A Loving Grief

Sunday Morning Musings:  I have always appreciated the Charlie Brown expression “Good grief”.  I do not know what the cartoonist (Charles Schultz) intended having his main character utter this expression, but many other folk also use it to express a form of frustration.  However, over the years the expression has been used to remind me that if there is “good” grief there can also be “bad” grief.  That is not to say that grieving itself is bad for us, just that there are elements of grieving that can have positive rather than negative outcome in our lives.

It is not earth-shattering news to say that grieving happens in our lives due to more things than just the death of a loved one.   Grief is about loss. The loss of a loved one causes grief, but so does the end of a relationship.  Sometimes, these other losses are referred to as “little deaths”.  Big or little losses, we need to grief.

Sometimes however, grief is not recognized for what it is or what is happening to us.  Secondly, grief really doesn’t follow a pattern as earlier studies of grieving have often been interpreted.   I respect the work done by such people as Elisabeth Kuebler- Ross as she outlined the “stages of grief” (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance).  However, my experience has taught me that these stages are interwoven and not stationary.  By stationary I mean that once we have entered the next stage we are done with the previous one.  Grief moves back and forth.

Not only does everyone grief differently, those things that can trigger a “reoccurrence” are different and may get pulled when we least expect it.  Anniversary dates, birthdays, a song, seeing someone who reminds of that which we have lost…the list seems endless.  Good grief begins by recognizing that is happening to us; recognizing that something has triggered something inside us.  Once we can name what is happening we can begin to deal with it.

One of the most common feelings that grief can create in us is that of feeling all alone. Even a very “religious” or “spiritual” person who has a good relationship with the one they call “God” can feel abandoned and all alone.  For those who do not have or have not nurtured such a relationship might even tell the spiritual person that they are alone and that this just proves the even their “God” (if God were to exist) has left them high and dry.

Good grief acknowledges all that is happening from the disorientation and numbness that often is our first response to loss to the sense of feeling all alone.  Even surrounded by good friends and family, there can still be a feeling of loneliness.  The thing to remember (and it is likely the most difficult) is that we are never alone.  We have never been alone – love is with us always. I have often joked with those preparing for marriage that “you can’t live on love alone”, which is true, in the sense that we need food and water at least. Yet, the basis for opening ourselves to even these basics is love.  A good grief recognizes that we have always been loved, and always will be.  Even when we may not recognize it, love is there.  It may reveal itself in the most unlikely places or objects or people, but love is there.

In our aloneness and our grief, we need to know there is that which is called “good grief” and all we have to do is allow ourselves to be open to it.

The Strength to Change

Sunday Morning Musings: Without a doubt this past week has been one of the most different weeks of my life.  In some ways it seemed very “usual” – preparing and officiating at funerals and weddings, sermon preparation and house cleaning, laundry and even some electrical and plumbing issues finally fixed.  The thing that is different in all these regular concerns is that I realized how much I have changed.  Some of the change seemed overnight, yet most of the things different about me have developed over a life-time.  Things that may have seemed pretty day-to-day for  some people were often a big deal for me, especially when things didn’t go the way I had thought they should.

But change is good.    I heard this past week that someone speaking to a group of recently graduated high schoolers said that he hoped that they would live long enough to change their minds at least twice.  At first I thought he was joking but the more I listened to this speaker, I realized what he was talking about.  He wasn’t just talking about our every day changes concerning fashion or food ( which can be major decisions, no doubt).  Rather he was talking about those things that really make a difference not only in our own lives but in society as well.

I remember a number of years ago when my elder son was an editor of his university newspaper. (The editorial had to do with the use of standardized testing in our schools.)  I read this editorial that sounded like his voice (yes, writers have their own voices), but the editorial was talking about an issue he and I had discussed many times.  In the editorial he was agreeing with my stance (and for you older folk it wasn’t a matter of Father Knows Best).  When I asked him about this, his response was simply: “People can change their mind.”

It is not because he was agreeing with me that meant as much as the fact that he was willing to change his way of thinking and admit it.  Such changes rarely take place in the realms of politics or religion.  Sadly, when a politician attaches oneself to a political party, he or she may not agree with the party but must often choose either to stay with the party line or remove oneself. Never an easy choice.

The same story is often true in the field of religion.  As statistics reveal many people are turning away from “organized” religion for many reasons.  One of the reasons not talked much about is that people grow and change, and part of that change is one’s way of understanding all of the factors that contribute to a wholesome body, mind and spirit.  Speaking about dogma and change one writer proposed the idea that:

Dogma is worshiping our ideas of God rather than God. It means always

being willing to admit you MIGHT be wrong. It means continually rethinking

and unfortunately, never being settled or comfortable in our view of reality.

 

Yet even when evidence itself can and has proven long-held thinking or concepts to be untrue there are still those who do not want to change. At one time the earth was believed to be flat, and when photos from outer space show us the true shape, there are some who will not accept this changed point of view.  It has been proven many times over that dinosaurs roamed the earth until 65 million years ago; yet some contend that the earth is less than 10 thousand years old (that is evolution vs creation thinking).

