on heart monitors, Transfiguration, and balance

So the docs and nurses have been watching my mother’s rhythm since Friday. Due to atrial fibrillation, her heart rate has been speeding for a while. They’ve tried shocking her back into rhythm at the hospital back home, but that didn’t last. Now we’ve checked into a hospital in a larger city to try a medication that requires monitoring at first, before gradually increasing the dose.

For someone who is used to being “on the go”, my mother is having to stop, to lay in a bed, and to wait.

The regular rhythm of her Sundays involved taking her little dog on a walk, going to church, Sunday school, playing the organ, then lunch and a nap. Then it was time to pick up her niece and go back to church again.

Instead, the regular beats of this day have consisted of a nurse checking her vitals, a kind staff person bringing breakfast, meds, an EKG, a visit from her cardiac electrophysiologist, lunch, nap, vitals, meds, dinner. A few times there's the beat of a walk around the halls of the unit. It was much the same as yesterday.

“The Saviour’s Transfiguration”, an early-15th century icon from the Tretyakov Gallery, attributed to Theophanes the Greek

Around 11am, I was able to leave the hospital to go to church. Since it is the end of Epiphany and careening toward Ash Wednesday and Lent, we were reading a passage about the Transfiguration.

The Transfiguration is one of these mystical events on a mountain top where a voice comes from “the cloud” and says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Naturally, the couple of folks who had journeyed up the mountain with Jesus were amazed and perplexed.

Before the voice comes, Jesus was seen talking with figures on either side that are said to be Moses (representing the law) and Elijah (representing the prophets). This is one of those definitional moments in the gospel story where this person of Jesus is revealed as one who is in line with the “rightness” of the law but also with the call for justice in the prophets.

The Transfiguration event represents a both/and answer to our common either/or thinking.

And perhaps it is me thinking too much about “x” and “y” axes and the up and down of regular and irregular heart rhythms, but as our priest continued I was reminded of how an axis contains both the horizontal and the vertical. Calculating both helps us find where we are.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

For those of us who think of our faith as one that is a call to love and care in the present moment, this is a faith that is very horizontal. That horizontal plane calls us to look around us, to either side. Part of being a follower of Jesus is behaving as he did, helping and healing, feeding and accepting those that are on the margins. This is a faith that is about reaching out.

The vertical axis is straight up and down, a singular focus on relationship to God. Yet the imbalance that can occur here is staring so much heavenward that we become disoriented. We can miss those who are hurting all around us. We can focus so much on “rightness” that we miss “righteousness” and relationship with others.

As you read the story of Jesus, you see the balance of being with people and then retreating to the mountain or across the water to be with God … then back to the people again, back and forth, horizontal and vertical, doing the work of justice and the work of righteousness.

For the three disciples that were up on that mountain with Jesus, all of this was pretty confusing. I suppose for any of us, myself certainly included, locating ourselves in the midst of the foggy trails of life requires a compass and a map, and some connection to God and others. That connection happens in the middle, the place where both horizontal and vertical come together, in rhythm, in our “hearts”.

So in the meantime, for my mother and I both, neither of which is used to stopping and waiting, here we sit: me in a chair with her in a hospital bed. Sitting, waiting on a “right” rhythm to reestablish itself. But maybe we’ll go for a quick walk first.

clinical social worker, spiritual director, author, husband, father, son, runner in Georgia, co-author of When Anxiety Strikes from Kregel Publications.

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