The other day I had an echocardiogram. (Don’t worry. My heart is fine.) This test is essentially an ultrasound of the heart. The whole procedure took only about 30 minutes. But the experience was something of a religious experience for me.
As some of you probably know, an echocardiogram is a non-invasive test that can provide a wealth of information about the heart: its size and shape, its pumping capacity, the condition of the valves and the heart tissue. You begin the test by stripping from the waist up and lying down on your left side on a gurney or bed. The technician applies electrodes on your chest and then some gel. Then she presses a device (transducer) firmly on your skin, aiming it at your heart. A computer converts the sound waves from the transducer into moving images on a screen.
As soon as I saw the images, I almost gasped aloud. There was MY heart, my REAL heart, beating in REAL TIME. The technician said, “Now we’ll go inside your heart.” Again, I was in awe of the images I was seeing. I think they were the valves opening and closing. Several times I also HEARD the actual swooshing of the blood through my heart! Amazing! And I wasn’t feeling a thing!
As I gazed with fascination at the images, I thought:
+ This is MY particular heart—not some theoretical heart. This is how it’s beating HERE and NOW.
+ And it has been beating like this ever since it was being formed in my mother’s womb over 78 years ago. It has been beating 24/7 without ever stopping or taking a day off.
+ And seldom have I ever been aware of my heart!
+ My beating heart has made it possible for me to be born, to grow, to enjoy my family and friends, to play, to get a great education, to pray, to become a Sister of Notre Dame, to teach, to enter into meaningful relationships, to enjoy nature, to endure struggles, to have fun, to write, to give retreats, to travel all over the world, and even to write this blog!
+ What a mystery and miracle the heart is!
Afterwards, I went online and read up on the human heart. Here are just five fascinating facts about the heart.
1) Your heart weighs about 11 ounces and is the size of your fist.
2) Your heart beats 100,000 times a day. That’s three billion times in a lifetime.
2) Your heart pumps 2,000 gallons of blood per day through more than 60,000 miles of blood vessels.
3) Your heart directly affects every part of your body except your corneas. They have no blood vessels.
4) A woman’s heart beats about 78 times per minute; a man’s, about 70.
We all can’t get echocardiograms. But we all can do this little prayer ritual to grow in our appreciation of our heart. Sit quietly in a chair for a few moments. Then take two fingers and find the jugular vein in your neck. When you feel the pulsing of that vein, press your fingers gently to that spot. Then just feel the steady pulsing of your heart.
You might want to say a few words to God. On every beat you could say a single word like: thank… you… God. Or I… love… you… God. Or Help… me… love… more. Or you might just want to sit in contemplative silence… Or you could feel the pulsing of your heart while you listen to the song below. No matter what you choose to do, you will be giving God thanks for the incredible gift of your heart—and your life!
Did anything strike you in today’s reflection?
Have you ever had an echocardiogram or other medical experience or health issue that was something of a religious experience for you?
I chose for today an old church hymn called “Near to the Heart of God.” The song was written by Cleland McAfee in the late 1800s after two of his nieces died of diphtheria. It is sung acapella here by the Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute Singers.
As usual, I encourage your comments below. We all love to hear from our readers!