way—“Er, you NEED to go the doctor. The heart is nothing to mess with.” So I did—whisked myself off to the local Urgent Care on a Saturday afternoon where they proceeded to give me a full battery of tests. X-rays, EKG, even that one where you lie down, drink a dye and zoom through a huge circular machine. When the results came back I wasn’t really surprised—“we can’t find anything,” they said. Everything looks normal. Just keep an eye on it.

It wasn’t physical, but my body knew something. My heart was experiencing a deep pain that I began to attend to, just spending time with my heart, with my pain, with all the many emotions stored up there. I moved from that place, laid on the ground with my hands pressed to my heart, started giving myself regular massage there. Honoring my body, honoring its wisdom, I came to feel into this place in me that simply hurt, and that wanted movement. It was a deep grief I realized, a collective grief for women and all marginalized people everywhere that seemed to be generations old. It was a grief pierced with anger, set aflame the day Trump was elected, which was also the day I knew I would leave my job.

That morning, after barely sleeping from checking the election results every few minutes and staring at the numbers in disbelief, I woke up and sobbed. In a moment I knew—I couldn’t ask her (Hillary Rodham Clinton) to be president, and refuse to show up in my own life. I couldn’t expect her to defy the deeply seated sexism and patriarchy in this country and not do the same, in my own field, in my own small way. It became so clear in a flash—sexism anywhere is sexism everywhere. It is true of any “ism”—racism anywhere is racism everywhere. Classism, homophobia, age-ism, etc., etc., etc. They exist in small ways and in big ways. They exist in the world and they exist in our own hearts. I saw the lack of integrity in our nation and it caused me deep, heart wrenching grief. And I saw the lack of integrity in my own self, showing up day after day to work a job I wasn’t being acknowledged for and using gifts that weren’t being named. I saw myself clearly—shouldering up a dysfunctional system, playing my part in institutional codependency.

So I left my job, and began the long journey of grief, healing and discernment. At the center of it has been this deep listening to my body—her desires, her pains, her needs. And right now, the fire at the center of her is strong. She demands action. And I know that this does not have to be big—but it does have to be something. My dance teacher in college would tell us—don’t dance because you think you should or because it looks pretty or because someone else wants you to. Dance because you MUST. We are at a point in our nation’s history when we MUST. When those of us who have long been asleep are hearing the call, moving from the fire in our very bellies to DO something, to ACT, to move into and through and be propelled by the fire that burns.

This is a sacred burn, a sacred call, a sacred movement. However bad it may seem out there, we are being called to something greater. We are being called, really, to become ourselves—people of feeling, of heart, of integrity and of action. We are asked to be deeply human. We are appalled by the lack of humanity emblazoned in front of us, and the mirror is reflecting back to us our own deep reclamation of ourselves, of what it REALLY means to be human. As we used to say on the retreat my college students put on every year, the task is to be “fully human and fully awake.” To be human is to be UNABLE to turn a blind eye to injustice anywhere, because it affects our very selves. It hurts our hearts. It affects our own well-being, very literally. Another Catholic social teaching, the principle of solidarity says that we truly are one body, a body that cannot be separated by race or sex or labels, money or status. It simply is. What hurts you, hurts me. In this way, we are indivisible. For this reason, we must act, not because we are helpless, pissed-off victims, but because we are incredibly powerful and we are responsible.

So I ask you, where is your hurt? What are you being called to? What’s one small thing you can do, this week, to further the cause of love and justice in this world? Even if it’s feeling your hurt, your pain, your rage and asking it how it wants you to move—this is a big something! Don’t do it for someone out there, as a victim, but because you are a powerful human, with a whole heart, who is made to love completely. Let the fire of anger and fear propel you into the fire of transformation, that is always creating more life, more love and more true power. You are powerful beyond measure. So am I. Together, we are called to be and do much.

open heart flame

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