An iconic image in Celtic spirituality is the apostle John reclining next to Jesus at the Last Supper.
According to the Gospel of John, the apostle lays his head on the chest of Jesus to look up and talk to Him.
That would not have been unusual, as diners “reclined at table,” lying on their sides on couches or pillows. What the early Celtic mystics reflected on though was that, in this position, John could hear the very heartbeat of the Divine.
We may never know what that moment meant to John, but we might.
As a little kid, I was running and fell. I skidded downhill on my stomach and a rock tore a gash in my side. My mother took me inside and cleaned my wound with iodine, which, despite her words, “This will make it better,” definitely did not.
As I screamed in pain, she wrapped her arms around me and held me tight. Swaddled there, between sobs, I was suddenly aware of the beat of her heart.
I don’t know whether I heard it, felt it or both, but under its spell I was assured that all would be well.
When a baby enters this strange, cold world, the newborn is placed on Mom’s chest. This skin-to-skin contact warms and calms the baby, bonds mother and child, and helps both with nursing.
But if you ask a baby, I think you’d find something else. Inside the womb, the little one could hear Mom’s heartbeat. Now, lying on her bosom, the baby hears that heartbeat from the outside, still echoing its familiar message of presence and care.
Have you ever nestled up against someone you loved in silence deep enough to hear the rhythm of their heart? Have you listened long enough to sense the life pulsing through the other?
Have you wanted your heart to find that cadence so that you seemed to share one heart? If you have, you know that you have found an intimacy that could only be described as holy.
Yesterday, we hiked a trail, and everywhere spring was champing at the bit. After a stuttered start, life was eager and impatient. The redbuds waved their pink blossoms, calling all the other colors to join the fun. Trees were frothy with young leaves while squirrels dug up the last of their winter stash.
Perhaps nature has a heartbeat, as well.
Who’s to say that, in these moments, we’re not hearing the heartbeat of God?