Grief Never Ends But…

Sunday Morning Musings:  May 27 will mark my final Sunday worship in a regular “call” relationship within The United Church of Canada.  Of course, any ending brings with it a bitter/sweet experience.  On the other hand, an ending can also mean a new beginning.  Yet, regardless of the circumstances, any ending results in some sort of loss and any form of loss means there will be grief associated with it.

Rather than talk about my particular grief I want to muse about grief in general.    Mitchell’s Funeral Home offers a quote from Leonard Cohen that I find thought-provoking“The broken heart illuminates a path, and it is a different path for each broken heart” (Leonard Cohen).  As I ponder this quote it reinforces for me that grief is unique for us all.  Yet I also know that there many commonalities to our grieving.  Today, I want to focus on one such common element of grief.

It has been my experience over the years of journeying with those encountering grief to know that the broken heart mentioned by Cohen, does not really ever heal.  Grief was once described to me as being like working on a jigsaw puzzle and throwing the whole thing in the air but when it came down one piece was missing.

Because the heart never fully recovers and even though we must continue to go on with our lives and living, we can never be sure when we will once again feel the sorrow of our loss.  I, and many others, have described this idea of grief as the “wave effect”.  Quite some time ago I was invited to go fishing (when I lived in southern Nova Scotia).  We were in a 20 foot long dory doing some hand-lining.  It was a marvellous morning and the Atlantic Ocean was as smooth as glass.  Then without warning I looked behind me and noticed a wall of water approaching.  I could see nothing else but the huge swell that I was sure was going to smash into us.  A moment later, we were sitting atop that same swell and all seemed fine again.

When folks described events that happened to them, not only in the first couple of years but many years after the initial loss, it was common for them to mention the idea that they felt “overcome” by something connected to their loss.  Sometimes, the event that cause the moment of devastation was as simple as seeing a bird or hearing a song or even a word.  Long after the feeling that we are past the initial loss, we are still affected.  The saving grace is that over time we learn that it is okay to feel the grief and though it is never totally gone we will be back on top and life will go on.

It is important that we continue to learn about this thing we call grief.  There will always be uniqueness to it – and we will each walk a different path.  Yet, along that path there will be those experiences that others have also known.  What is most important for us to remember is that grief is a normal reaction to loss.  Grief continues as part of our lives but does not have to govern those lives.  We should also remember that even years afterward grief will still be present and that too is normal. Like most elements in life, our response is the issue.  It is vital that we recognize and acknowledge grief and let ourselves feel the loss and continue to grow.

Uncomplicating God

Sunday Morning Musings:   The Church has its own seasons and today begins the season called Pentecost.    This new season begins fifty days after Easter and commemorates the receiving of the Holy Spirit by Jesus’ first disciple (according to Luke`s writing in the Book of Acts).  Of course, in John`s gospel Jesus offered the Holy Spirit to those gathered on the evening of Easter, bringing once again into question the writing of and meaning of Scriptures.  Naturally, this would lead an inquisitive mind to ask about other elements of belief.

One of the most difficult to understand is that we called the Trinity.  Sometimes the Trinity is referred to as the idea of God being revealed as three entities, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Ghost – if we read the King James Version).    I have given up trying to make any explanation of the concept of The Trinity.  Arguments have taken place over the centuries, which have led to disagreements about the very nature of Jesus.  Was he human with divine qualities or fully divine just pretending to be human, and so on   It is no wonder that many folks today are just throwing up their hands with the whole idea of religion and its beliefs.

It was no surprise to me to see a cartoon this past week about two people discussing the concept of the Trinity.  The one said to the other: (not an exact quote) you seem to have no problem believing in black holes, yet you can`t get your head around believing in the Trinity.  Which once again raised the issue of science versus religion – or in other words: give me proof.

Besides a sense of wanting proof for everything, it dawned on me that maybe proof has little to do with a sense of disbelief in God.  Rather, what occurred to me was that our concern is not so much about needing a complete explanation as is the fact that we don`t want a complex God.  We want a God who is easy to understand.  Sadly, this often leads to wanting a God who can also be controlled by us.  Wasn`t it so much easier to have faith when we believed that God was like an old man with a beard, up in the sky watching over everything waiting for us to die so `he could send us either to heaven or hell?     Yes, those were the good old days.  Never mind the fact that such is what John Westerhoff referred to as an affilliative stage of spiritual development.  That is to say, a level where we connect with those who thing or believe as we do because we are told to do so – we don`t need to think for ourselves.

I have no difficulty with anyone believing what we choose to belief – we all do that.  But I do have concerns around those who do not do their own thinking, who want a much less complicated God.  I want a less complicated God, as well, but I don`t want the what has become for many the church`s god who offers conditional love that demands we fit into certain boxed.  A church sign I read recently spoke of the impartiality of God – yet, LGTBQ people are often excluded, as are blacks or others of different faith groups.  I once invited other churches to join in a prayer vigil but was told that because I chose to invite non-Christian groups they would not participate.

