Acts 1:1-11 The Big Heart


At the end of Luke’s Gospel, it seems that Jesus ascends into heaven very soon after he appears to the frightened disciples in the Upper Room. But at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke is willing to be more expansive, to linger over the time that Jesus was with his followers, those incredible forty days when they lived the resurrection life completely and without reserve. I’ve mentioned that Teresa of Avila thought that one could only stay in a state of suspended grace for about twenty minutes. But I imagine that the disciples were in that state for the entire forty days of Easter. This is perhaps an overstatement. They must have come down from their spiritual high enough to worry a little about current political concerns, because they asked him if this was the time when he would restore the kingdom of Israel. He refused to promise them political restoration. As with prayer, they weren’t offered the fulfillment of their temporal wishes. Instead, they were given the gift of the Holy Spirit.

And it is now that the Holy Spirit truly comes into its own. For the past two months, I have been meeting weekly with a wonderful group of parishioners at St. John’s in Worthington. They are the primary community with whom I’ve studied the Gospel of Luke. At our very first meeting, we held a Wisdom Circle (I’ll present a format for leading circles with a post in March) and I asked them what arose them when they heard the words “Holy Spirit.” Our collective answer became this beautiful prayer:

The still small voice asks for our attention –
the angelic, made present to us, invokes our thankfulness –
for a moment, we are the same played note that God plays –
an unknown note chiming, ceaselessly, within the ear –
we are guided by what we hear,
and the spirit listens when we cry for help.
We look, for a moment, through the spirit’s eyes,
eyes of compassion and change –
we feel the spirit like a ligament, linking us to each other,
bone to bone.
The spirit doesn’t mind if we rebel,
but will always remind us of what’s right.
It’s rightness is in the air, it’s an atmosphere
– calm all around us, love in our hearts,
we are guided, compelled to act,
to open our eyes to little moments of observed beauty,
to love.

As we read the Acts of the Apostles, my main focus will be community, because I believe that this is also Luke’s focus, that he, along with the Apostle Paul, his friend, is asking the question of community – how can it teach us, form us, and how can we serve it? Because after the resurrection, Christ becomes visible in the world through the work of community. And, like any individual person, community can reject Christ, even when it’s claiming to love Him.

As I think about and ask these questions of community, I will turn from the Spanish mystics who have so informed my reading of Luke, and invite other voices into the conversation (although I doubt that I’ll be able to keep from mentioning John and Teresa from time to time). I want to include contemporary creators of community processes, such as Parker Palmer and Mary Pierce Brosmer in our conversation. And, thanks to my spiritual director, who recommended Marilyn Sewell wonderful anthology “Cries of the Spirit: A Celebration of Women’s Spirituality,” we will be joined by the voices of some amazing poets. In fact, let me end this post with one of those poets, Anne Sexton, whose poem The Big Heart is a kind of hymn to the spiritual gift of community to a person’s life.

The Big Heart
Anne Sexton

‘Too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold.’ – From an essay by W. B. Yeats

Big heart,
wide as a watermelon,
but wise as birth,
there is so much abundance
in the people I have:
Max, Lois, Joe, Louise,
Joan, Marie, Dawn,
Arlene, Father Dunne,
and all in their short lives
give to me repeatedly,
in the way the sea
places its many fingers on the shore,
again and again
and they know me,
they help me unravel,
they listen with ears made of conch shells,
they speak back with the wine of the best region.
They are my staff.
They comfort me.

They hear how
the artery of my soul has been severed
and soul is spurting out upon them,
bleeding on them,
messing up their clothes,
dirtying their shoes.
And God is filling me,
though there are times of doubt
as hollow as the Grand Canyon,
still God is filling me.
He is giving me the thoughts of dogs,
the spider in its intricate web,
the sun
in all its amazement,
and a slain ram
that is the glory,
the mystery of great cost,
and my heart,
which is very big,
I promise it is very large,
a monster of sorts,
takes it all in—
all in comes the fury of love.