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Perhaps it comes as a result of seeing “Damn Yankees.” Or, maybe it was the way I was moved by viewing “The Ghosts Of Mississippi” a few days later, but all I can see and hear in the Scriptures, especially during Lent, is “heart!”
To beat the Yankees, Shoeless Joe and his Washington Senators’ teammates had to have heart...miles and miles and miles of heart. The same was true of Merlie Evers, who sought justice in the wake of her husband Medgar’s murder. It was also the case with Bobby De Laughter, the attorney whose life was turned upside down as he moved toward his decision to prosecute the case.
An intellectual decision, in all instances, had to be forged in the heat of determination or nothing would have been accomplished. The Senators would have continued to lose to the ever-victorious Yankees. Merlie would been left bereft in her grieving widowhood without hope of witnessing truth and bringing closure to the horror that had dealt her family such devastation.
None of them would have known the glory and joy of confident living. Nor would they have felt the wonder of resurrection...of being uplifted from the ordinary, the normal, the typical. There is no doubt that “You gotta have heart...miles and miles and miles of heart.”
Heart is the essence of life and the core of law. God’s people, in ages past as well as today, break their covenantal relationship when it is not written on their hearts. To follow the rigors of the law without engaging one’s heart is always disastrous. History has shown us that such an existence evolves into exclusivity and error, forcing God to “show himself the master.” (Jer. 31:32) That is not what God wants to be. God wants to place divine law within the people and write it upon their hearts. God wants so deep a relationship with us that no words will be needed. No explanations or teachings will be sufficient.
Who we are, heartfelt lovers of God, will speak more loudly than any words could say. It’s the Gospel without words.
As heartfelt lovers, we learn what it means to reverence God. It is then that we are able to grasp the depth of our desires. It is then that we are able to request, with no holds barred, “We should like to see Jesus.” (Jn. 12:21)
Only people who have heart can utter those words for they are the “Open sesame!” to redemptive suffering. Even, perhaps especially, when their hearts are broken they know the wonder of suffering that redeems.
To see Jesus is to be glorified with him through suffering. To see Jesus is to enter into all my adversities with the expectancy that they can be tools to clearer sight. Van Buren valiantly led his Washington Senators into the apparently fruitless fray with the Yankees, having only victory in sight. His head told him that they would never be a winning team. His heart said they always had a chance, if they got in there and did their best.
Merlie Evers could have despaired of Byron de la Beckwith’s being convicted of the murder that he bragged he had committed. Her head told her that she had no chance of ever seeing a white person in Mississippi jailed for any crime against a black man. But, she had heart. She used every trick she knew, and some she learned, to impel a white attorney to follow to follow his heart and pursue the long, cold trail of evidence and resurrect the ghosts of that Mississippi event.
Each in his and her own way was asking “to see Jesus” and was willing to pay the price of that vision. Each one understood what it meant to serve and follow the Redeemer. They had internalized the power and pain of John’s Gospel statement: “If anyone would serve me, let him follow me where I am; where I am, there will my servant be.” (John 12:26)
Evers did not want to be in a courtroom where her presence was perceived to be as meaningful and annoying as a fly on a horse’s tail. She did not want abuse heaped upon her because of her refusal to waver from her testimony. She did not enjoy opening wounds and memories that time was trying to heal. But, she persevered with the knowledge “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.” (John. 12: 23)
In the same way, Bobby DeLaughter endured the loss of a wife who could not bear society’s ridicule of a white man who “took up for” a black agitator. He sustained the heartbreak of seeing his children attempting to defend their father’s actions against the name calling of playmates led by the biases of their parents. Through threats on his life, bomb scares, and nighttime gunfire, which terrified his family, Bobby remained steadfast.
There were moments when he questioned his quest and purpose, but those doubts vanished in the face of a deeper commitment. Buoyed by the example of Jesus, they may well have prayed: “My soul is troubled now, yet what should I say—Father save me from this hour? But, it was for this that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” (John. 12: 27)
Van Buren recognized his troubles with the Senators had merit. Evers surely based her life on the fact that she was drawn to a soul-sickness that would bring life where death had reigned. She trusted it would redeem the value of her husband’s demand for racial equality. DeLaughter believed he was called to a commitment on behalf of civil rights.
None of them thought they could leave their call or trade it for another or give it to someone else to hear and follow. All of them held firm to the conviction that it was this personal call that would both give meaning and purpose to their life and have an effect on the lives of others. In the midst of their various “winters” there bloomed an invincible summer.
In the depths of their spirits they heard a voice saying, “You have glorified my name and will glorify it again.” They heard. They saw. They served. They followed and would continue to serve because they had heart, miles and miles of heart.
So do we.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Novant Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at email@example.com.