Wearing our Heart on the Outside of our Body

We got new bikes. The one I had before I got for Christmas when I was in 6th or 7th grade. So the feeling of a bike that actually fits me is amazingly beautiful. We go on trails that I didn’t even know existed and to parks where people gather to do the “outdoorsy thing.”

I cannot help but try to get inside people’s heads as we meet or pass them on the trails. Couples, young love, clinging to each other as they giggle and walk together. Old couples, aged with beauty and grace-enjoying the moment in which they find themselves. Runners, ipods stuck in their ears, rollerbladers, power walkers, and down by the lakes, picnic tables with strollers parked nearby and men (usually) standing incredibly spaced out from one another, fishing for the same catch.

What struck me the other day as we were riding was what people were wearing. Some of the bikers had on gear–serious spandex, tight shirts and aerodynamic helmets. Some, like me, just wear cut off T-shirts and shorts. Runners had short shorts, sunglasses, and visors. Power walkers had tube socks and white tennis shoes. The old couples wore sun hats and young couples wore flip-flops. In a strange way I felt like we were all dressing up for Mother Nature. But ironic enough, the longer I rode, I felt nature was asking me to strip down.

Not literally…I dont’ think skinny dipping is allowed at that park, and I don’t really want to think about riding a bike like…ok you get it.

Stripping down. I don’t have an ipod, so wearing one when I ride is not really an option. So I listen. To the other people as I pass by, to the sound they make on the trail. To the wind tunneling through my ears. To the birds–so many of them singing. To the water smushing up against the rocks and the grass. To the bugs. Even to the bugs.

Even when we try so hard to make nature do and act and look like we want it to… it strips us down. Makes us feel big and small all at the same time–like we don’t matter that much, and as if we were her last chance. It’s both foreign and comforting. It is both safe and terrifying.

I see our generation wanting to ‘strip down’, if you will, in our own way. We simplify the way we live rather than always searching for bigger and better. We are trying to consume less and give back more. Reguvinate and regrow rather than tearing out and always starting over. I have found myself in an interesting vocabulary of granola heads, hipsters, non-traditional, big-picture/big-dreamers… We want things to have meaning, we want to touch, hold onto, breathe in, and be a part of a wave of change, turning times, bigger than ourselves.

But in the impersonal age of Facebook, Twitter and texting, how do we strip down? We paint our hearts on the outside of our bodies. We express outwardly the pains, fears, dreams, imaginations, and our foundations. Our hair, its color and style, our clothes and who makes them–all carefully thought out. Our piercings and tattoos become quasi-sacraments–invisible graced expressed through visible means. We want people to ask what they mean, why that word, that picture. We want to explain, “it signifies____”, and dabble with the ultimates of, “I believe____” and “I am ____” statements. We want to be personal again, approachable. We want to connect with people, to understand and to be understood.

I’m living in a world next to, but separate from the “academic” world I left one year ago. I am surrounded by people creating their own identities by the people they know–not the classes they pass. I am building relationships with the people I once was told not to associate with, people who used to frighten or confuse me. I am finding the line that used to separate me from “those people” now circles around me, because I am one of ‘those people’ in my own way. People around here don’t get a tatoo because they pass Greek class. They get it because it shows in artistic expression something about who they are, how they live, and where they are going. It shows their lungs–what they breathe in, and what they let go of. It is a glimpse into their eyes–to see what they see. To see the world as they see it.

And as I meet these people, talk with them, work beside them, and make their coffee, one word keeps pounding through my head–stripping me down. Immanuel. This change that people long for, renewal and regeneration, this connection and hope for something we have not yet experienced–it has a name and a face. This life is a living sacrament and the heart is painted on the outside–for all to see, showing us pieces so that we might look through these same eyes and learn to truly be with those around us. If only we will have eyes to see.

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