Let’s not complicate God or faith with strange beliefs.  God is love.  For me that is all that matters.

Your Important Now

Sunday Morning Musings:   I don’t know whether I am getting closer to retirement or something else, but the weeks and days seem to be filled with more to do.  The month of May (my last of official duties) just seems so busy.  I realize that other factors including my participation in the theatrical production of Sex Please We’re Sixty, and unfortunately personal health issues are at play.  I also realize that time has not changed in one way or the other – each minute is still the same as it was years ago.

I say all of this because it speaks again of the need for balance in one’s life.   By balance I mean, doing what needs to be done, setting priorities and including in those priorities time for one’s own growth which includes rest.  Over the years I have found giving myself permission to rest is often the most difficult of all.  If I am not doing something, it seems like I am not being useful or productive.

Feeling a sense of value is a struggle I believe is a fairly common short-coming among many today.  It certainly appears more readily as one approaches the end of one’s physical life.  For me (and others) I believe that this is our spiritual life (our spirit) encouraging us to pay attention to this very important part of who we are.  Yet for the most part many neglect their spiritual life, or confuse it with a religious life.  Too often we connect “going to church” or “keeping the Ten Commandments” with being spiritual or not.

Sadly, nothing could be further from the true.  Too many religious people are not spiritual at all.  And too often spiritual people are often cast aside because they are not religious enough.  A third group, those who have been able to meld their religious and spiritual lives together, can also be misunderstood.  Out of these misunderstandings divisions arise that don’t seem to ever find reconciliation.  As a result another group has been created known as “Spiritual but not Religious” and a whole new group is founded.

As long as we keep dividing there can never be the true oneness that is intended.  It is also important that oneness or unity does not mean the same as uniformity.  We can look different but to proclaim that my way is better than anyone else’s way will only continue to separate us.  This separation, I believe, was not the intention of creation.  Every element of this universe was created out of energy and lives within and around everyone and everything.  There is a legend of a group of people who would encircle a tree and shout at it until the tree’s spirit died and the tree fell.  I like that the idea behind this story is not that people are stronger than even trees, but that even the tree has a spirit.  Many religious groups seem to have forgotten or just chosen not to accept such a belief.

Balance in life means allowing the sacred to be part of our everyday living.  It also means recognizing the spirit’s presence in all that is done.  We don’t have to wait until we are near death to live spiritually.  Rather we need to recognize that what we do matters now.  We need to realize that our true value is found in our willingness to share freely our value (our love) with others.   When the things we say and do, help others in this life, your life has great meaning and purpose.  And isn’t that the most important element of life?

Obeying God

Sunday Morning Musings:  As I was perusing the Bible this week, I was struck once again by the number of laws that it contains.   Someone once commented that there were over 600 laws (thou shalts and thou shalt nots).  Thinking that to be lots and knowing that many were from what is called by many Christians as the “Old Testament”, I felt some relieve when told that many of those “laws” really didn’t apply. Yet, many were still in force and even news added over the centuries.  For the life me, I never understood why we always ate fish sticks on Friday. Yet, many households will not eat meat on Fridays, and so fish it is.  I don’t recall reading that in my Bible, but then again not all laws are necessarily biblical in their origin.

Not sure of its source, I read somewhere this week:  “Have you been baptized to have your sins washed away by the blood of Christ? If you haven’t, then you still have every sin that you have ever committed.  With your sins you can’t go to heaven to be with God when you die, but you will have to go to the other place where there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth forever and ever”. (Sorry the source is lost to me).  When I read it I was hoping that the writer had his/her (their) tongue firmly planted in one’s cheek.

No doubt the Bible can be interpreted to express the above.  But then the question of literalness raises its ugly head.  There have to be certain parts that one can only say that we don’t understand and therefore let’s call it mystery.  I enjoy mystery about God as much as anyone, but claiming literalness on one hand and mystery in the same breath, doesn’t do it for me.  We can’t take some things as literal and give less than literal meaning to that which we choose.

For example, we are told in many places throughout the Bible that we should/must obey God.  Not to obey God is to choose to turn away from God.  Sounds straight forward and leads to the idea of substitutionary atonement, i.e. Jesus died for our sins.  So I am left thinking that I really don’t have to obey God just believe in Jesus.

Of course, we can then begin to parse each and every word – and like former president Clinton we can ask what is meant by the word “is” and so on.   For me the first question I have to ask has to do with my understanding of God – if I am to obey God, what does this mean?

If I view God as the judge, or any other word that might personify and create a “being”, even a supernatural one, I believe that we still will miss the point.  What does it mean to do what God wants us to do?  If I say that God is love (as does the Bible, by the way), I obey love, I trust love in that I have to be loving even when I don’t feel like it, to those I don’t feel like loving as well as those I do love.

Obeying God is not a matter of keeping this law or that, of eating bacon or not, as Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians: without love I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.