Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Author: Circle of Hope (Page 2 of 507)

September 12, 2021–Entering the Healing Ground: The Sacred Work of Grief

Today’s Bible reading

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.–Matthew 5:4 

Thoughts for meditation

Francis Weller continues The Wild Edge of Sorrow by describing grief rituals, both solitary and communal, to help us work with our grief. I encourage you to take some time on your own to read through them. As he concludes the book, he describes how our grieving can be sacred ground, and how it is like working through darkness. “This art of loss is tempering of a soul,” he says, “a gradual deepening that prepares us for our own inevitable leaving. This work thins us, making the inner aspects of our lives more transparent to others.” Weller then describes grief as a “nighttime” where we experience little deaths along the way (“a friendship ends, a business venture folds, or the inevitable changes we encounter in our aging body”), deaths we can choose to respond to. “At times,” he says, “by letting an old patter die, we enter into a larger encounter of being alive.” In these times, we can “befriend darkness” and use that space to “metabolize sorrow.”

Through all this work, we will eventually get to a letting go of sorts. Weller says, “Working with grief keeps us present, ensuring that the sorrows of our lifetime have been touched and acknowledged and that they are no longer dragging us backward into our history. These stories of our life have a gravitational pull that will demand that we address the unfinished business that lingers there. It is essential that we keep these stories in front of us, becoming fully conscious of them and sharing them with others. Only in this way can their weight draw us into the world and further into life.” This is what the beatitude means when it says blessed are those who mourn. When we continue to work with our grief we are drawn further into life. We can continue to go down to the river of grief in our lifetime, and come back up nourished. 

Suggestions for action

Pray the beautitude above as a breath prayer for several minutes. 

Inhale: Blessed are those who mourn

Exhale: For they shall be comforted

Today is Johnny Cash Day! Enjoy the hard-living artist who became an evangelist and prophet at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

September 11, 2021–The Fifth Gate: Ancestral Grief

Today’s Bible reading

17 Since you call upon a Father who judges all people according to their actions without favoritism, you should conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your dwelling in a strange land. 18 Live in this way, knowing that you were not liberated by perishable things like silver or gold from the empty lifestyle you inherited from your ancestors. 19 Instead, you were liberated by the precious blood of Christ, like that of a flawless, spotless lamb. –1 Peter 1: 17-19

Thoughts for meditation

The fifth gate of grief is similar to the fourth in that it often lies unseen, and is instilled over a long period of time. “This is the grief we carry in our bodies from sorrows experienced by our ancestors,” Weller describes, “Many of our ancestors arrived in the Americas after leaving their homes, family members, and communities behind. Some arrived here after being abducted and forced into slavery.” Weller goes on to say that the survivalism many of our ancestors had to take on took away patterns of ritual and poetic imagination.

Two types of ancestral grief exist, the kind that stems from our family history, and the kind that stems from collective experiences of a culture. Weller tells a story about family ancestral grief, “One young man carried a feeling of shame for which he could not account. We had been working with this issue for some time when I thought to ask if there were any stories he knew of concerning his parents or grandparents that might be contributing to his shameful feelings. Almost immediately his father’s alcoholism flooded into his mind. He had never met his grandfather but there was a curious absence of discussion regarding an important individual. As we talked about it further, he could sense the shame that the family bore about their refusal to acknowledge the man and how that shame had ‘infected’ his mind as a youth.” These family narratives are pervasive, and they add to our sense of grief. Weller also notes the grief caused by communal oppression such as genocide of indigenous cultures, the legacy of slavery, and the bombing of Hiroshima. All of this weighs on our psyches. 

The Bible is filled with references to ancestors and past prophets. In these verses in 1 Peter, Peter refers to an “empty lifestyle inherited by your ancestors.” We can think of this lifestyle as the negative patterns of shame taught in our family systems, the pain inflicted by whiteness, or a cultural connection to material possessions. Peter calls upon the church to remember who actually redeemed them, and pursue a way of living that comes from that truth. We can start to live this way by acknowledging the ancestral grief caused by collective experiences, and centering ourselves in the deep well that is our faith. 

Suggestions for action 

Find a picture of your family, or bring their images to mind. Spend some time journaling about the ideas you have inherited from them and how they might relate to your grief.

September 10, 2021 – The Fourth Gate: What We Expected and Did Not Receive

Today’s Bible reading

Lord, you have examined me.

    You know me.

2 You know when I sit down and when I stand up.

    Even from far away, you comprehend my plans.

3 You study my traveling and resting.

    You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways.

4 There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord,

    that you don’t already know completely.

5 You surround me—front and back.

    You put your hand on me.

6 That kind of knowledge is too much for me;

    it’s so high above me that I can’t reach it.

Where could I go to get away from your spirit?

