Sergeant Pepper opens with the line it was twenty years ago today… When I heard that line as a child, twenty years seemed such a long time. It was thirty six years ago today my Dad died, out of the blue, no chance to say goodbye, one of those quick deaths you may wish for someone without pain and suffering but hard from this side of it. Someone asked me does it get easier, in my experience it has done, it is more of a small ache than a large gaping wound and I don’t tend to think I wish I could tell Dad that. He didn’t get to walk me down the aisle or see my academic and publishing achievements of which he would have been so proud. It wasn’t always an easy relationship particularly as a teenager but it had begun to change as I got a little older and had a bit more understanding. The picture is Rupert the Bear, apparently Dada used to read that to me as a child and I got to be able to turn over the pages at the right time as I knew the books so well. An early love of books was nurtured. With love and prayers to all who are grieving the loss of someone significant today.
Sometimes a phrase that I read sticks in my head. On our retreat last week I read Michael Mitton’s Seasoned by Seasons. In it he quotes Walter Brueggemann saying that ‘only grief permits newness’ and goes on to say ‘if we want springtime newness in our souls, we must learn to grieve well’ (p.17). The picture is of Cuthbert’s Island from the beach. Part of our worship was to ask if anyone wanted to pour out some wine on the earth to honour sacrifices made. This was something Paul had done in this place many years ago and for him was an act of grief too. But in engaging with ritual, offering things to God we become a little freer to enter into the newness God has for us.
Michael Mitton Seasoned by Season Abingdon BRF 2017.
I came across this term at a conference I was at last week. This slide I think captures the essence of what it means. Being present and absent simultaneously. This struck me as being insightful in my professional and personal life.
It resonates and rings true as to how we can be this with each other. I think I have seen it myself and in others. It might be subconscious or intentional, in both issues. We might use it to for self preservation, protection, in exhaustion, pain, anger etc. It helps explain how one can feel all the feelings of grief and loss while another is still alive or fulfilling a role. I think we have all known what it has been like to be with someone who is not really present. If seeking to be incarnational teaches us anything, it gives us a model and mandate to be intentionally fully present to our families, those we work and worship with.
I hope this is helpful to you as you seek to explain why you might sometimes feel confusion about another or yourself or our feelings of discouragement or despair. We can feel loss and be lost to others in all sorts of ways. Hopefully this is now less ambiguous!
I love reading all the different inscriptions on memorial benches as we come across them in all sorts of places. We saw this one on a walk this week. It reminded me of something I read in my Lent book….
I have heard it said that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was among the last Americans who wore the black armband publicy after his mother died. In many cultures, people who grieve wear black for a period of time, often a yaer. … So many of us at any given time are limping around silently grieving a devastating loss and all the while trying to keep up appearances of normalcy. But what if there were this subtle symbol, cluing us into the painful reality of a fellow human being. We might be a little more patient… it would force us to stop pretending that everything is okay and evoke the compassion that naturally comes when we realize that many of us are dealing with much more than meets the eye.
p154 Broken Hallelujahs Beth Ann Slevcove IVP 2016.
We talk in paediatric chaplaincy of finding a new normal – that often doesn’t come quickly, compassion for ourselves or others is important – perhaps we have lost something in privatising mourning…
It isn’t for the moment you are struck that you need courage, but for that long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security Anne Morrow Lindbergh
I am reflecting on loss for Lent. I am not good at loss, I tend to bury it rather than processing it and grieving properly. This quotation is a chapter heading in the book I am reading and resonates with me and reminds me of some of the struggles of friends at the moment too. Emotionally I need to go where I physically go in this picture – I climb the hill to the hermit’s chapel at Rame and I meet God there, it is one of my shelters, my thin places and there are losses that I need to bring to God and acknowledge and grieve.
Valentine’s day, like many days which can be celebratory, are days which can be painful too depending on what memories emerge. There are all sorts of perspectives on loss and grief but I regularly revisit Bonhoeffer’s words from prison written on Christmas Eve 1943:
“It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; he doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, he keeps it empty and so helps us keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain”.
This may not be the experience of everyone but perhaps helps to reassure us that others too find a void that God does not fill as we reflect on losses.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Letters and Papers from Prison. (London: SCM Press, 1971), p. 176
Last week we said goodbye to Paul’s car, it had been part of our lives since 2001 and we have lots of fond memories of using it during his Curacy in Aston. I was a tiny bit tearful as it was towed away. Last week I got a new phone and while it may seem slightly crazy to mourn the loss of my blackberry there is a small sense of loss as I give up a phone I had come to know well for one that I am finding a little baffling! I am just reflecting if a little ritual would have been helpful, at least with the car – perhaps not with the phone! As I was processing that thought I came across this quotation from John O’Donohue in the middle of some notes:
With the demise of religion, many people are left stranded in a chasm of emptiness and doubt: without rituals to recognize, celebrate or negotiate the vital thresholds of their lives, the key crossings pass by, undistinguished from the mundane, everyday rituals of life. This is where we need to retrieve and reawaken our capacity for blessing.
This to me suggests there is much opportunity for what Ann Morisy calls apt liturgy, churches facilitating blessing and other marker posts for significant times in people’s lives that don’t happen in the church building. She talks about creating memories of the heart – ideas and images that can be pondered; enabling people to cope, especially when they are close to being overwhelmed by emotion; providing symbols or codes that ‘waft us heavenward’. This is something that Paul spends a lot of time reflecting on in his job and if I see a gold padded heart it brings a tear to my eye! This is perhaps another area I need to reflect on further and ask God to show me where I need to be bolder in offering apt liturgy.
John O’Donohue. Benedictus a Book of Blessings London: Bantam Press, 2007, p206.
Ann Morisy. Journeying Out. London: Continuum, 2004, p158.