Eyes Popping Out of my Heart. YUCK

Last week I attended a lovely LGBT Christian event in London. Wonderful people, a great meal and a profound study of a passage in the Bible. We started the evening program with what many Evangelical/Pentecostal circles know as Worship. This means singing a few Christian choruses, many of which sound like love songs to Jesus, over and over. Some of these songs are quite sweet and meaningful, others are outright bizarre. (My friends in Sweden Alex and Noa joke about all of the foot fetish Jesus songs).  Often these songs get stuck in my head in a constant loop–a form of possession–as a song plays over and over and over with my vain attempts to dislodge it with something else.

At this particular meeting they sang a song that I had heard before but never listened to very closely. The song begins,

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see You
I want to see You
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see You
I want to see You

It then repeats the same thing another time. Surely some of you know this little ditty and now curse me for inserting it into your brain.

I listened to the chorus, sang along, the sentiment seemed noble. Then my mind began to wander to an image so vivid it nearly knocked the song right out of my mouth. I imagined instead of the spiritual idea of a heart or even a Valentine cartoony version but a real beating heart, that relentless muscle pump pump pumping red and slimy (as real hearts seem in medical films I’ve seen). Then I envisioned eyes, real eyes, pushing their way through the skin of that pumping organ and popping open. Real eyes in a real heart. The image of real eyes popping out in the wrong place reminded me of the Dermoid Cyst, a medical wonder that has haunted me since I first heard of it worst than any horror movie I’ve ever seen.

The Cyst is a weird ball of flesh with organic prizes inside. According to our friends at Wikipedia,

A dermoid cyst is a cystic teratoma that contains developmentally mature skin complete with hair follicles and sweat glands, sometimes luxuriant clumps of long hair, and often pockets of sebum, blood, fat, bone, nails, teeth, eyes, cartilage, and thyroid tissue.

So it is basically a tumor that when you cut it open you will find teeth, hair and even eyeballs staring up at you. (shudder). Yeah, so I am singing “Open the eyes of my heart Lord” and get mentally smacked in the face with a dermoid cyst (perhaps I was also influenced by the fact that my friend Dermot, a medical doctor was in the room. Yes, sometimes my waking thoughts are much like dreams. Welcome to my world. How do you think I write my plays after all.)

As I attempt to shake off the grotesque image, we finally get to the bridge of the song (or the verse, it’s hard to tell the structure of these songs–it’s all chorus all the time). After pleading and whining about how much “I want to see you” the songwriter, (Paul Baloche) then demands of God exactly what he wants to see,

To see You high and lifted up
Shinin’ in the light of Your glory
Pour out Your power and love
As we sing holy, holy, holy

Ah, rock star Jesus, all-powerful victorious conqueror Jesus, the Jesus that bursts forth like a sun in all of its glory, strong, mighty, rich and powerful Jesus. Yes, the friend-in-high-places-Jesus is a very popular one these days and has been for the past 25 years. Seems the beggar Jesus has fallen out of fashion. You know the one where Jesus says, “When I was sick you cared for me, hungry you fed me, rotting in prison and you visited me.” The faithful marvel, “Whoa, when were you sick and hungry and incarcerated, Lord??” And Jesus teaches, “Whatever you do to the least of these among you, you do to me.” (He also teaches the inverse where Jesus rejects a bunch of folks who DID NOT do these things. “Whatever you didn’t do to these down and outers, you actually didn’t do to me. Way to kick me to the curb”)

In his teaching  about “the least of these” Jesus serves as the angelic holy being disguised in rags and filth and poverty. Not victorious, not spotless, but smelly and inconvenient. No wonder that once the early church took hold of this message, they were renowned for how they cared for the sick, buried the poor who would have been left to rot, and took in all sorts of untouchables in the First Century Roman Empire.

Be careful what you ask for (or chant in song repeatedly until you drive your neighbors mad), you may get it. God may open the eyes of your heart and you suddenly (or progressively) see Jesus, the asylum seeker, the immigrant looking for home and refuge in your borders, and you feel so compelled to reach out that your time, money, prayers, energy turn towards the other among us. God may take off the blinders and reveal that even in our own tidy cities or villages there are poor people, some terribly ill, who need assistance, support. You may even see Jesus in that troubled and troublesome relative who most people in the family ignore and avoid. Even as I write this I find myself thinking of some I usually push to the fringes of my mind as I go about doing my important work.

