Next week in this space: SUPER exciting news – an invitation from The Way of the River.
I’m so excited I’m doing a little dance in my chair!
I had the most delightful email exchange with one of our comrades, and a colleague of mine, Rev. Rosemarie Newberry. She set me to thinking about all kinds of things, all kinds of thoughts, a veritable rabbit hole of ideas. And then I learned that tomorrow is the anniversary of a dear friend’s father’s suicide. They were estranged, my friend and her father, so the grief is very complex. All of this leads me yet again to considering the path through grief.
Rev. Rosemarie challenged me with some new thinking. She talked about “moving with” rather than “letting go” as an idea for considering loss.
We often hear of letting go of anger. Letting go of bitterness. Even letting go of active grief – though that last one makes me a little angry, given that grief happens as it will.
But what if we talked instead of “moving with” these things? Companioning them as though we were on some kind of stroll with them through the garden of our lives. Sometimes, carrying them on our back as a heavy weight and sometimes just moving alongside of them, accompanying them and attending, so I can perceive what they have to teach me, now that they are gone from the way we used to be together.
I realized, of course I “move with” my ancestors and beloved Families of Blood, Choice, and Spirit; I even “move with” people who are still alive and yet are no longer in my life. My father comes back to me again and again in loving memory, in painful moments, in regret, in inevitable relationship that will continue at least as long as I am alive. My first piano teacher, Phyllis, has been with me, lo, these many years (35?) over and over again, long long after she died of cancer. I consider dancing to minuets in her living room, her covering my hands as I played, so that I would learn where the keys were by touch and muscle memory, and I think of the loose bun in which she wore her hair. I think of winning the first instrumental competition created in her name and the glow of pride I had, knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that she was with me, moving alongside me.
A friend and colleague wears the wedding ring of her late husband. My mother, on the other hand, gave her wedding ring to my wife. We all process things differently, I suppose.
I think what I want to offer today is a hybrid of these idea of moving with and letting go.
I still think letting go has value. Note my comment above about carrying memories as weights. Well, sometimes and in some places, perhaps we can just open our hands. Just open our hands and let loose whatever we are clutching onto. We cannot accompany them if we grab onto them, insisting that they remain in our lives as they were. If we want to continue to have some kind of relationship with those who are “gone” or if we want to continue to learn from them, we need to give them room to affect us, I think.
One of the ministers now serving the UU congregation in Victoria, BC, Rev. Shana Lyngood, once preached a sermon I still remember over fifteen years later. I don’t remember all the details, but I remember her talking about just letting our hands relax. Letting our arms relax. Gently placing our worries and our sadnesses on the ground, just for the moment, recognizing that we could pick them back up at any minute, that they’d still be there when we needed them again.
I don’t remember whether Rev. Shana preached about the environment in which we might do a thing, but I do have a clear sense, a vivid memory of what I saw in my mind’s eye that day.
I saw my arms full, my back bent, my shoulders weighed down by worry, concern, grief, and unhappy memories. I looked rather like the being on the heap in the movie Labyrinth, covered in all the things I thought I needed to hang onto. And as Rev. Shana spoke, I imagined, if that is the right word…I saw myself coming out of a dark wood into a bright meadow with the sun shining ahead of me, and a barely discernible path through the grasses and meadows to an unseen horizon. I stood there on the edge of the wood, wondering what to do. Could I open my hands, take off the pack of things I was carrying, just for a moment?
I did. At least, for the duration of that service I did. I lay them gently on the turf at the edge of the meadow. I put them down with care, knowing that every one of them was somehow priceless to me. I knew they’d return in their own time; I don’t want to forget my life, even the pain of it.
But I could trust that for a moment, I could just walk into the meadow, lie down and rest for a bit. And wait and see who came to me first, who took my hand, and pulled me back up into moving forward through my life. In 2008, it was Phyllis, and memories of the musician I had been. It was she, just slightly bent from her own cares and worries – after all, by the time I became one of her two last students, she was very sick with cancer – who reached down and encouraged me to get up as well and gracefully as I could, and continue along the way, conversing with her, perceiving, hearing in the eye of my heart, what she had to say to me.
If I believe that ancestor observance, worship, even, is important – and if you don’t know by now, I so do – then I need to find ways to be with my Families of Blood, Choice, and Spirit that aren’t just about letting go. My observance of their lives and the ways they have shaped me, as well as the ways I am shaping the lives of my Descendants – these are central practices of my faith. And surely, if I imagine those beings, those Ancestors and Descendants, as static, gone, here to be forgotten or ignored, than my “worship,” such as it would be, is a lie.
To worship is to hold up, to attend to, to mind the presence of what we hold most dear. And my Three Families are part of what I hold most dear. And so today, I rest in the meadow, feeling light and free, surrounded by all of them – as I write this line, I have gotten goosebumps all over my body – just waiting for their lessons, welcoming their gifts of thought, memory, and action.
I will pick up things from them, and eventually some of those things will feel burdensome, and I will have to practice letting some go again, But for now—thank you Rosemarie—I am simply moving toward the end of my own life, attending to the messages of those gone before and coming after.
Blessings on you and on your house –