I realised yesterday that I am grieving the loss of a friend. Not one who had died but one that was moving away. Since I moved to this town this person has been key in who I am and what I do here in my church life. She has spurred me on, stood by me when I’ve stepped out, filled in the gaps when they’ve needed filling. She isn’t the only but she has been one of the strong pillars that have given me the encouragement I have needed to step out. She is now doing, what I have done many times before, and is moving to another town.
I must be totally honest and say I am grieving. It isn’t the same as when someone has died, but it is a profound sadness. Things will not be the same. And if I am honest, I am not sure if I am brave enough to step out and do things without her. There is a team and it hasn’t just been me and her. Each of us has our role and our part but the part she filled will not be filled by anyone else. At least not in the team that is there. Things will shift. Things will change.
When I gave up a voluntary position recently I was sad and grouchy, similar to this. A wise friend told me to remember that, even though I chose to give up the role, I was grieving its loss. So even though I know that this friend is doing the right thing by moving I will still mourn her not being here any more.
One of my new year resolutions was to be kind to myself. I need to keep revisiting this. In fact I need to keep revisiting a lot of my resolutions – like the no meat, no dairy, no alcohol. All of which I have “failed” but I will keep going back to giving them another go but maybe not with that whole vigor of “a whole month of …” With each of the giving ups I have to keep revisiting and trying for just today. The same goes with the whole thing of being kind to myself. I need to remember that I am grieving and that I did struggle with the party for my friend last night because I didn’t want to be there.
So I will be kind and admit I’m grieving for the loss and change. Don’t tell me she is only an email away. It still means she won’t be at the next prayer day/in the next discussion for the next play/etc. The friendship will have change. And I will have to go through my stages of grief. And if at times it means I’m grumpy and out of sorts then I must be kind to me and let it be
I was woken by rain hammering down on the skylight in the roof. I look at the window and see the rain pouring down. Things are not as they should be for Easter Saturday. I know as Brits we will laugh, shake our heads and say “typical British Bank holiday”. But actually we know they aren’t all like that but also we know this isn’t how they should be. Thanks to good old Facebook memories I was reminded of a picture I took from my window this time last year of the tree outside my window starting to blossom. This year it is still bare branches. Spring really is later this year.
But I wondered what the first disciples thought the day after Jesus died. Things definitely were not as they should have been. Things weren’t right. This isn’t why they had followed Jesus. They had expected more. There might even have been some who remembered his teachings about dying and rising again. But he was dead and had not risen again.
How often do we wait for something to happen and it always takes too long? Even if we know that date of a birthday, wedding, celebration it always takes too long to come about. Imagine not knowing the date? But also imagine not knowing for sure what would happen?
So this Easter Saturday, as things are not being as they should be, I am going to ponder the disciples and share this piece I wrote a while ago
I have just finished reading a really good trilogy, who’s only fault was that each book was 8-900 pages long. So for the last month I suppose I have been hanging out with these characters and so I am missing them today. The trilogy is The Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb. Well worth giving a month to.
There are many bits where the books really spoke to me. One part is where one of the ships talks about attempting to take his own life. (The ships are made of a wood that makes them alive, able to talk, think, have minds of their own, and have memories of those who have lived and died on them – can’t say much more or it would spoil the books). Anyway the woman talking to him says “how could you hate yourself and the world so much to want to take your life?” And he replies that all he wanted to do was to take the pain away. That really helped me to understand why those we loved took their own lives. It was because the pain was too much. There was nothing we could have done to stop that.
But then later in the book one of the main characters is dealing with the pain of having been raped and it is stopping her from giving herself fully to the man she is meant to be with. Her ship says to her “give me the pain. I will not take the memories of what happened but I will take your pain.” She does wrestle with him about this but eventually gives her pain to him, is able to tell her man about the rape and her heart is more open and able to cope.