This seeing Jesus business can be inconvenient and obtrusive stuff.

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This post has 27 Comments

  1. Jenny Brien on May 8, 2009 at 10:04 am Reply

    “Often these songs get stuck in my head in a constant loop–a form of possession–as a song plays over and over and over with my vain attempts to dislodge it with something else.”

    What works for me is to sing the sing the first two lines, and then follow them with a line that kind of fits, yet is totally different.

    “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
    Open the eyes of my heart
    Fill them with eye-drops”

    Then next time round, your brain doesn’t know which way to go.

  2. Jo Orr on May 8, 2009 at 11:40 am Reply

    I never liked this song anyway and now I have a clearer idea why! :0) Thanks Peterson – another gem.

  3. transmanaz on May 8, 2009 at 12:37 pm Reply

    I’ve long loved this song, as it was one of the catalysts in my journey to believing in God, and ultimately my passion and desire to reach out to our community with open arms and a willing heart.

    I do see the people and their need, and will continue to share my love and concern, because of Christ, through supporting them, and caring for them, for as long as I’m physical able to do so.

    Thanks for the (odd image, but) real and true message in this, Peterson.

    Michael Brown
    TransMentors International

  4. GreenEyedLilo on May 8, 2009 at 2:48 pm Reply

    My wife is a non-native English speaker and, as a young girl learning English in Russia, had some really gruesome mental images around usages of the word “heart”. (She learned how to field-dress various animals at a *very* young age.) She still hates “heart” imagery, though she’s okay with Valentine’s hearts. This just brought that back!

    Um, the larger point. I really rather like it. Makes me think of all the reports about Dalits in India (members of the Hindu caste known as “untouchables”) taking hold of Christianity. In that context, it is entirely understandable. But it’s very different from most American Christianity.

    • Peterson Toscano on May 9, 2009 at 3:57 pm Reply

      Green Eye Lilo, lovely point about the Dalits. I had heard of them before but had forgotten. And I didn’t know that your partner is from Russia. Cool. 🙂

      So when on earth are we going to hang out??? One day soon I hope.

  5. KJ on May 8, 2009 at 3:26 pm Reply

    Good post, Peterson.

    I guess one advantage of choruses with few lyrics is that one can do a Quaker silence right in the midst of them! 🙂

    • Peterson Toscano on May 9, 2009 at 3:58 pm Reply

      EXACTLY what I do! It is not uncommon that during a service with lots of singing and talking with no chance to digest it all, that I just sit and shut myself out for a bit and try to be still. Of course it makes me look that much more holy and devout :-p

  6. Sheriah-SA on May 8, 2009 at 3:54 pm Reply

    You did “think” too much into the words of this verse Peterson. Sing the verse over and over and over……and over…and you will see Jesus in each line. Too bad you didn’t block out the “heart and eyes images” out of your head. The words in that chorus are that of a believer wanting to see more of God’s hand in his/her life; The words of a believer longing for an intimante relationship with God. They are words of a believer wanting to see more of God’s face…
    This is one hell of a post; your mind is working overtime, ha ha.
    Take care and enjoy your weekend.

  7. transmanaz on May 8, 2009 at 4:01 pm Reply

    Perhaps I’ve missed something here – what I see in your posting is in the next to last paragraph, the significance of having our eyes opened to the people around us, and what that might entail if we ask for this gift. I see it as a positive thing.

    I’m seeing some responses here that lead me to think either you meant to focus on the negative image, or some others are doing so and missing the point?

    Either way – my eyes are open, and although sometimes it’s inconvenient – it’s an amazing thing to see Christ in others and be willing to do something to help them.

    Michael

  8. Sheriah in SA on May 8, 2009 at 4:48 pm Reply

    Michael, I love reading most of your input and yours are such wonderful comments! There is something unique and special in the way you put your thoughts into perspective. Your comments today have truly humbled and touched my heart…Be ever so thoughtful. Now the weekend is waiting!

  9. Oliver Danni on May 8, 2009 at 10:27 pm Reply

    We often sing that song in church, and I have often been blessed with similar mental pictures to accompany it, but the worst was when the guy next to me started going “Open my ass and I fart, Lord” and I just frickin’ LOST it I was laughing so hard, and now I hear that in my head every damn time I hear this song.

    • p2son on May 8, 2009 at 11:11 pm Reply

      Oliver Danni, hahahaha! thanks for that.