    Where could I go to escape your presence?

8 If I went up to heaven, you would be there.

    If I went down to the grave,[a] you would be there too!

9 If I could fly on the wings of dawn,

    stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean—

10         even there your hand would guide me;

        even there your strong hand would hold me tight!

11 If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me;

        the light will become night around me,”

12     even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you!

        Nighttime would shine bright as day,

        because darkness is the same as light to you!

You are the one who created my innermost parts;

    you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb.

14 I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart.

    Your works are wonderful—I know that very well.

15 My bones weren’t hidden from you

    when I was being put together in a secret place,

    when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my embryo,

    and on your scroll every day was written that was being formed for me,[b]

    before any one of them had yet happened.[c]

17 God, your plans are incomprehensible to me!

    Their total number is countless!

18 If I tried to count them—they outnumber grains of sand!

    If I came to the very end—I’d still be with you.—Psalm 139: 1-18

Thoughts for meditation 

The fourth gate of grief has to do with the things that we are designed to have as humans, but are often taken from us without knowing. “When we are born,” Weller writes, “and as we pass through childhood, adolescence, and the stages of adulthood, we are designed to anticipate a certain quality of welcome, engagement, touch, and reflection. [. . .] This is our inheritance, our birthright, which has been lost and abandoned. The absence of these requirements haunts us, even if we can’t give them a name, and we feel their loss as an ache, a vague sadness that settles over us like a fog.” Weller is saying that there are certain ways we are supposed to be supported by our families and our communities and inevitably, we won’t get the kind of love we are supposed to receive. This leaves us with a cloud of hurt, though it is difficult to name. 

Weller goes on to name two specific ways we don’t receive what we are designed to: when we live in a superficial community, and when we lack a sense of purpose. In regards to our community, without a group to reflect back to us that we are indeed valuable, even though a difficult thing has happened to us, we get lost in self deprecation. Weller puts it this way, “Without a village to reflect back on us that we are valued, these ruptures are interpreted in silence, in a vacuum, and the conclusion is often, ‘I must have deserved this treatment’.” Our community also informs our sense of purpose and gives us meaning in the world. “Deep in our bones lies an intuition that we arrive here carrying a bundle of gifts to offer the community. Over time these gifts are meant to be seen, developed, and called into the village at times of need.” These gifts and their interaction with the community keep us alive and connected. We need to grieve the moments we have not had that experience. 

The wounds incurred at this gate are often hard to name, we often don’t realize they are there. In Psalm 139, the psalmist tells us that God knows they are there. God has been watching our entire formation and knows these deep parts of us that we are still uncovering. Leaning into time with God can open us up to these parts and teach us to grieve what we did not receive. Furthermore, communion with God is linked to our community and helps us develop that sense of purpose. 

Suggestions for action

Pray this breath prayer

Inhale: You know what I can’t see

Exhale: You surround me 

September 9, 2021 — The Third Gate: The Sorrows of The World

Today’s Bible reading

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you;

    the birds of the air, and they will tell you;

8 ask the plants of the earth,[a] and they will teach you;

    and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

9 Who among all these does not know

    that the hand of the Lord has done this?

10 In his hand is the life of every living thing

    and the breath of every human being.–Job 12:7-10

Thoughts for meditation

The third of the five gates of grief is sorrow for the world. Weller describes it as such, “The third gate of grief opens up when we register the losses of the world around us. Whether or not we consciously recognize it, the daily diminishment of species, habitats, and cultures is noted in our psyches. Much of the grief we carry is not personal, but shared, communal.” Often this kind of grief gets named last, we forget that we are carrying it among our other many losses. Ultimately, though, we know that something primal is not right. Naming this kind of grief, though, puts us in touch with the entire cloth of sorrow, and thus the entire cloth of kindness. Weller quotes the poem “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak it til your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth. 

By connecting to the world and mourning for it we “catch the thread of all sorrows” and become more in tune with our whole selves. 

In addition to our grief for nature, our disconnect with nature adds to our loneliness and pain. Weller notes the writings of Paul Shepard who says, “The grief and sense of loss, that we often interpret as a failure in our personality, is actually a feeling of emptiness where a beautiful and strange otherness should have been encountered.” We can think of it this way–communion with the living earth is an antidote for loneliness! While we still mourn for the suffering of the earth and her loss of diversity, we can find comfort and rest in being with her and knowing her more fully. This is why the book of Job calls us to ask the animals and the plants to teach us. The life of God is in every living thing and we learn more about God and ourselves by getting to know the world. 

Suggestions for action

Find your pet, your houseplant, or the dirt in your yard. Observe it and ask it to teach you. Throughout the day, continue to keep Job 12:7-10 in your mind and ask various living things to teach you.

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