On Hearts and Chimes
Updated: Oct 21
Yesterday my family gathered at the Prairie Heart Institute at Saint John’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois, where my sister Kathy underwent an eight-hour heart surgery. After praying with her, we had to leave her in the hands of the medical professionals whose vocation it is to help people in need of healing of body.
As we all know, there are few things which produce anxiety as much as having a loved one in hospital, and, though I frequently make pastoral visits, when it is someone in my own family I’m afraid I am just as anxious as the next guy — perhaps even more so. Everyone handles anxiety differently, and one way I do is to drink entirely too much coffee, so I made quite a few trips to the hospital café. As I walked through the halls, I studied the faces of the people I passed and many seemed to be etched with the same lines that I know were present on my own as well. We almost always greeted or at least nodded at one another, brothers and sisters in a confraternity of worry.
But every now and then, wherever in the massive complex I might find myself, all of a sudden over the PA system, came the sounds of Brahms’ Lullaby, a version that sounded like it was being played on the kind of chimes that frequently hang over the cribs of babies. It turns out that each time a baby is born in the hospital, this song is played in every single corridor of the entire complex.
Amazing things happened when those chimes sounded: faces which were masks of worry, sadness, and grief suddenly, if only but for a moment, lightened; eyes which were downcast and lost in so many cares, almost always looked up in the direction of the music, a testimony to the reality that that which was weighing them down was — at least momentarily — vanquished by something far more powerful than anxiety or worry or sadness or grief: joy. Joy has the ability to take us out of ourselves, to make us aware of goodness even in the midst of so many unfortunate things. And the first couple of times I heard those chimes, the first couple of times I witnessed faces transformed, I found myself thinking that I wish somehow, all over the world, things like chimes would ring out to let us know that there is joy in the world, and somehow we all share it. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had such things in our daily lives to remind us of joy?
But then I started thinking … we do have such things. We have things such as family, surrounding us with love and understanding (even if they sometimes make us crazy). We have creation, unfolding in beauty before our very eyes (even if sometimes we care for it as we should). We have friends and partners who challenge us, make us laugh, support us in our need, and love us regardless of our shortcomings (even if sometimes we can be unloveable).
And, of course, we have our faith. We have faith in words and stories written in a Book but also etched in our hearts. We have faith in a God who loves us and desires us to be joyful. We have faith in Jesus Christ whose victory over pain and death placed eternal joy within our grasp. We all know that sometimes it’s difficult to hear the chimes of an insistent joy over the clamour of a world that can all-too-often assault our ears with less pleasant sounds. But I think we just have to be like those of us walking around the hospital yesterday: we have to stop, look up in the direction of the divine music and know that that which weighs us down will be more than vanquished by joy, if we listen for it.