      Thanks all for the input, advice, etc. Michael, yeah, my main point and most important one is the last bit of the post where I speak about the challenging things and people and situations we may actually see when our eyes open. We can’t demand that God show us what we want. When we see Christ in those around us, it usually isn’t about triumph or power, but service and love.

  10. Sheriah in SA on May 8, 2009 at 11:28 pm Reply

    “When we see Christ in the people around us, it usually isn’t about triumph or power, but service and love”. Now that’s the Peterson I know…Great words you have here P, and well said!!

  11. renee on May 9, 2009 at 4:18 am Reply

    thank you for being you.

    that song has long really annoyed me, because it screams limitless in the midst of overwhelming limitations. were most of those who sing that song really so eager to have their eyes opened, they would be more passionate about the hurting, homeless, social justice, and many more true Jesus issues.

    i am so glad i “know” you. thank you.

    • Peterson Toscano on May 9, 2009 at 3:56 pm Reply

      ur welcome. thanks for visiting my blog 🙂 It is nice getting to know you too.

  12. Jo Orr on May 9, 2009 at 9:05 am Reply

    I’m sorry if my post was overtly negative. I appreciate that God has given Paul Baloche and all those in ‘the arts’ a gift and maybe I look at the song too analytically.

    I do pray that as well as having my eyes opened to social injustice, etc., I may be moved to action as well as just sight.

    Thanks Oliver Danni, it’s always good to laugh.

  13. lower case paul on May 9, 2009 at 10:59 am Reply

    This kind of singing in church, where the song is sung ad infinitum, has always made me feel manipulated (among other things). I cannot shake the notion that many singing are making an effort to convince their self of things they may not quite believe, kind of a self brain washing.

    P2, your point is so true that there is often an outright demand in some of the songs sung, that God be this or that, do this or that, as though it is persistence that moves mountains and not teeny tiny faith. And if we actually pay attention to what we are singing, eek, we conjure pictures of cysts on hearts. And how about being washed in blood? Now there’s a pretty picture.

    I appreciate the Quaker form of worship (i.e., silent listening and looking), with the occasional message from someone who has heard or seen. I know I shared this with you privately, but I think the gang here will also appreciate this message that a person gave at meeting once:

    Be still and know that I am God.
    Be still and know that I am.
    Be still and know.
    Be still.
    Be.

    I love that, it speaks volumes to me.

    Something that strikes me about the God of the bible is you never quite know what that God is going to do in a given situation, how that God is going to be. Creating a set image of God seems a form of idolatry. Then some put that idea into song form and use Madison Avenue techniques of repetition to solidify the image in the minds of the masses… and this is called “worship?” I wonder if God is convinced?

  14. Sheriah-SA on May 9, 2009 at 2:37 pm Reply

    Lower case power, beautiful words ever pouring from your heart like a poet! Now don’t you say Sheria gives me too much credit, you may just have to say thank you. It is interesting for me as an individual to just marvel at how you weave your thoughts into words; it’s pure poetry but always striking a chord relevant to the subject. You say “I appreciate the Quaker form of worship (i.e., silent listening and looking”
    Well I wouln’t quite favour that sort of worship because lower Case Paul, doesn’t your mind wander away to “different places” when you are just “silent and looking?” Hmmm….

  15. Sheriah-SA on May 9, 2009 at 2:40 pm Reply

    And oh, I say lower Case Power because your words are so powerful and carry so much wisdom! So excuse the humour…

  16. transmanaz on May 9, 2009 at 2:49 pm Reply

    I appreciate seeing the “Be Still” message in this form, breaking it down like this.

    I, too, have had similar thoughts on “self brainwashing” in formal church settings. I’ve also wondered about the Quaker form of worship, as Sheriah noted, if one’s mind doesn’t wander.

    I am not keen on regular church attendance, in fact it’s been over a year since I’ve entered through church doors. I have not yet found a comfort level in a “congregational-type” setting.

    I’ve been seriously considering attending a local Quaker meeting in the near future, and experiencing this type of setting. Then maybe I would answer for myself the question of whether my mind would wander or not.

    There’s not a day that goes by that I forget to acknowledge my God and the awesome opportunities I’m given just by being alive. I don’t believe I am required to attend a church service to be thankful and aware.

