All week long I’ve felt out of sorts. I’ve felt one step this side of anger that didn’t feel grounded anywhere. On the edge. Close enough to feel the energy of being angry, but not close enough to really get a handle on what was going on inside of me.
Maybe it’s the residue from all the violence and emotions from last week. Boston. Watertown. West, Texas. Upside-down, turn-us-on-our -heads days. These events came from out of nowhere and now many of us are left feeling deeply, but not sure if there’s anything to do about it.
Maybe that’s the emotion that’s overwhelming me now. It’s the intensity of everything from last week and now the following week having nowhere to focus all the emotions. It just feels like unfocused anger.
Grief is messy. It’s particular and familiar. It can be personal and it can be collective. It’s white-hot-immediate and feels unending.
Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross’s work from the 70’s and 80’s sometimes gets pigeon-holed in the notion of “The Five Stages of Grief.” Somehow many of us use this as a roadmap for our grief journey. With this image of a checklist, we think that if we identify one of the emotions in ourselves (“denial,” “anger,” “depression”) we’ll check it off and think that we’re done with it. Instead of a checklist, her work is an entryway into grief. Grief’s emotions are fluid. They move into and through and around and back. Grief is not items on a checklist that gives us an illusion of being in control. Instead grief is the living in and through our experience and then learning to weave it into our story.
Recently I was with a family around a bedside of a dying matriarch. Tender tears were being shed. As I invited the family to pray the 23rd Psalm, I was amazed at all that I heard. Each prayed at her own pace. Each in his own voice. Familiar words recited since childhood. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” We all began together and then individually found our way. Eventually we finished. To someone unfamiliar with the psalm, it would have sounded chaotic and a jumble of words. But for that moment it was faith, hope and love all wrapped together. At that bedside, I was reminded that shared prayer, much like grief can appear to be messy.
This past week felt mostly just long and exhausting. So imagine my delight when I realized that I was visited by an angel yesterday morning. One of the highlights of my week is walking to Evans to meet friends for breakfast. I was at a corner, waiting for a red light and standing next to a lady who was carrying several bags. I said something mundane to her and she said something about how hard the past week was. When I agreed, she immediately said, “I’m so thankful for the weekend.” “Amen,” I told her. She went on to bring me back home. “I’m so glad I’ve got all weekend to pray.” Hebrews 13:2 (“entertaining angels unawares”) was being shared right there in the middle of downtown Decatur. And thankfully I could hear it.
From fist to open hand takes a great intention. Brain cells and muscle endings (and beginnings). It's not an organic thing. And so is the intention to move from anger to openness …. Or reconnection …. Or re-entry. It is an intention.
Anger is what it is. It takes a lot of energy and can take on a life of its own. It has had its time with me for this week. And so now I will pay attention to the message I got on a street corner from a total stranger ~ and take advantage of the time I’ve been given this weekend. Close. Open. Holding on. Letting go. Amen.
I'm not much of a runner. I like to walk. Although I've walked in some "fun runs," I've always wondered what it would be like to walk a marathon. Wondered what it would feel like to be a part of such a long parade. Wondered what it would be like to live those hours in my body. Taking in all that I could around me and within me. One step at a time.
And now after all that has unfolded this week in Boston, I keep wondering what it is for me, for us and our next step?
I can't imagine the pain of the folks who lost loved ones. Those who began their day with the hopes of a celebration. Those who cheered on family as well as strangers, only to have their lives turned upside down. I can't imagine the pain of the folks who were injured. Their lives will be forever impacted by those bombs. I can't imagine.
I'm preaching tomorrow at a UCC church in Roswell. Accompanying the 23rd Psalm, I'm going to use Dorotheus of Gaza's "Circle of God."
Imagine a circle,
and in its midst a center,
and from this center rays extend;
each one, each radius radiates from the center of the circle.
The farther these radii extend from the center,
the more they diverge,
the more remote they become from one another.
But as they approach the center,
they converge and come together.
Now imagine that this circle is the world,
the center of the circle is God....
The images of those first responders tearing down the fences to help the injured- even as the second bomb was going off - continues in my heart. How could they do this? What energy, what courage, what grace empowered them?
Perhaps, if we are to live our lives following and learning from the Good Shepherd, we are to live into seeing beyond ourselves and doing the next thing. Serving God and our neighbor. By entering more into the circle, we move toward God and at the same time toward our sisters and brothers. Putting a stranger in need first. Risking what we know to be true so that someone who is hurting might be helped. Stepping out (literally) in faith.
