“What’s In Your Heart?” Reverend Christina Sillari
In his final years Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. heart was deeply troubled by the state of the world. He felt that his dream had not been fulfilled. He was depressed and prone to weeping; he smoked more, and took comfort in fried chicken and sweet potato pie, the foods of his childhood. But he did not lose heart. He stayed committed to non-violence and to love. He allowed the pain of the world to enter his heart and move him to action. “True compassion,” King declared, “is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
In February of 1968, one month before he was assassinated, told his congregation in Atlanta Georgia that “Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t need to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermo-dynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
A heart full of grace…a soul generated by love. King demonstrated such grace and love by the manner in which he faced violence and oppression. After time in jail, bombings to his home, a near fatal stabbing, and regular death threats, King still chose love over hate, compassion over bitterness and creativity over victimhood. “If only to save myself” he told the Christian Centaury, “I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in these tragic situations.”
How often do we struggle with this choice – and it is a choice – to love or hate, when we feel we have been done harm? Can we, as King calls us to do, rise to the position of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed the person does?
“Unfulfilled Dreams” was the last sermon King preached to his home congregation. He asks the congregation to “notice that life is a continual story of shattered dreams.” Listening to an audio recording of that sermon, I am struck by the pain and longing in King’s voice. “Yet even so,” he continues “we still have hearts that we can fill with meaning.” He then asked them, “What’s in your heart this morning?” “Is your heart right?”
True compassion is neither a naïve sentiment nor a noble sacrificial emotion. Biblical scholars view compassion as a divinely inspired state of being that has three components: knowledge, moral outrage, and the capacity to truly identify with the other. It is not wrong to live our lives simply and quietly without protest or petition. It is not wrong to maintain our status quo and help our neighbor or the closest charity when we are asked to do so. Yet, I believe King would think it wrong to not look into our hearts, to not see, feel, and experience the pain and suffering in ourselves and the world around us, to not find out how much compassion we are capable of. Because King believed that love is the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.
Our hearts are a doorway into the mystery of life and to our salvation here and now. We are all troubled at times by our own pain, fear, regret, loss and sorrow. These sufferings are part of the human condition.
It may not be easy to look into our own hearts, at times we fear the pain we find, perhaps, at times we fear the joy. Yet it is easier to experience the stirrings and storms of the heart when we ground ourselves in more than knowledge and outrage but in a deep appreciation and affirmation of life’s goodness. When we practice that which we find fulfilling and nurturing whether that be prayer, meditation, art, music, gardening, cooking, time in nature, creating or listening to music, or any regular practice which brings us a feeling of peace and well being, then we are more prepared to fully experience the moments in life that invite us to look at what’s in our hearts. Salvation comes not when we are free of suffering or conflict but rather when we are able to face suffering and conflict while grounded in love and compassion.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an inspiration to me. He calls me to experience the holy in everything. King calls me not only to protest in marches and demonstrations for human rights and justice but to protest against the closing of my own heart, so that I can truly experience compassion for myself and the world around me. He reminds me to keep asking myself, “What’s in my heart? Is my heart right?”
Christina Sillari is a Unitarian Universalist minister who is passionate about yoga, shamanism, star beings, and justice. She serves First Parish in Portland Maine, The UUA Commission on Social Witness, Equality Maine, and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at USM. She loves swimming, cooking, and the natural world. She lives in Portland with her husband, daughter, and yellow lab.