    • Peterson Toscano on May 9, 2009 at 4:01 pm Reply

      Michael, perhaps when I come to Phoenix, we can attend Quaker Meeting. I’ve been to the Phoenix meeting once before. In fact, I should contact them soon and let them know I am coming. Maybe they will even be co-sponsors of one of our events. Hmmm.

  17. lower case paul on May 9, 2009 at 3:52 pm Reply

    Sheriah,

    Thank you. I’m glad you like the way I write, I enjoy fashioning words.

    Sheriah and transmanaz,

    Yeah, your mind does “wander,” and wonder too (or at least mine does). My own approach is to employee a meditative technique where you don’t fight the meandering, rather acknowledge those thoughts and let them continue on their way.

    My own particular view is if there is a God to hear, then we are only part of the equation (and it would seem the smaller part at that). I.e., there can be no hearing or seeing unless “God” chooses to speak or reveal or whatever. I don’t put a whole lot of weight on my effort, I think most of the onus would be on God. Mostly I see the time of silence as a dedication to look and listen, to possibly discover something other than what I think I know. To me the point is looking or listening for God. That’s kind of funny to consider, because we use words like “look” and “listen,” but the truth is, our normal frame of reference for both of those processes does not apply when it comes to “God.” We obviously don’t see or hear God like we see and hear each other.

    Also, it seems to me that self awareness is part of silence… so to speak. I think we can only begin to understand the influence of a thing by becoming aware of it first. Ignoring something doesn’t make it go away, but if we see it we can at least know how it effects our hearing and seeing.

  18. Peterson Toscano on May 9, 2009 at 3:55 pm Reply

    Michael, no doubt my mind wanders at times in Quaker meeting for worship. It is a process and some days I am more focused than others. It is also a practice that requires practice. We have so few spaces in the world today when we can be truly still and silent that it takes an adjustment. Sometimes in a one hour meeting I only have 10 minutes of being really settled and still, ah, but those 10 minutes do wonderful things for me.

    As the debris of my life settles and I sit and listen and consider those in the room with me, I find new thoughts emerge, a sensitivity to things and people around me that I normally brush over, much like the many things one misses when zipping down a motorway. Yeah, it is sort of like that. A quiet gentle walk compared to speeding down the highway.

    lower case paul, I remember when you shared that Be Still message with me. I often use that verse to help me as I settle into worship.

    Sharia, I love how you build community here. As I mentioned in my e-mail to you, I feel like a contented host when I see my blog guests talking amongst themselves. Nice.

    It is a perfect sunny day here in Brighton, so I cannot justify staying indoors another second.
    cheers
    peterson

  19. Sheria in SA on May 9, 2009 at 4:33 pm Reply

    Michael, Peterson and Lower Case Paul, thank you all for your words of wisdom and spiritual encouragent. I am so inspired by YOU and thank God “I know you.” Your words make a positive change in my life you have no idea…Thank you all from the bottom of my heart and I wish you well!

  20. Angelia Sparrow on May 11, 2009 at 2:18 am Reply

    Before I left the faith, we went to a church that did nothing but “praise songs.” Over and over and over until I was sick of the repetition, as well as a little afraid. It always felt as if they were trying to induce a trance state, one of mindless mumbling.

    I have complete sympathy on the weird imagery.

    A side note. I volunteered to lead the local full moon ritual this month. I had planned two chants. My teacher encouraged me to add two more, mostly for the purposes of focusing the circle. “We are a circle, within a circle, with no beginning and neverending” is a sample.
    Mindful of my church experiences, I only allowed three repetitions. (oddly too, I never liked praying in public. This time, it felt right)

    And you’re absolutely right on the preferred images. It’s either CuddlyBaby!Jesus, StrongKing!Jesus or DeadBroken!Jesus. Very seldom anything else in those churches.

  21. Brittanicals on May 11, 2009 at 6:21 pm Reply

    Whenever I hear songs like that I have a “fundie flashback” from back in the days when we went to conservative mega-churches. The shiny, happy, glittery people raised their hands and sang, and I felt ragged and outside the gates.

  22. Sheria in SA on May 24, 2009 at 3:45 pm Reply

    Wow, looks like each one of us here has their own experience in time of worship especially in church! I would be honest, for me I dont mind repeting the words or choruses at all, as long as am singing, lol! I love singing anyway, so I would enjoy singing anywhere! Love your comments, they put a smile on my face most of the time!

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