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.
I love this picture, it is so evocative. In some ways I like this time of year as we experience All Souls then Remembrance Sunday as that seems to give permission for people to not be okay, to vocalize their pain, to be real about their losses and for it to be accepted and understood.
This picture is from a book Paul helped to develop called Jesus still loves Joe. Joe’s sister has died and the book shows him going through a range of emotions. For me it is really helpful as it says God understands how I feel and is happy for me to express that. I know the Psalms offer us a wide range of emotions but there have been times in my Christian life where I have felt that it is not okay to be not okay. My research suggests that others feel the same.
There is also a film of the book narrated by Bear Grylls – you can find it here. There is also a version where you get to chat with whoever is watching it, helping them to explore the issues the book raises. I get so much out of watching the film, sometimes material for children gets to the essence of an issue and hits our heart not our head – always a helpful thing for me!
It is sometimes risky to say how we are actually feeling but it is risky too bottling up how we feel. As Galatians 6.2 says “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ. Jesus still loves Joe and Jesus still loves me!
For those of you who are thinking this is a bad photograph, I took it like that purposefully = reflecting the light and shadows and dark places of my memories. This is an ashtray, over forty years old, one of the few physical reminders I have of my Dad who died thirty years ago today. I can still recall the phone call telling me the news, I was living away at that time and Dad hadn’t even been ill. I can still recall my very pregnant friend, Elaine, driving me home. I can still recall slipping into what was my old bedroom and seeing my Dad’s dead body before the funeral director took it away. I can still recall the funeral visit where all I really heard was the Vicar wondering why I didn’t worship at an Anglican church anymore! I still have the grey suit I wore to the funeral – not that it would fit me anymore!
I have now lived longer than my Dad lived – by 2 days. His birthday was two days after mine. Positively, if I look back over my life I am very blessed by what I see, I have accomplished much I never would have expected and some things didn’t happen the way I thought they would. I have very, very few regrets. Dad’s death taught me that we have no idea how long our life may be, I have hopes and dreams, I don’t have a bucket list. But as I write this the tears are streaming down my face for the years I didn’t have with Dad, for the things he missed, that I missed. With a difficult teenage relationship largely behind us I was slowly getting to understand how he became who he was and although I don’t really remember it I have heard stories of how he would endlessly read Rupert the Bear stories to me and I think that must have been one of the roots of my love of reading. He built a Wendy House for me in the garden and I remember all the happy hours I spent in that with my tea sets and dolls! He never met Paul although spoke once on the telephone to him…
This was not written today – I have a wise friend who never posts things on the day she writes them if they are about difficult things and today I am teaching for six hours and need to have largely processed the grief which hits at different levels each year. I think this year is perhaps harder because the number ends in a zero and my lifespan now eclipses his. I also recall the picture I took of the beautiful flowers my friend Sheena gave me on the day of the funeral, I took them back to Sutton with me and have a picture of them with a rainbow behind them which was a sign for me that although it felt a little like my world had ended I could trust in my God who was my Father too.