The images and the sounds from yesterday’s bombings in Boston are everywhere. It’s as though we somehow can’t get enough of them. And at the very same time we can’t stand to watch. Both. I find myself turning on the TV and pacing. Listening for….for….for what? What would ease this? Fix this? Heal this?
Those injured ones and those who have died. The innocents. My heart just cannot make its way around the irony of those who stood to cheer runners on, lost one or both legs before the race was even finished. How cruel. How tragic. How maddening.
For many of us this next Sunday the 23rd Psalm will be read during worship. Years ago I visited a parishioner who was a physician, and who was recovering from surgery. During the visit, we started talking about the 23rd Psalm. When asked what those words meant to him, he said, “These are `anchoring words.’ They are words that we can hold on to when we feel like we’ve lost everything else. They are words that hold us in place and never, ever let us go.”
“The Lord is my shepherd,” “yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies,” and “Thou annointest my head,” …“Thou art with me.” So many of these words and phrases have been and continue to be anchoring words. I believe that when we begin to choose which words are ours, we listen more closely for what comes next.
It wasn’t that long ago (Linda was pregnant with Sam) that so many of us witnessed hours like these hours. Days like these days. It was New York on a Tuesday morning before. As I recall neighbors were kinder to one another then. Traffic was almost civil here in Atlanta. We looked one another in the eye and realized just how precious this life is that we are living.
In these tender days be gentle with yourself and one another. Act and speak kindly. May we find and use our anchoring words for strength, for balance and for grounding. As we carry the sounds and images in our hearts and prayers, may they be accompanied by the living sounds of faith, hope and love.
Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.
I don’t know about you, but I need to intentionally stop (or be stopped) time and again to wake up to the preciousness of life. To wake up and be in this one, precious day. It’s the schedules or the obligations; it’s the (seeming) monotony or the (given and chosen) routines of life that bring me to sleepwalk though so many of these days. Through this day.
And something ~ call it grace or some life event~ something causes (invites, reminds, inspires) me to be here, be now. And yesterday was such a gift.
When all the stars align for me, I get to walk to and from breakfast with my friends in Booth 25 @ Evans. Those Saturday mornings ~ walking to, sharing eggs with, re-tellings and listenings to previous weeks and then walking back home ~ all of this make up some of my favorite moments. Walking home yesterday, sure enough I tripped over a raised sidewalk (didn’t fall, thank you God). When I righted myself I saw one beautiful flower, opening up for all the world to see. Particular. Short-lived. Beautiful. This flowers was both teacher and reminder of the gift that was that moment, that day.
Spring has come to the sunny South. We’ve lived through the worst of the pollen this past week (I hope and pray). The dogwoods and azaleas are opening up in the most spectacular ways. There is beauty in all directions. We are reminded with each step that there is more than we could ever hope for or imagine for all of our senses.
For yesterday, for today and for whatever tomorrow holds ~ may our eyes see and our ears hear. May our hearts be open to what comes our way. May our predeterminations, our fearful places, our prejudices take a back seat so that we don’t miss one minute. 60 of those in an hour. 24 of those given for one particular day. That’s what we’ve been given for today, April 14, 2013. We can’t dare miss a moment of it.
(p.s. Happy birthday, cousin Karen)
Most every time I get to the ocean, there are moments when I look to see beyond what is possible to see. Looking out past where there are markers ~ far out beyond to the horizon. And then some.
This picture was taken last month when some of the family had come together to celebrate Aunt Cynthia’s birthday. We had gathered outside of Santa Barbara and shared a big, old beach house. All through the weekend in the stories and the music and the laughter, I heard echoes of laughter and of stories told by the ones who were with us in spirit only. Mom and dad and their parents, aunt and great-aunts, uncles and great-uncles. So many were gathered with us that weekend on the beach.
There are places our hearts know about that are beyond the `here and now.’ These places call to us from time to time. Sometimes I’ve been known to call out to them as well. There is a longing for the “me” they knew and loved so well. An aching for one or two more conversations to help work through whatever is being heavily held.
When I stand on the beach and look toward the sunset, I know (“deep in my heart of hearts,” as Mom would say) that there is something beyond this lifetime. I know that there are loved ones who are still connected to me as I am to them. And I am both strengthened and comforted by their presence.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.