Two hearts broken

   A few months ago, I suffered a heart attack.  My “widow-maker” artery, the descending artery that feeds the left side of my heart was 100% blocked.  One article in my Google search said such a heart attack “may be fatal.”  As you might guess, I find terms like “widow-maker” and “fatal” troublesome. In my journal the day after the heart attack, I wrote, “I was gripped by great chest pain.” Gripped by great chest pain! From the living room, I couldn’t generate enough vocal force to awaken Beth in the next room. Now the cardiologist reports that my heart sustained minimal injury and is likely to recover completely. Why the pain? Why the heart attack?  As the days have become months since that event, I am now asking, “What does this heart attack mean?”


   I’m not asking, “What does it mean for my diet or about taking heart medications?” I’m not interested in what it means for my exercise regime or for strategies in dealing with stress.  While all those questions have their place, I want to understand better as a Christian, as a forty-year veteran of pastoral ministry “Where was, where is Jesus in my heart attack?”


   Recently I took a two-day retreat to explore this question, to listen to the whispers of the Spirit, to draw close to my Lord Jesus so that I might better understand what the heart attack means by seeing how He was involved.  He showed me.  To understand the scene that He set in my heart requires that I share a previous vision of Jesus, a vision I experienced a couple of years ago.  By the eyes of my heart, I stood at Jesus’ right as He suffered on the cross. I looked up at His face.  Between His face and mine dangled a single drop of blood.  Coagulated and dense therefore having enough tensile strength, the drop swung in the breeze. Crimson and tear-shaped, the drop reflected the muted sunlight.  In the vision, the words, “For you” stamped the scene. That single drop of blood has power to cleanse, to break the shackles of sin, to deliver from captivity to the dark powers, to silence guilt and shame, and to set me free and to release generations of my family from all sin in every form.  Right before my eyes hung the precious and potent blood of Jesus.


   Beyond the crimson droplet, Jesus looked down at me. Ashen with death's pallor, wave of pain after wave crossed His countenance. A flood of sweat, dirt, and blood poured into His eyes. Flies and gnats lit upon His face, crawled on His bruised and bloodied features.  Peering at me through the filth and pests, forced through cracked lips, He whispered, “Hank, I love you.”  Tears flooded my eyes, a lump formed in my throat.  Touched by His love, His personal statement of affection deeply moved me.


   As I describe the vision, much detail has been scrubbed from the scene. Done most effectively biblical meditation requires that with the Spirit’s help the person envisioning selects from memories of sensate experiences to reconstruct the event. Each scene holds its own unique combination of sensations. For a vision of the crucified Jesus, the smells of burning trash, sweat, spit, urine and blood befoul the breeze, the noises of creaking wood and labored breathing dominate as He shifts about on the cross, the sights of a feverish body seeking comfort, and visions of unspeakable cruelty, of brutality, of blood and gore come into play.


   My heart attack sharpened my vision, intensified my appreciation of His loving sacrifice.  Here is how. The Spirit reminded me that the flow of water and blood from the Lord Jesus’ pierced side supplies evidence that congestive heart failure was the cause of His death. He died from His heart being crushed by the buildup of fluids in His pericardium, the sac surrounding the heart.  In His passion, the pain in His heart echoes in my experience.  As I sought the meaning of my heart attack, He whispered that just as He was present, genuinely present to my pain, present in loving me, present to the agony and panic of my heart, He allowed me to taste of His suffering.  I know the distress of a heart unable to do its job, a heart starving for oxygen and nutrition. I hold in my body the memory of a heart convulsing. I know a brief and reduced measure of His suffering. And so, I understand in a deeper way His sacrifice, especially in that tender moment as He forced air from exhausted lungs and through the immeasurable pain in His body.  As His heart spasmed, His words reached me, “Hank, I love you.”


   I would never wish a heart attack on anyone. Yet, Jesus showed me a joyous blessing wrapped in my heart broken – His broken heart.  You too are included in the invitation to see Him, to join Him, to hear as He utters His message to you from His cross, “Child, I love you,” the message of His heart broken.