(Icon photo from OrthodoxPhotos.com)

John 13:23:

“One of his disciples–the one whom Jesus loved–was reclining next to him.”

Now, for whatever reason, many pieces of religious art–like this icon–tend to portray the beloved disciple with his head on Jesus’ chest, although the verse specifically does not allude to it. We got to briefly discussing that in my EfM class tonight. Someone had mentioned liking the image of “hearing God’s heartbeat.”

My mind immediately took me back to my training days, when we medical students would strain to learn new heart murmurs. Learning these was nowhere near as high-tech as today’s medical students get, with all sorts of simulators available. We had a few poor quality audio tapes and live patients, and that was about it. Woe betide the poor patient who showed up with a discernible murmur–it was a sure bet 15 or 20 medical students would line up to listen to it. Mercifully, most patients were pretty good sports about it, and some even liked the attention–to be a part of a young doctor’s learning.

So without a doubt, pictures like the one above make me think of the art of listening to heart sounds.

I knew from the beginning that I was not destined for cardiology, because my ability to hear subtle heart murmurs was not exactly one of my strong suits. Yet I remember the process of trying to actually hear them. So many times, I had to close my eyes to hear them. Intuitively, that made no sense. You don’t have to see someone’s chest to hear through a stethoscope. Yet it seemed removing all distractions and hearing them in the dark space behind my eyelids helped more than all the practice tapes ever did. It’s so easy to be distracted when trying to listen to God’s heartbeat, isn’t it?

Then the next thought that crossed my mind was that all those sounds I listened for in patients were pathologic sounds–the sounds of disease. What would it be like to hear a heartbeat so clean, so pure, it was perfection itself? Would we be in awe of its perfection, or would be only notice the “absence of disease?” What is the distinctive sound of the heart of God, beating in our ears?

Then I thought about those patients that enjoyed letting me hear their heart murmurs. I realize part of it was that they simply enjoyed being noticed, and being touched. They liked knowing that someone would walk out of the room, wiser for the session, and would go out and recognize it again in another patient, perhaps an undiagnosed one. How did Jesus feel, knowing he was contributing to the education of his disciple? How did he feel, knowing to some degree what lay ahead for him? Perhaps he was no different than those patients–it simply felt good to have hands laid upon him and feel the nearness of the disciples head to him. Perhaps he mused a nearly impossible question–how does a head understand a heart?

Finally, what changed for the beloved disciple after he heard God’s heart in his ears? What changes for us when we hear God’s heartbeat?

Oh, beloved disciple–if only we could hear what you got to hear!