A Nourished Heart: on Service



Sometimes we need to see the world anew.

Yesterday at the soup kitchen,  a voice came from behind me, “Dead Can Dance! I love them. Did you get to see them?” Ah. My concert t-shirt. Yes, I responded, I just saw them at the Greek Theater. “I got to see them at the Paramount around six years ago. They were great!” he replied. We chatted about their music for a moment, and what a great venue the Paramount is, then he went to pack up the food he was taking away and I returned to scrubbing things.

Six years. At some point in that time period he went from buying expensive concert tickets to eating soup and salad at the house of hospitality. I don’t know his story. He might still have a home and even a job. Some people who eat here do. He might be on Social Security, though that is hard to get these days. He might be on the street, though he didn’t yet have the look about him of a longtime sidewalk denizen. I didn’t ask. He deserves his privacy.

All I know is this: the world runs on too many assumptions, too much of the time. I try not to fall into that trap, but it is not easy. Even in my openness and vigilance, I still make assumptions about others. This is part of why service is such an important part of my life: service helps me toward gratitude and humility. Service helps me to do better at not making snap judgements, which therefore helps me to remain more curious about the world. Sometimes service breaks my heart. Sometimes my heart needs to be broken.

Service is a spiritual practice to me, just like meditation, prayer, offerings, or exercise. Meditation helps my mind to slow down and open up enough to let in something new; service does this for my heart. This nourishes my life.

What in your life helps you? What nourishes your heart and soul?

What allows you to see beyond your immediate thoughts or conditions? What connects you?

Will you share that with us? I’d love to hear about your process and your awakening.

14 Responses to “A Nourished Heart: on Service”

  1. Shakti Luna

    It always feels good to do good, and I think it is definitely part of one’s spiritual development to have a giving spirit. I volunteer my time with various charities and events, and currently I’m raising awareness and money for a local child whose family needs assistance in paying his surgery copays for chemo and such.

    What you wrote here was so pure, so beautiful. Like you said, sometimes the heart needs to be broken in order to be open to the possiblity of change, healing, and nurturing not only of the self, but of the world we live in.

    • Thorn

      It is an interesting dance, that of the self and the collective. I always like hearing how others engage it. Thanks for sharing your way.

      • Fourge N.

        Shakti Luna, I wonder if maybe the reason for hearts breaking or any other of our parts breaking is just that, so that our broken parts *can* open to the possibility of change and healing, as if that is their purpose for breaking. Maybe it doesn’t “just happen” at all. Maybe in allowing ourselves to break, we can then allow the reconstructing process to begin, only this time we’re forming a new object, maybe similar to what we had before, but yet not the same thing. Breaking to allow ourselves a transformation. I don’t see how a home can be reconstructed unless the old is torn down. Sure, some of the house may be used to make a model or to retain its special element. And yet much of the house must be broken down to allow the change of maybe getting rid of those smelly, grimy pipes or roofs that don’t serve their purpose and need a replacement, or some new walls to create new rooms, new space for a more well being. And in most times, these old parts that need repair only get worse and worse the more you ignore them, until finally parts of the home begin breaking down on their own. I say take initiative into your own hands and start chippin’ away at those bad parts that need helpful reconstructing before you have an unexpected gaping wall in your roof!

        I like that you brought up Thorn’s explanation in a slightly different light. Helped me create a light of my own, thank you.

        • Thorn


          I agree that we need to pay attention to those parts, to help them change or heal and to bring them into a more harmonious relationship with the whole. What I question is naming them “bad”. They may no longer support the life we want to lead, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t formed us in important ways. What lessons do we take from these parts we struggle with, as we rebuild?

  2. Kim McDonald

    I have definately learned working at a Children’s Shelter not to have assumptions. I have children who are homeless, living on the streets or in cars, or bouncing around from hotel to hotel. Children, who were so filthy, we had to immediately bathe them and throw their clothes away. I’ve also had children who were wearing expensive shoes and had trust funds. The problem spans all socio-economic and racial lines.

    I think sometimes we make assumptions because it makes us uncomfortable to really see the person, because then we have to get involved.

    Helping these kids hopefully has made me a more compassionate involved human being. When I think about what these children have overcome, it helps me to stop being self-absorbed and to truly live in gratitude.

    • Thorn

      The shift from self-absorption is really important, I think, and one of the great gifts service offers us.

  3. Helen/Haw

    Service can take many forms. When my kids were young, I worked w/ kids (Being a Campfire leader, may sound very ’50s OTOH I worked w/ those kids from 1st thru 9th grade weekly. Also worked in classroom every week).

    Now? My service is being part of a cell that does public Wheel of the Year rituals. Also, I’m on the board of a group that has a monthly public Pagan meeting (usually w/ a presenter, sometimes a ritual). Different group than the Wheel cell. Both nourish me (and hopefully nourish others as well).

    • Thorn

      Hawk, I like that you mention how service changes – just as we change.

      You talk about service nourishing you. In what ways does it feel nourishing?

  4. Fallingleaf

    “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
    – Marcus Aurelius

    These are my favorite words from Aurelius, and I refresh my memory with them on a daily basis.

    Incorporating Stoicism into my path helps me to see beyond my immediate thoughts and conditions, by reminding me to be objective and to love all beings. I believe Hospitality, one of the Nine Noble Virtues of Heathenry, does not limit itself to one’s home; but rather extends itself to one’s presence outside the home. Thus I try to engage the world around me with objectivity, love and hospitality; which provide me with the empathy I need to see the world outside of my own eyes.

    • Thorn

      Falling Leaf,

      Aurelius is one of my favorite thinkers and I find inspiration in his words often. I agree that hospitality extends beyond our homes. I wrote about that very thing in yet another soup kitchen post: “Gods in Disguise”

      blessings to you. Thanks for sharing how you approach this. Our shared voices are important.

  5. Pax


    This post was one of the many sources of inspiration I looked to, and the many synchronicities I encountered, in working up a Sermon on Hospitality for the U.U. Church I attend…


    As I said there, I view Hospitality as a root value. One that causes us to dig deep and grow. So many blessings for others and ourselves can blossom from Hospitalities roots…

    blessings on your journey Thorn,

    Pax / Geoffrey Stewart

    • Thorn

      That is a lovely piece of writing, Pax.

      Radical Hospitality is what makes the Catholic Worker so inspiring to me. Hospitality is at the root of all action. For the Catholic Worker, without hospitality, there is really no religion.

  6. Rootrealm

    I don’t do service of the volunteer type: my job is in service, and I am very introverted and have a hard time being around people as much as my job requires. AFter work I need to hide away in my wizard’s magic castle.

    You ask what allows us to see beyond our immediate thoughts and conditions. I tend to have more conditioned, or “reactive” thoughts, and be less open in my first responses, when I’m physically, mentally or emotionally drained and exhausted. Or when I feel very tender and raw, and I go out in the world and encounter people radiating harsh energies that can feel violent to me, and make me feel unsafe.
    I don’t tend to have assumptions about people, so much, at times of feeling drained, as to simply be annoyed by having to encounter people: any people at all. Then, I can easily view many people (who I feel forced to encounter as I’m making my way back to my castle, or– when I’m trying to take a walk alone in the woods) as just inconvenient to me, as just taking up space.

    What helps me open out beyond habitual reactions: thoughts of someone who cares a great deal about me, trying to slow down my process and not rush, feeling my legs and feet, taking time to take care of myself, remembering who I am — I mean, deeply who I am — and realizing that I don’t have to allow people to invade my energetic space. I can stay large. Also, sometimes I intentionally view other people as children, to help create more tenderness and openness towards them.


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