Daily Archives: July 9, 2013

“I Will Build an Altar from the Fragments of My Broken Heart.”

Though I have never met him (living, as he did, in medieval times), I can tell you that Rabbi Yehuda HaChasid understood the deepest, and for many of us, the darkest aspect of the human condition.

We’ve all lost someone or something near and dear to us. And given enough time and circumstance, we will lose something or someone yet again.

And when we do, the inevitable result is a heart shattered by our loss.

Some times, probably more times than we’d like to admit, we feel as though our hearts are crushed beyond repair.

Do you know that feeling? Emotions so deep that we cannot turn them into words, only tears?

Loss comes in many different sizes and shapes. The loss of a dream. The loss of a prized possession. The loss of a career. The loss of a beloved pet. The loss of a person oh so precious to us that we cannot bear the thought of living without him or her. The loss of a relationship, especially one where the breakup was not what we wanted. The loss of one’s health. The loss of our idealism. The loss of our innocence. The loss of our faith. The loss of all hope.

Nothing in this world will splinter our hearts more completely than a profoundly personal loss.

And of such a loss, no one is immune.

Last Saturday night at The Safe Haven — which, as the name implies, is a secure refuge for anyone and everyone nursing a broken heart — in a matter of a mere 15 minutes, four dear people shared with me their most recent losses.

And the thing of it is, the way I am wired, I want so desperately to wave a magic wand and fix everything. But I have no wand. I can fix nothing.

What have you lost recently?

How is your heart holding up?

Don’t feel ashamed to admit that you’re not doing especially well with your loss. Trust me, it’s OK to sit amidst the rubble of your once whole heart.

There is a precious promise contained in one short verse buried in the middle of the Old Testament, what Rabbi HaChasid would have called the Hebrew Bible. I don’t know if Psalm 51:17 inspired him to compose such a beautiful sentiment when he wrote, “I will build an altar from the fragments of my broken heart.” But it surely wouldn’t surprise me if it did.

Consider this verse — an invitation and a promise — with me. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart — these, O God, You will not despise.”

Sacrifices speak of those precious possessions that the people of God voluntarily lay upon an altar as an act of worship — our feeble way of expressing to God our recognition of His infinite worth or value by giving Him something of value to us.

An altar marks the place where we make such a sacrifice, a place where our worship takes place, a place where we meet with God. An altar is where the human touches the divine. Where God Himself touches the earth. Where He meets with us — unseen, unfelt perhaps; but there nevertheless. Assuring us that even in our darkest hours, we are not alone; we are never alone.

When God inspired David to write Psalm 51:17, it was His invitation to gather up all of the splintered pieces of our broken hearts, to then pile them up into a modest, nondescript little altar. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It need not look like much. But its significance cannot be measured. Those are the stones of our hearts — broken, splintered, fragmented, but now fashioned and formed and made into a meeting place with God. 

To meet with us so that we need never to bear the loss alone.

It was most appropriate that God chose David to pen those words. Just think about some of what he lost: a baby to an untimely death, a beloved son to the bitter hatred he felt for his dad, his reputation, his standing with the people, his home in the Holy City of Jerusalem from which he had to flee in fear of his life… 

What have you lost recently?

How is your heart holding up?

Rabbi HaChasid said it so beautifully: “I will build an altar from the fragments of my broken heart.”

In response to his words I would humbly suggest, “Poor is the person who has never suffered a loss.”

Poor because Psalm 51:17 makes crystal clear that there is a richness — a closeness, an intimacy, a depth — to our relationship with God that we cannot know in any other way but through profound and personal loss.

What have you lost recently?

How is your heart holding up?

Perhaps it’s time to build an altar.

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