The following is a reconstruction of vocal ministry that was offered at Homewood Friends Meeting on October 20, 2013.

An unusual word, one that is rich in associations for me, comes to mind this morning. It’s a word that I learned just a few years ago: dehiscence. It appeals to me because it has two primary meanings, one from medicine and one from botany, that are discordant in an instructive way, showing how a change in perspective can make the difference between death and life.

In its medical sense, dehiscence refers to the re-opening of a wound. Under the medical model, the normal — and perhaps life-saving — reaction to such an event is to try to re-close the wound effectively. But while closure may be the proper response for a physical wound, not all wounds are physical. And as some of us, particularly those who are mental health clinicians, have learned, the medical model can be harmful when applied to matters of the human psyche and spirit.

Given their agrarian and pastoral idiom, the first Friends, had they been given the choice, may well have preferred the botanical sense of dehiscence: the spontaneous opening of a plant in order to release seed, a breaking open that is necessary, healthy, and life-giving. Following the apostle Paul, the Friends pictured the Christ-nature, the power of agapē-love, as a seed buried in our spiritual hearts. A seed, as we know, requires air and water:1 to keep it enclosed is to prevent it from coming to life. Just so, love can thrive only in an open heart; indeed, as Thomas Merton put it, “Love can be kept only by being given away.”2 To try to close up our hearts whenever they break open may seem salutary from a medical/pathological perspective, but to do so is to destroy life, to kill its future.

Reflecting upon dehiscence in this sense leads me to my favorite non-canonical scripture, one that I’ve quoted here3 before. It’s one of the Odes of Solomon, and it goes, in part, something like this:

My heart was cloven, and its flower appeared: God’s fruit. The spirit of the most high broke my heart open, liberating the love within me and allowing his love to pour into me. God’s breaking of my heart was my salvation, and now I walk in his way of peace and integrity.

[1] Cf. John 3:5 — “Truly, truly I tell you: anyone who is not born of water and the spirit [Gk. pneumatos: breath; moving air] is not able to enter the Kingdom of God.”
[2] Merton, No Man Is an Island, p. 1.
[3] And here and here. My paraphrase is of a passage from the 11th of the Odes of Solomon.

One thought on “Dehiscence

  1. Thank you Friend — along with Merton, I follow Nouwen’s “open-hands worship” allowing Spirit to take from me what I do not need while giving me what I do need to stay [dehisced].

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