 

When we are unwilling to grow we are doomed.  When we are unwilling to allow ourselves to accept new truths we are doomed.

Valuing the Risk

Sunday Morning Musings:  Not only because of the Labour Day holiday at the first of this past week, but with the starting of school, for me this week started out shorter than most.  I didn’t make my first appearance in my office until Wednesday, and for me that is two whole days later than usual.  Now, it is important that you realize that I am not complaining, rather I want to speak of the lesson I appreciated learning about values.

Besides the unusual start time for my work week, I was also involved in other activities both work and non-work related (if anything one does in ministry is not work related!). Again, it was not the fact that these out-of-the-ordinary situations happened, rather it is the teaching about myself that I was able to garner from them.

Without going into detail about the specific events, I want to focus on the sense of what I have found as being of real value in my life.  Many would say that my work is my life – and in some sense that is true.  For years and decades I have put work first, even to the detriment of my family and myself. Yet, what this reveals to me is that I have really valued myself before others.  I have valued wanting others to think highly of me, and even more that I am seen as doing “right” in the eyes of God.  Part of me thinks that I have been trying to “win” forgiveness for not being good enough.

The poet, Muriel Rukseyer, has been quoted as saying, “The universe is made of stories and not atoms”. Of course, what I think she is talking about is that our stories about those things made up of atoms are what makes everything valuable.  The National Post (a Canadian media source, for my non-Canadian friends) reported on an experiment where seemingly frivolous objects were given to story writers and poets who were to write about their object.  In the end it was discovered that an object purchased for pennies became more valuable (worth more money) when written about.  This exercise seemingly made true Rukseyer’s comment about stories and atoms.

So it is that the stories that surround our lives can and do increase the value of them.  And, I believe, teaches us the real value of everything as well as teaching us to ask ourselves about the things in life that we really value.  Yet, it is the elements of life that we really value that do not come with a price, or do they?   Can we put a price on integrity? On courage? On wisdom?   I believe we can and we do.  C.S. Lewis is quoted saying “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.… Pilate was merciful till it became risky.”

When push comes to shove we have to decide on what is most important in our lives. In a previous Musings I mentioned the idea of “the prosperity gospel” that tells us that if we want to be prosperous we need to be more faithful.  But what do we mean as prosperous and are we willing to risk it to be compassion, because the two don’t often go together when we speak solely in terms of dollars and cents. Am I willing to lose or let go of everything that others might have the basics?  Am I willing to stand in the face of criticism and let my voice be heard?

Boy, I ask myself some tough questions.

 

What’s in a Sneeze?

Sunday Morning Musings:  I sneezed one day this past week and my grandson said: “Bless you.”  The words were no sooner out of his mouth when he began to explain to me why he had said them.  Knowing his wealth of knowledge about many things I was intrigued by his comments.  It seems as if he had read somewhere that some time ago when disease was more rampant than it is today, that sneezing was considered as an expulsion from the body of “evil spirits” that could cause illness and therefore one deserved to be blessed upon sneezing.

It all made sense to me but also got me thinking about being “blessed”.   Often times when someone sneezes we will put the word “God” at the beginning – God bless you.  Now I know that if I don’t sneeze it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t bless me, right?

As it turns out there has also been a great deal in the news over the past week or so about hurricane Harvey and how one of the mega-churches in Texas didn’t immediately open its doors to take in “victims” of the flooding.  The pastor (if I can use that term) is one of those who preaches a “prosperity gospel”.  I understand from what I have read that the idea of a prosperity gospel claims that if I focus on being financially healthy and pray in the correct way or use the right words or whatever, that God will bless me.

Of course, the opposite of this must mean that if I am not wealthy or something bad happens to me that I do not have God’s blessing.  Holding this principle of faith to be true, I have to think that bad weather is a way for the “almighty” to affect revenge on “the unfaithful”.  Sadly, there are those who have this kind of faith.   If this is the case one can easily understand Gandhi as having said:  ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’

Christianity is given a bad rap by those who hear and see (witness) the unloving and uncompassionate way that those who profess to be followers of the Christ live their lives.  Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, the only acceptable response to another’s need is with love.  There have been wonderful photos of people helping each other and even more importantly, colour and beliefs don’t seem to matter.

Over the coming weeks and years much will be written about open and closed doors, and open and closed hearts.  Regardless of one’s religious beliefs or even non-religious ones, the bottom line has little if anything to do with prosperity or not.  It has to do solely (soully?) with our desire to be loving and compassion or to choose to wait for someone to tell us what we should or should not do.

When we care for each other – our God, our neighbours, our enemies, as being important to us, we can and will make a difference.  We will know what it feels like to be blessed. Yes, we may use old phrases when one sneezes, but just as science has taught us why we may sneeze, we also have the capability (if not the will) to care for one another.  If we wait for God to bless us, we have missed the boat (again excuse the pun which is not intended).  God doesn’t hand out blessings (or curses) just because we might like it that way. The fact that we live in a world that may feel like it is going to hell in a hand basket is all our own doing and has nothing whatsoever to do with God, or whatever word we might use.