Even now, declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garment. – Joel 2:12-13
2024 — Leap Year brings two significant days in the month of February. One, of course, is the extra day we get every four years, the 29th of February allowing all those who were born on the day to celebrate their birthday on their birthday. The other is February 14th, which this year is not only Valentine’s Day but also Ash Wednesday. As I pondered this strange coming together of these two seemingly disconnected occasions with one of celebrations, special dinners and candy and the other a day of fasting and the beginning of Lent I was reminded of the reading from the Prophet Joel that is often read at the Ash Wednesday Service. “Return to me with all your heart.” “Rend your heart not your garment.”
Webster would define “rend” to mean to tear your hair or clothing as an outward sign of sorrow or mourning. As I pondered this challenge from the Prophet Joel, I found myself asking, “What would it mean to rend my heart making it more open to the call and compassion of God?”
As a hospital chaplain I had the opportunity to speak with people awaiting heart surgery and those who had just had surgery. The common theme for those awaiting surgery was one of hope that surgery would be successful. Following surgery, the hope was for a heart that would “work” better and bring them goodness and healing.
Perhaps that is what this day is about. How do I open (rend) my heart so that it might work better and bring me goodness and healing?
In the Gospel of Matthew 6:1-6,16-18, Jesus invites us to open our hearts this Lenten Season through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, done not in an open and public way announcing our goodness before all, but rather in a way that is seen by God and is blessed however that may be.
To open my heart in compassion through generous giving of alms, self-discipline of fasting, and deep conversation with God through prayer can bring me to having a better working heart and a more blessed life.
I am challenged to hear those words of Joel and Jesus this season, to live with compassion and trust, open to the needs of others, generous in my response, always listening in prayer to God’s call can give my life focus and meaning.
I pray that such a journey brings a better working heart to me, my community, and a better working heart to the world.
Happy Heart Day and Blessed Journey!
–Netty Johnson, SSND