Isaiah 61: 1-4
As a kindergartener, in a very serious reflective moment, my son said to me, ” The heart is very important.” I think his physical education class had been studying heart healthy habits that day. I said, “That is right. What makes the heart important?” “Well, Mommy,” he said with utter confidence, “If you didn’t have your heart, you wouldn’t be alive. It keeps you alive.” “True,” I replied. “Very true. The heart does keep you alive.”
The prophet Isaiah proclaims to a dejected, demoralized people who have been in captivity for two generations in Babylon that, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted.” The Hebrew word used for “broken-hearted” is shaver. Its various meanings are “to break, to rend violently, to wreck, to crash, be broken into pieces.” It is also used to refer to sails on a boat that are rent by wind. This kind of wrecking, crashing, and rending captures the feeling of despair of the Israelites in captivity. Shavar= the broken-hearted.
Yet Isaiah doesn’t just refer to the broken-hearted and leave them in that shipwrecked state. The prophet says that God will bind up the broken-hearted. I looked up the Hebrew word for “to bind up” and it is kahvash. It literally means to bind up a wound like a physician. God’s Spirit will bind up, will help to heal the wound of exile for the people of Israel.
There is something about having your broken heart bound up when God is the one tending to the wound. The people of Israel will never have hearts like before the suffering of exile and captivity. For those of us with our own broken-hearts this Advent, we know that the heart never goes back to the way it was before the grief, before the loss, before the wind broke our sails. This heartbreak, this shaver, will always remain a part of our story. The person lost, the heartbreak, the exile of whatever kind, is never forgotten or replaced.
Yet, when God’s grace binds up the broken heart, there is the possibility of new life that comes out of the pain. The scripture goes on to say that the people of Israel will be given the oil of gladness, an anointing oil of olive oil mixed with frankincense. They will be given a garland of flowers rather than ashes, they will be given a mantle of praise rather than a weak spirit. This is all truly amazing, and shows the power of God’s transforming grace through suffering. Howard Thurman, a great theologian at Boston University in the mid-20th century, said that people who go through times of suffering and allow themselves to be bound up by God are profoundly changed. He writes that “into their faces has come a subtle radiance and a settled serenity; . . . such people look out on life with quiet eyes. Openings are made in a life by suffering that are not made by any other way.” This subtle radiance is what the prophet Isaiah describes in the anointed, shiny faces of the people of Israel–faces that witness to their bound up hearts.
So, in this season of often manufactured cheer and commercialized joy, hear instead this word from Isaiah. Your broken heart can be bound through the wondrous grace of God. In that healing you will experience a new life, a life with a deeper, richer meaning. In due time, you will shine forth a subtle radiance, a testimony that living through pain is worth it. You witness that, as my son said, a heart does keep you alive. Alive even more so when it has been broken and bound up.
This yoga class will be focused on restorative poses–poses in which the body is supported by various props like blankets, straps, and blocks. Of course, at the end, I’ll offer an anointing of the forehead of an oil of gladness–olive oil mixed with frankincense.
Supported Child’s Pose (have a blanket available)
Come to all fours on the mat, placing hands under shoulders, and knees under hips. Bring the big toes to touch, taking the knees out wide to the edges of the mat. Place a folded blanket on top of the soles of your feet and shins. Slowly sink the hips back to the heels, until they rest on the blanket. Stretch the arms out in front of you. Soften the heart down to the ground. Open up to God’s grace, binding up your heart.