I believe this is what Jesus asks of us and what I believe I have done without realising it,
to give the pain of what we have walked through to him. It won’t make those memories go. It won’t make us wary in similar situations. It won’t even “cure” our mental health problems. But it will make us be able to look clearly at what we have gone through and say “this is what happened to me.” I think we are often afraid to give that pain to Jesus because we are afraid that he will take our memories and that what happened to us will not be validated. That if we continue to hold the pain of what we have endured – be it rape, abandonment, seeing someone we love taken from us, and many many more things that escape me at this hour of the morning – then we will keep knowing how awful it was. That if we let go of the pain we may forget a loved one who has gone, forget a incident that actually has made us wiser now, will forget all that we have been through. This is NOT true. Jesus does not want to take our memories. In fact earlier in the story it is revealed that the ship did try to take the memories of one of the main characters but this then stopped him from being able to fully give himself to others. He was holding something back and often that was because he did not want to look at the memory because he was holding both the memory and the pain, and the pain totally overrode everything else – including his judgement of situations.
Giving our pain to Jesus is an on-going thing. Often when we remember things the pain will flair up again so we need to give it again. Very often it is not a once and forever thing. If we have lost someone dear to us through an untimely death there will be many times when the memories of them come with searing pain and that is when we pass on that pain.
Jesus died on the cross to take our pain as much as he did anything else. By taking away that pain it gives us resurrection. According to the Anglican and Catholic church calendars we are in that period between Easter and Pentecost and it is a time to reflect on resurrection. I was at a wedding of my dear friend who’s first husband committed suicide and during her talk the vicar said that this was my friend and her new husband’s resurrection time and that it was significant that they were marrying just after Easter. It’s true. She can now give her pain to Jesus, keep her memories of her first husband, but open up into the new life she has said yes to. And yes I weep through writing this because I have my own pain with it too. I can only give my own pain to Jesus again and again. I will still have the memories not only of the times when he was alive and the crazy things we all did together but also the memories of the fateful day and the aftermath of it. But they can be viewed as memories and a constant giving to Jesus of the pain.
“The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10) is not some fully leaping around
being happy stuff but a joy that settles deep, pervades one’s whole being and, I believe, comes from knowing that you can give your pain to Jesus, walk free from it, and yet still know what happened. It is a full and rich joy of living free from pain but of a life filled with memories which in turn guide and strengthen your future.
It’s not just the blossom on the trees or the bud of new leaves, the singing of the birds chatting each other up or the primroses appearing, the clocks changing or it feeling warmer. The caravans have started to arrive in the caravan park I walk the dog past and the small animal zoo has opened again. Life is springing up all around.
But also I still see the remains of Storm Doris and the destruction she caused. The fallen tree I still have to climb over, the branches scattered in the park, the red tape around the trees made dangerous by the storm. It reminds me of my life. There are so many new and exciting things going on here. The doors that are opening
are amazing and I am using my degree to its limits with the projects I am becoming a part of – both paid and voluntary. But there is still in my life the remnants of the storms that I have endured; a missing person here that I’d like to tell, a reason why we’re living here not somewhere else, the pains, stresses, and sadnesses that I carry even though this glorious awakening.
It does feel like spring has come to my life with the workshops, the projects, the challenges of different cultures with the Airbnb. I can truly see our vision coming to life and it is amazing. But there are times when I wonder why I feel sad and low and then remind myself of the storms that have passed through. At times it feels like they block my path and slow me down and that the climb over them is too hard. But climb over I do because the openings and new growth that are happening in my life are too good to stay and dwell on the storm. But as I acknowledge the fallen tree and step over it and walk around the scattered branches so I must acknowledge what has gone on and not try to walk as though it is all as it was.
For the land this spring is different because of the destruction that passed through but it will rise into new growth and so will I.
Christmas does seem to be the time to focus one’s memories as I was saying in a pre-Christmas post. But how we decide to handle them is the important as they race through our minds. We cannot stop them coming in. A smell, a look, a place we’ve been to and enjoyed, and even that card that does not arrive all can release painful memories. And it does seem as we get old there are more memories that evoke sadness due to either death or that person just no longer being in our lives. So what do we do with all that?
We have a choice on how we handle them. Yes we do. We do not need to let that first initial, what can be gut-wrenching lose take over our day. We can let it go that way and that is our choice. It will be important to acknowledge that pain and loss but we do not have to dwell there. We can choose to remember the good times we had with that person, can choose to enjoy the memory. But we can also choose to let it totally envelope us to the point where we do not see what is good around us.
