Rend my heart, O’ God, Rend my heart.
These words came to me in prayer tonight, from somewhere, distant, distracted, after a long and dusty day, one of those days I’m just glad is over. Life on Zoom is exhausting. Rend my heart? What does that even mean? I am a Jesuit Scholastic, a student of sorts, a seminarian, in a Catholic religious order; missioned to study philosophy at the Jesuit University in Guadalajara, Mexico, the third largest city in Mexico, about 350 miles south west of Mexico City. I should spend more time in prayer tonight but my eyes are burning, the dust surely and I just can’t keep them open.
The prophet Joel extolls the people of God to rend their hearts and not their garments1, to be touched and broken and changed at a deeper level than what is visible, a profound, inner conversion, one of the heart.
Rend my heart O’ God, rend my heart.
Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding — the doorbell of our community will sound at least twice a day. Prompting, on my part, an impatient sigh, if I am the one closest to it I have to answer it.
“I’m coming Jesus,” brother Alphonsus would say2, a much holier man than I. Instead, I plod to the door, another interruption, I have better things to do.
Rend my heart, O’ God.
“Padre, padre!” I’m greeted with squeals, and the giggles of joy from multiple children. “Padre, padre!” Uncaring, unconcerned that I am, in fact, not a padre, just a wannabe. I must look silly to Christ at my door, fat and bald. I know I sound silly, trying to navigate the tongue twister that is the Spanish language, while greetings and questions are thrown at me, one piled on another faster than my inquisitors can pile over each other and onto me.
The middle one pulls on my beard and laughs before rushing past me to the deflated soccer ball. The youngest investigates inquisitively the hanging plant, tugging at its leaves; it hasn’t changed since yesterday, but one must be sure.
“I can ride a bike,” casually mentions the oldest, insinuating I should gift her one of the many unused bikes in the entryway, casualties of online classes.
“Those bikes are way too big,” I tell her. Not a problem she reassures me.
When this routine has run its course the oldest one will ask for food, shyly, like we both don’t know it’s coming. “I’ll see what we have,” I reply, trying hard to hide that this is the best part of my day.
Rend my heart, O’ God.
I can be cold, uncaring and unfeeling to the suffering around me; a necessary tool, a way to protect myself, to keep from being hurt in the face of so much pain like the face of dirt caked, hungry children. Developed through years of practice, necessary at times to make it through the day. Suffering is troublesome, it can break me, softening my heart of stone. All those emotions make it difficult to focus on only me. But Jesus wasn’t afraid to share in the pain of others. Moved by compassion he was compelled to act, to heal wounds, to invite from isolation into community. The suffering of others affected Jesus deeply.
Stand with them and see how they will change you — a much better writer than I encourages.3 These children, sometimes three, sometimes more, always hungry and looking for affirmation that they are worthy, siblings and cousins ring our doorbell every day, tricking me into thinking I’m giving them something, when really I am the one receiving.
A member of my community is a medical doctor. His love for these kids is evident as he treats hair loss and viral outbreaks, results of malnutrition. He has become an example for me of one who has a tender heart, like Jesus. Jumping to answer the door, not dragging his feet or rolling his eyes; greeting the Christ that is these dirty, wild children.
Rend my heart, O’ God, because in breaking me open, your love flows freely.
As I pray tonight, I ask God to keep them safe, to keep them laughing. I pray that God might bring them, once again, to our door tomorrow. That as the doorbell rings repeatedly, annoyingly, I would be broken from my self-centeredness, greeted by God’s joy as they ask for a new bicycle, a deflated soccer ball and finally, settle on lunch. As tears drip onto my keyboard, my heart broken open once again, I beg God that my tears might be a testament to the ways they bless me.
Like I could really have anything better to do than answer the door.
- “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” Joel 2:13 ↩
- St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, SJ was a Spanish Jesuit lay brother who spent many years as the porter (the door keeper and messenger) of the College of Majorca. Due to his age and lack of education when entering the Society of Jesus the provincial is said to have admitted him stating that if Alphonsus was not qualified to become a brother or a priest, he could enter to become a saint. ↩
- “And you stand with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. And you stand with those whose dignity has been denied. And you stand with those whose burdens are more than they can bear. And you stand against forgetting that we belong to each other. You obliterate the illusion that we are separate, that there is an us and them.” Rev. Greg Boyle, SJ in his commencement address to the 2015 graduating class of Gonzaga University. ↩