Too Much For Hearts To Hold
by Rev. Molly Housh Gordon
The Irish poet W.B. Yeats lived in a tumultuous time — through Irish revolution, the first World War, a global Spanish Influenza pandemic, and the lead up to the second World War.
In 1889 he published a book of Irish Fairytales with an introduction about the power of story to interpret bewildering events. In it, he wrote a sentence that has echoed across the decades and speaks right into our life in this tumultuous time.
“With us nothing has time to gather meaning, and too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold.”
I first discovered this line because Anne Sexton used these words as the epigraph for her poem “The Big Heart.” Reading them there, I nearly wept with the relief of them. “Too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold.”
We have big hearts. And still. Life right now? It is too much to hold.
There are fires in the west, floods in the gulf, drought in the middle, and violence everywhere. There is a pandemic still raging and our democracy under attack from several camps and white supremacy at fever pitch and economic suffering and abortion bans and quarantines and and and it is too much for our hearts to hold.
These collective truths pile on top of, and cause or exacerbate, more intimate truths. Family crises, intractable health problems, progressing infirmity, addiction, mental illness and burnout, and a million private struggles.
It is too much for even a big heart to hold.
And, gently, gently, here is a hard truth: the too much isn’t going anywhere. This is life now. It always was, but we are in a time of climate collapse and all its attending chaos, and this is life now. It is too much for big hearts to hold, and it will be.
This recognition is not a call to despair, but to transformation.
Too much is occurring for even a big heart to hold, so it time to hold life by holding each other.
Sometimes when I think about the piles of life on top of each of us, and how valiantly we are each in our own little houses, in our praised isolation, trying to carrying them alone, I begin to wonder…
Has our culture turned the story of Sisyphus into a hero’s journey rather than the personal hell of a cruel king? You know Sisyphus, who was condemned to push a boulder up a mountain forever, only to see it slip back down just as he reached the top?
He wasn’t pushing that rock alone because that’s the pinnacle of human existence. He was being punished by the Gods. His isolated effort, his solitary burden, it was not a heroic quest. It was his hell.
I am a Universalist, which means I believe that hell only exists in conditions we create on this earth.
Our hell isn’t the existential truth of a life that is both brutal and beautiful.
Our hell is the lie of our separation — the lie that we must carry our burdens alone, the lie that makes the brutal things more brutal, that hides away the beauty and keeps us ashamed and apart from the heaven of community that we could create if we could just join arms in pushing.
Our hell is the culture that turns the burdens we could be sharing into a contest we have to win on our own.
It is all too much to hold, and we weren’t meant to.
If you’ve got a rock on a hill, call for your peoples!
If your loved ones are pushing a boulder up the mountain, go get your shoulder under it with them.
And if that sharing feels too difficult, know that it feels difficult for all of us because our culture trained us that way.
The powers and principalities that seek plunder and deal death are counting on us holding it all alone.
They need our arms full of the too muchness of life so they can continue to take the power that we are dropping on the ground like socks from a too full arm of laundry.
They need our hearts stretched past what we can hold so that we are too busy not bursting to notice them syphoning away our lives.
They need us isolated so we cannot fight back.
And therefore, the powers and principalities of empire are DEEPLY invested in selling us individual and isolating solutions to the systemic problems their plunder has created:
Climate change? Recycle, buy a Prius, stop using straws, and please don’t look at the corporations filling our atmosphere with carbon. Capitalism? Save more, get a crappy job that will pay a pittance, stop ordering avocado toast, and please ignore the billionaires hoarding away an extra trillion dollars while we suffer under pandemic.
Your heart is too full? Stretch it more. It’s bursting? Hold it together. You can’t? Something is wrong with you, and probably these $90 yoga pants will fix it.
Y’all — it’s a lie. It’s a manipulation.
Our hearts weren’t made to hold it all alone, because our hearts were made in rhythm and rhyme and weaving with other hearts.
If your arms are too full, perhaps the answer isn’t to stretch further but to let go and join with other arms instead.
If it is too much to carry, drop the load and pick up someone else’s hand.
The too much isn’t going anywhere, but we are. We are going back into the arms of community.
And if you struggle with the despair or the shame or the hopelessness of all that is piled on top of your heart too much to reach out, I get it.
It is too much; it is hard to know where to even begin; and we have been taught since we were tiny to figure it out for ourselves.
But if you cannot share the load or ask for help for your own sake, perhaps you can do it to stick it to the man.
The writer Anne Lamott famously said that “perfection is the voice of the oppressor,” and when it comes to the place where our hearts meet the world, there are a lot of oppressor’s voices whispering in our ear.
Our shame at struggling to be human in a world that is set up to grind us to the bone is the voice of the oppressor.
Our suspicion that if we just worked harder or meditated more we’d have it all together to hold this too-muchness is the voice of the oppressor.
If you struggle to share the load for the sake of your own heart, perhaps you can remember that your isolation is the voice of white supremacy culture whispering in your ear to go it alone, and your silence is the voice of patriarchy telling you to be smaller, and your burnout is the voice of capitalism telling you to earn the worth that you were born with.
Our refusal to hold it all alone, our refusal to even try, is our resistance to the systems of oppression that trade our humanity for success on their own deadly terms.
Our refusal to be alone in our overwhelm and heartbreak and struggle is our insistence upon our humanity in a system that would strip us of it. It is our strength against empire.
And at an even deeper level, our return to material interdependence? Our consent to need one another… wholly, powerfully, essentially?
It is a return to the heart of a deep spiritual truth: that we are each inherently worthy and entirely intertwined.
Our consent to depend on our community is the way home to spiritual wholeness in a culture that tries to snip us out of the sacred web of life. It is how we return to our most human and holy selves.
The most powerful ways that we are held in community are hard to describe. It’s not always that community provides material solutions to our problems, although sometime it can — we have more rescues together than we have apart. But most often allowing ourselves to be held by others yields an internal change.
Sharing the load doesn’t fix our lives. But it heals our hearts.
This is the capital L, holy, sacred Love that cannot fix anything but that saves everything. This is the community that doesn’t solve but can transform.
We are not here to fix each other. But in a very real way, holding each other changes everything. It gives us spaciousness, and it may even shift the problem, because so often it is our isolation that makes the problem itself so intractable in the first place.
Our hearts are very large. But community is larger still. Our hearts are very strong. But community is stronger still. It’s time to double back down on sharing the load, showing up together, and depending upon one another.
So I have some invitations to you:
I want to invite you to find a community that holds all of who you are: the fullness of your identity and the too-muchness of your life. It could be a book club or a sport league, it could be a circle of friends or a collective of liberation organizing. If you’re looking for a faith community, my tradition, Unitarian Universalism, holds pluralism well, strives to dismantle oppression in the world and our own communities, and practices an open and progressive approach to spirituality that tends to work for folks of many beliefs and identities.
I want to invite you to keep coming back to the community that holds you, even and especially when you don’t feel like it, because sharing the burdens of your heart with a community, even silently, brings you right into the heart of that Love that doesn’t fix but does transform.
I want to invite you to reach out to your people when your heart is aching so you can remember that you are not alone.
I want to invite you, when life is too much to hold, to remember that we were never asked to hold all of life. We were only ever asked to hold each other.
Dear ones, too much is happening for even a big heart to hold. Let us hold each other instead.