Welcome to the Practice of Holding History

Let’s start with the words of Parker Palmer:

Jewish teaching includes frequent reminders of the importance of a broken-open heart, as in this Hasidic tale: A disciple asks the rebbe: “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The rebbe answers: “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.

So, a closed heart. It’s admittedly a strange place to begin a month of exploring Holding History. And yet, when we are honest, we know that defensiveness, protectiveness, and closed doors rule our relationship with history more than we’d like.

For instance, very few of us have pasts without pain woven through. And it’s just easier to shut out those traumatic times than to confront them head on. We are all well taught in the game of sweeping old wounds under the rug.

And, of course, there are the unprocessed horrors woven throughout our cultural history. They are the rule, not the exception, but we work hard to close ourselves off from them with standard lines like, “At our best, this isn’t who we are!” or “As Americans, we’re better than this!” The truth is, we’ve never consistently been “better than this.” Amnesia, rather than a courageous and honest reckoning, describes the current character of America’s heart.

All of which is to say that there is a deeper relationship between history and vulnerability than we often recognize. Without a heart willing to feel pain and endure grief, the fullness of our histories just can’t enter in.