After what I’ve gone through over the last few years I would not say with certainty that “the dead are gone” even though in the flesh they are. They still haunt us. But also the living are very much with us. If we get too far down the sadness of those who have gone – whether died or just no longer part of our lives as they use to be – they we can so miss those who are with us now. I know of someone over Christmas who was in a place that evoked memories of those past and also those who were really ill. She was with a new partner but could have stayed with those sad memories but she didn’t stay there. She remember with sadness and with fondness, prayed a bit, but then also went back to enjoying her time with her new partner.
Many loses are really hard to get over, especially ones that are untimely and too early – although I do know of someone who said his mother died at 99 and that was a year too soon for him. It could just be that every death or loss always comes too soon. Although violent young deaths do cause so much pain – but that is not to say that we must stay in that place where our grief overwhelms the joy that we have.
There is a verse in the Bible that says “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” During 2012 I found it hard to find how to deal with it. I felt it was saying that I should not acknowledge what had happened but now I think that is wrong. I think it means that if we can look at where we are, the good things we still have around us, can remember with poignant joy those who have gone, then we have the strength to keep going, keep loving, keep being there for those who we love who are still with us,
This year I think I made it through, and enjoyed Christmas, not just because both my children, who are in their twenties, were with me, but because I decided to not let the sadness of the memories overwhelm me but to see what was good around me, to remember those I’ve lost with that poignant joy and to wait on what is to come.
Christmas is an odd time of the year. It seems to focus so many feelings, and seems to encourage the time to put on those tinted glasses. Not just the rose-coloured ones where we may view our childhood Christmases or the darkened ones where we may remember things with despair.
For me I think of those people I haven’t received a card from – the sister of my step-father who was always the first card to arrive but she is now dead, the friend of my mum’s who was often the second card to arrive who has had a fall and has been on life support in hospital and at the moment cannot move or speak, the friends who have moved and we’ve lost touch, the family of ex-husbands who no longer keep in touch – and one often wonders if they have died, the always late and badly written card from my sister which of course will not come now – and never one from her husband who is now remarried or her 25 year old son who is a typical 25 year old boy when it comes to keeping touch. It can bring me down and make me wish I had know when it was going to be those last Christmasses. Would I have done anything different in December 2011 when we’d gathered with my sister’s family? I’m not sure I would have. Would I have phoned my step-father’s sister more often if I’d know when she’d not be with us? Would Christmas 2012 have been any different knowing that by Christmas 2013 by father-in-law would not be with us? To be totally honest I don’t think it would have been.
I had an email from a older friend of mine who says she finds it hard visiting as she sees the deterioration in many of her friends and wonders if it will be their last Christmases together. So she does make a difference; she makes sure she turns out over the Christmas holidays to see them, puts it in her diary to visit more often, and most importantly is grateful that she is still fit and well and able to get about and prays that it will continue.
So how will writing help? Well instead of bottling up those feelings write. Write to those people who aren’t with you any more – whether dead or alive. Tell them what you think of them and how you are feeling with them not being around. Tell them how much you’ve done in the last year. Read it out to them as thought they are sitting with you. Who knows they might even be listening? Write down all the good things you remember and don’t worry if the rose-tinted glasses are on. Enjoy the good memories. Again read it out loud. Say thank you to whatever you believe maybe listen – God, the dog, the chair, Mother Earth, etc. Write down a list of things you are grateful for this year – even if it is that you can write things down. When you think of the impossible write it down too and again speak it out. There’s nothing wrong in hoping for what might not happen but don’t let it make you overwhelmed by what will not be. Write what your perfect Christmas would be then even look at what things you can do to make that happen. Remember that you cannot make everyone cheerful but you can make sure you don’t let their grumps get you down. And if they do take yourself off and write about it.
Make this Christmas a time when you compose some cool poems that talk of the joy and sadness of your Christmas – past, present and future. Use that notebook that some well-meaning person got you years ago that you’ve never thrown away and just write and see how that will change things for you.
As we were reminded in our Advent reading this morning Jesus didn’t come down to change things but to walk with us in them.
I did not intend to blog for a while. My mother has been visiting and then today my mother-in-law comes. I have a story that is in the editing process that I need to get to a place of understanding so I can leave it for the weekend but then this post from Richard Rohr came up. I am going to paste it all at the end of this but I felt it was rather apt for the state of UK at the moment. I was going to just share in on my facebook feed but then realised I was adding a whole post to it as I went.
