Psalm 91: 1-2 You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord,
“My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (NRSV)
Part of our healing after a deep loss is making our way back into the world. When our pain is fresh, we feel so very vulnerable. Re-entry feels like it is asking too much of us. Stepping again into the world, re-connecting after our loss can seem almost impossible.
Often this time of re-entry becomes our beginning steps toward healing. When we move back into our places of belonging, we are reminded that even after this life-changing loss, we are yet alive. We continue to live, each hour of each new day. Here in these places where we find shelter, where our stories are known, we are reminded in visible and invisible ways that we are not lost. We are reminded that life continues on.
In Psalm 91 we hear sanctuary-words. Later in this psalm we hear words of the night, times often understood to be times of fear and despair. So many tears are shed into the night. And here the psalmist comforts us: it is to this vulnerable place that the Almighty comes and provides shelter.
Though I grew up in Illinois, I’ve lived here in Atlanta long enough to now claim local sanctuary-places. One such place is Evans Fine Foods. For me, this restaurant has become a sheltering place. Transformation can happen in places where stories overlap, where there are comings and goings, where laughter can be heard just a few tables away. I tell folks I go to Evans for breakfast, for scrambled eggs and grits and that’s true. But my heart knows it’s much more than that.
More days than not I go to remember that I belong. I’m missed when I’m not there. It has come to be a place for me of holding on and letting go. Here the good and hard times find sanctuary. It is to Evans where our family and friends go after tragedy, deaths, job losses, as well as new job announcements and birthday toasts shared. It is the place where I meet others who are going through similar times. Here our part-time waitperson, full-time pastor, Martha, brings us another iced tea and reminds us that we shall get through this one, too. Most every Saturday for more years than I can count, I have gathered with good friends and sit in the corner booth (aka Booth 25). Here we listen for one another’s hearts; here we are given more than enough to believe again.
The moon and her ever-changing cycle teach us that no two nights are the same. There are changes and shifts, sometimes oh so subtle, but they are there nonetheless if we are paying attention. Re-entry invites us back into living again. These sanctuary places are where we go to experience our stories being known and held. These sanctuary places are where strangers and friends help us re-new and re-claim our tender spirits. Grits and iced tea: bread and wine.
This is Chapter 5 from my book, "Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days." I've been known to eat three or four breakfasts there a week. Some mornings I join my friend, David as he works his morning crossword puzzle and I read something fiction -- every now and then talking about the house he's working on. Some mornings I meet my spiritual director, Sister Margaret and we talk about prayer. Most every Saturday Kimberly, Ellen, Susie and I keep one another grounded and connected and whole. And some mornings I sit by myself, read my book and listen to conversations from table to table: two older gentlemen sharing stories of how they met their wives, what's wrong with the Braves and the Falcons and the Bulldogs, how many more weeks of chemo...
Recently we learned that this sanctuary place is closing. For some reason that none of us can fathom, the property owner is raising the rent to the extent that the owners, Mike and Pete aren't able to keep the doors open. Soon Evans will be no more. And my heart is tenderly breaking open. It's been a wonderful sanctuary place for me and my family and friends. I will miss it terribly. This chapter has always been about this place, this place that invites time to stand still for a bit, so our hearts can catch up...
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.