Hungry Hearts and Cracked Bells

Let’s listen to a song performed by the Irish actress and singer Minnie Driver. When it’s over, I will ask if anyone recognizes it, and knows who wrote it.

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back
Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going

Everybodys got a hungry heart
Everybodys got a hungry heart
Lay down your money and you play your part
Everybodys got a hungry heart

I met her in a kingstown bar
We fell in love I knew it had to end
We took what we had and we ripped it apart
Now here I am down in kingstone again

Everybodys got a hungry heart…

Everybody needs a place to rest
Everybody wants to have a home
Don’t make no difference what nobody says
Aint nobody like to be alone

Everybodys got a hungry heart…

(This is Bruce Springsteen)

Bruce Springsteen wrote that song in 1979. He wrote for The Ramones, (can you imagine them singing this?)

(This is The Ramones)

A 1981 portrait of The Ramones

Springsteen ended up keeping it for himself, because his producer and manager advised him to stop giving away his good songs. The title is drawn from a line in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s famous poem “Ulysses”: “For always roaming with a hungry heart”.

Because this is a rock and roll song, it may be easy to dismiss it as shallow in its meaning. If the problem of the hungry heart is strictly about romance, the standard solution to the problem is for the hero in the song to just find the right person, fall in love, and then everything will be all better.

But as we grow and mature, and pay attention to life, we may realize the idea that another person can be the solution to our problems, that our hungry heart will be satisfied if we just meet our soul mate- this is an illusion. Each of us is a unique creation of God, and no other person is exactly like us. There is a moment as an infant when we notice that we are a separate being from our mother and father, and the other big people around us. From that moment on, we are always going to feel at least a little bit separate, different, isolated from others. We begin to notice that there is a hunger in our hearts- an empty place.

Some of us would do, and have done, almost anything to avoid feeling that void. Springsteen’s song begins with a verse about a man who walked out the door on his wife and kids in Baltimore. He went out for a ride and never went back.

“Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going”

Life is hard, and we don’t always know what we need in order to feel whole, to not feel empty, to not feel alone. Some of us are able to hide our brokenness, our sadness, our emptiness. For others, it is written all over their face, or even in the way they carry themselves.

In our gospel story this morning, Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, the Jewish day of worship and rest. There was a woman there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.

Even though Luke’s gospel gives a fairly detailed picture of the woman’s ailment, we don’t know the cause of her suffering. She was crippled by a spirit. That phrase hints to us that whatever was afflicting her was not merely physical. With our 21st century awareness we might look for physical, emotional, psychological, social, even spiritual reasons why she had lived the last 18 years bent over.

Because we have each experienced our own suffering, as we imagine this woman and her situation, we can feel compassion for her. When it comes to a hurting human being there rarely simple problems or simple solutions. The origin of her ailment may have been a physical injury or illness, that developed into a habit of walking hunched over. It might be that she had experienced some great sadness that weighed upon her, or some shame that caused her to duck down, to hide herself from the world, from the gaze of onlookers.
Jesus saw the woman, and called her over. He said, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

One of the commentators I read this week pointed out that in the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, there are at least 138 times when Jesus “sees”. This seems like an important distinction. He does not just look, or worse, look down, on the woman. He sees her.

How many people go through life feeling like people look at them without really seeing them? Jesus took the time, and opened his heart to see this woman more deeply. In contrast with the people in the next part of the story, Jesus sees the woman as a person, rather than as a problem. How would our day to day encounters with people be different if we remembered more often to see each person as a unique created gift of God, rather than as problems to be endured or managed.

Because Jesus viewed the woman with compassion, he could see her need for healing. But was that all that he saw? How would our encounters with people be different if we could remember to look not only at the person’s present condition and situation, but to also open our imagination to their potential? Can we see a person not only for what they are now, but for what they can become, as God keeps working with them? We are, all of us, works in progress.

We are all in need of healing. We may not know exactly what we need. We may find it difficult to look as closely into ourselves as Jesus does when he sees the bent over woman. We may prefer not to be face to face with the broken parts. It may be hard for us to maintain the mask that we are strong and self-sufficient, and not in need of help, or change, or growth, or healing, if we look honestly into our own hungry hearts.

One of Canada’s best known poets, Leonard Cohen, in his song “Anthem” encourages us not only to be honest about the healing we need, but to embrace the truth that it is the hunger in our hearts that can lead us towards love. He says:

Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Let’s take a moment now in quiet, to look into our own hearts. Where are the cracks, the holes, that really can only be filled, healed, helped God’s love. This is not a purely self-centred exercise. The healing we need may help us to be better at loving others, at seeing others, and finding ways to be of help to them.

The healing of the cracks in our own lives can become a way for more of God’s light to shine into this world. Amen

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