Here is a quote I was going to pull out of it to share as an intro:
Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter.
No matter what happens with all this the UK is in a place of change. I even heard last night of a couple who had been dating for over 5 years have ended their relationship because they have realised how opposed their political views are. I have also heard of families that cannot now sit together to eat together. And these are people who were close not estranged families. Someone said before the referendum that the spiritual atmosphere felt like a civil war was coming. Now I’m not sure how much I understand of that but what I see is very similar to what I have read about. Being a historian I also know that The Civil War of Roundheads and Cavaliers was not the only one. Ever since the Norman invasion there have been wars across our land where families have been divided on which side they would support; French or Norman, French or English, Woman as leader or Man as leader, Protestant or Catholic, York and Lancaster, and many more. This division is part of who we are as a nation and we haven’t come out of it very well.
So will we in this time of Change find a new meaning in our lives or will we close down, turn bitter and get into name calling. Each person had their reasons for voting the way they did. I know someone who voted Remain because of the emphasis on the economy and heard of another who voted Leave because she felt that the Remain campaign just went on about money and didn’t seem to care about people. There have been Christians on both sides saying this is God’s will and voting from their interpretation of scripture. And on it goes.
… transformation … more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart–chaos–invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is falling apart. Otherwise, most of us would never go to new places. Whatever it is, it does not feel good … You will do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart. This is when you need patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening your controls and certitudes.
The world is transforming from what we know to what we don’t know. It is painful. There can be no argument about that. To deny the grief would be wrong. But are we willing to listen deeper? Not just to what we want but to what might be going on at another level? On one very open level now we are hearing about open racism. I cannot believe that this is because people have suddenly become racist. No I think it was under the surface all along but no one wanted to listen. I am not old enough to remember Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech when he spoke about how bring in a lot of migrants would cause problems in our land. He was shut down and called racist. But there are people in the UK who are fearful of those they don’t know, fearful of things they don’t understand. I think just to say “racism is wrong” is missing something. I believe we need to listen at a deeper level and try to hear the why’s.
Someone else, a Leave voter, was saying that she had been accused of being provincial by someone who lived in London. She felt that it was those who lived in London who wanted to Remain because of what they would get out of it. Now we get the city/country divide. It is not just a North/South, Rich/Poor divide but also a City/Country divide.
I do wonder if we are willing to listen deeper if we will hear more of these division. Are we then willing to support and help through this or do we just want to close these voices down and go back to pretending they don’t exist? Are we willing to be patient? Are we willing to let go of being in control? Are we willing to trust that God knew about this before the beginning of time and that He has a plan?
Here’s the whole of Richard Rohr’s message if you want to read it:
Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
Change as a Catalyst for Transformation
Thursday, June 30, 2016
The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation, the mystery we’re examining, more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart–chaos–invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is falling apart. Otherwise, most of us would never go to new places. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, darkness, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is, it does not feel good and it does not feel like God. You will do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart. This is when you need patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening your controls and certitudes. Perhaps Jesus is describing this phenomenon when he says, “It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). Not accidentally, he mentions this narrow road right after teaching the Golden Rule. Jesus knows how much letting go it takes to “treat others as you would like them to treat you” (7:12).
Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of your inner life, what we call your “spirituality.” Change of itself just happens; but spiritual transformation must become an actual process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore. You can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important symbol for many Jews and Christians.
In the moments of insecurity and crisis, “shoulds” and “oughts” don’t really help; they just increase the shame, guilt, pressure, and likelihood of backsliding. It’s the deep yeses that carry you through. Focusing on something you absolutely believe in, that you’re committed to, will help you wait it out. Love wins over guilt any day. It is sad that we settle for the short-run effectiveness of shaming people instead of the long-term life benefits of grace-filled transformation. But we are a culture of progress and efficiency, impatient with gradual growth. God’s way of restoring things interiorly is much more patient–and finally more effective. God lets Jonah run in the wrong direction, but finds a long, painful, circuitous path to get him back where he needs to be–and almost entirely in spite of himself! Looking in this rear-view mirror fills you with gratitude for God’s work in your life.