In response to yesterday’s “The Essential Task of the Church” post, the question was raised, what kind of conditions are necessary to enable hearts to open.

The first answer to this question has already been supplied in some of the great comments to yesterday’s post. The conditions necessary for heart-opening are precisely the conditions of life as life comes to us. Beauty, struggle, joy, sorrow, pain, wonder, and the mystery of life are the ground in which heart-opening can grow.

But, perhaps for the church, there is something more to say.

What conditions in the church might we attempt to develop in order to be a place where heart-opening is likely to take place?

Here are some principles that will help to enable heart-opening:

1. Heart-opening begins with me.

A heart-opening environment is an environment in which people choose to open their hearts. The only heart for which I have any responsibility is my own. I can always choose to open my heart, no matter what is going on. Heart-opening begins when I take responsibility for the condition of my own heart.

Life and human interactions will at times be painful, bewildering, irritating, frustrating, and tiring. But I can always choose to respond with an open heart. And, when I choose to open my heart, I am participating in the task of the church. By opening my heart I am enabling hearts to open.

2. Heart-opening happens in the light.

Hearts do not open because they are told to open. You cannot command softness and responsiveness.Hearts do not open because they are pestered, bargained with, manipulated, or harassed. Shame, violence, guilt, and pressure are not the tools of heart-opening. A heart-opening environment will be one which renounces the blunt instruments of abuse and violence.

Hearts open in an environment of gentleness, acceptance and freedom.

The church needs to take to heart the poem by the 14c. Persian poet Hafiz.

Did the rose
Ever open its heart

And give to this world
All its

It felt the encouragement of light
Against its

We all remain

If I want to be part of a heart-opening environment, I need to ask how I can be “the encouragement of light” for the people I encounter in life.

3. Heart-opening happens where there is faithfulness.

The problem with creating a heart-opening environment is that we don’t. Human beings fail. We let each other down. We fail to live by our own deepest values and beliefs. There will always be times when we respond to the world from our petty, small, pinched selves. If we run away every time human community involves pain, heart-opening will not happen.

Faithfulness means hanging in there even, perhaps especially, when it hurts. Heart-opening can only happen in an environment in which I am allowed to fail and know that you will not turn your back on me and walk away simply because I let you down.

4. Heart-opening requires the surrender of expectations.

I will only be able to participate in creating a heart-opening world when I let go of my expectations that you should be different than you are. “Expectation” is just another word for “demand”.

Demands kill heart-opening. Demands destroy freedom. And where there is no freedom, heart-opening is hindered. When I impose my expectations upon you, my heart begins to close. When my heart closes, I am participating in creating a heart-closing environment (see #1).

5. Hearts will open where they trust a reality that is larger and more real than the pain.

Contra #1 above, heart-opening begins with the power of Love that transcends my pain, that is greater than my fears, and more faithful than my failures.

Heart-opening is only possible where a community starts with the deep abiding awareness that all the brokenness of life is held in the tender embrace of love. Heart-opening happens when we hear the words of God saying,

See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49:16)

How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. (Matthew 23:37)

My heart can only afford to open when I know that I do not need to protect myself because I trust in the abiding reality of that Presence of goodness, beauty, truth, and light by whom I was created to open to and embrace life.

I will only be free to participate in creating a heart-opening environment when I know there is no pain, no suffering, no frustration, guilt, or shame that can ever defeat the love and light that are my true identity.

6. A heart-opening environment is one where people live in tune with the enduring power of love.

We become heart-opening people when we live in the power of that love which

bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (I Corinthians 13:7)