The Danger of Broken Hearts

“Our hearts break at this week’s continued violence, which has touched the Kids4Peace community in direct and personal ways. Kids4Peace was born in a time of pain and fear, when all hope seemed to be gone. It is my prayer that we will face this moment together, in honesty and faith. May God strengthen us in the days ahead.” – Fr. Josh Thomas

Our hearts break.  Those were the only words I could find this week, as a cascade of tragedy swept across the Holy Land.  Children dead.  Families mourning.  Streets ablaze.  Bloodthirsty cries for revenge.  Friends afraid to leave their homes.  The city of peace divided even more than before, with no sense of what the next day — or hour — would bring.

Our hearts break.  Those words opened dozens of statements by NGO’s and political leaders, including one I wrote for Kids4Peace.  Our hearts were — and still are — broken and crushed by the weight of human suffering.  Pierced by tears of loss.  Shattered by fear at the brutality we human beings can unleash on one another.  For me, far away in the United States, my heart was torn by distance; cut off from those people and places who have become so dear to me.

But broken hearts are dangerous, too.  Our spirits become fragile and our emotions raw.  We are quick to cast blame on the ones who hurt us.  We feel compelled to take sides.  We are vulnerable to the power of long-suppressed rage.  We discover fears deeper than we had imagined.  We feel the seductive lure of vengeance and the paralyzing temptation to withdraw.  Up close, it comes in bullets and stones, chants and blows.  At a distance, it comes through vicious words and festering silences.

In these days of broken hearts, we can be changed in another way.   Christian spiritual teachers have long said that penthos, the tears of a broken heart, are the gateway to change. One scholar describes it as “a grief that leads to a determination to act.”  When our defenses are stripped away, when we confront with honesty the reality of our lives (and of our world), we can discover a new compassion for others and a flood of new energy, welling up from the very life of God.

This kind of broken heart is dangerous, too.  It will change us.  We can no longer be (willfully) blind to suffering.  We can no longer hide behind the protective shell of the status quo.  We will need to confront our own complicity in evil, the excuses we make for ourselves and others.  We will need to speak honestly, to listen deeply, and to feel the weight of pain.

And there is so much pain.  I fear that more tears will flow in the coming weeks, and that many more hearts will break before they are healed.    I only pray that some of us will allow our hearts to break with compassion.