Walking on Thin Ice

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Who knew that a visit to the dentist office could trigger such intense grief?  You would think that after facilitating grief workshops that I would be better prepared. Of course, I do know that the one consistency about grief is that it is unpredictable. Why should I have been surprised that I found myself struggling to hold it together and unable to answer honestly the questions that were being directed to me?

Today would have been my father’s 85th birthday.  My day ended up being very full–of appointments, surprises, joy, and sorrow.  Grief is sometimes not so clear cut–it is layered and messy.  The goodness and the hardness, the beauty and harshness of life obscure the emotions and sorting out reality is challenging. At times, I walk on very thin ice as I maneuver the mine field of emotions of grieving and my own dying.

I received an early morning good news text from a friend about the arrival of her baby.  A stunning bouquet of spring flowers arrived mid-morning.  My three-month blood test was the first appointment.  Now I wait for results.  Afterwards, I went to pick out the marker for my gravesite.  Yesterday I paid for my plot. Each step brings me closer to being ready for death where I will be reunited with my father, my sister and so many other dear ones.  For the first time in a long time, I felt tremendous sadness about leaving this world, even if it meant I debated about whether I should spend the money on a new crown to replace an aging one. Who knew that would make me sad?

Several times during this last appointment, I found myself wanting to weep…because I miss my dad, because I know how my passing will take a toll on my loved ones, because I will miss this life which I have loved.  I knew that I could not bring myself to tell the wonderful, always-upbeat staff that I may not make it to my next six-month cleaning. I was vague about the work that needed to be done as the dentist said it was not a priority.  I felt like a fraud but I knew that I could not speak without crying so I avoided the issue.

I paid and the lovely receptionist went over the treatment plan with me.  She looked slightly puzzled by my ambivalence instead of my usual cheeriness. She looked away for a moment and I took a breath.  I am dying, I heard myself say, I am not even sure I will be here for the October appointment. She looked up and her hand went to her chest:  Oh my! My heart….before she looked away. I am sure she said more but I do not really remember except that I felt held. She handed me my receipts and I left. I felt emotions arise in me but I could not cry. I sat in my car and thought for a moment about my dad and my own situation.

This adventure has dark days on it.  As I end this day, one final text rolls in full of love and encouragement by someone who understands.  The goodness and beauty of others allowed me to keep standing today.  I am emotionally exhausted but I am not in the abyss. I think of my social worker who tells me to free fall and let go of control.  That would not have worked today.  I think instead I have to stand on the thin ice knowing that Jesus will catch me if I fall through.   He will grasp my wrist and pull me close to him until I can stand again on my own. For anyone who has ever gone through grief, you will recognize these emotions.  Perhaps it is because my time is short that I do not fear being in the dark space for too long. Tomorrow is another day, and God’s mercies are new every morning.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

How do you find your way in the darkness and sadness?

What graces have you received today that were a blessing?

Prayer

Papa-God, I know you and Papa are here today with me, holding me up and caring for my heart. May I move from thin ice to a solid foundation again soon.  Amen.

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Wounded Healers

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Ah, poor Thomas, late to the party and thus left out of rejoicing.  I will not believe, he asserts, even though all the others say that Jesus is risen and has returned. We are sometimes slow to catch on.  There is no proof that Thomas needed to put his finger in Christ’s wounds in the end but he does  believe when he encounters the Risen Christ.  I am sure he is never the same, as many of us who are healed of our disbelief and fears.

One of the lines from the latest movie version of A Wrinkle in Time that struck me was by the Persian poet Rumi as quoted by Mrs. Who:  The wound is the place where the light enters you.  I could not help but think of the Canadian poet-songwriter Leonard Cohen’s lyrics:  There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.  Our wounds are our greatest teachers in some ways if we allow them to be.  Christ offered his wounds to us as an example of how they can be transformed.

St. Ignatius was wounded in battle in Pamplona and brought back to his home of Loyola to recover.  His forced recuperation was the beginning of his conversion experience. His wound healed his soul.  The light permeated him as he lay in bed reading the lives of the saints. His dreams of being a knight dissipated as his faith caught fire.

Our wounds are scary–perhaps that is partially why Jesus greets his followers with peace be with you.  They have never experienced the Resurrected One and would naturally be frightened to see him alive but his wounds are part of his glorious identity now.  What if we were to accept our wounds as part of our glorious nature and allow them to transform us and those around us?

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Which wound does the light need to enter for you?

Do you believe that the wound you carry can transform you and others?

Prayer

Resurrected-Wounded-One, show us how to accept our wounds and use them to help heal ourselves and others.  May we always know that the light will transform the darkness. Amen.

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Why Weep?

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In John’s rendition of the Resurrection story today, Mary Magdalene stands weeping outside the tomb.  An angel in white asks why she is weeping.  She has lost her Lord twice–once in death by crucifixion and now his body is seemingly stolen.  Then Jesus appears and asks her why she is weeping.  Thinking he is the gardener, she asks if he can tell her where Jesus has been moved.  He calls her by name and she recognizes him. He tells her not to cling to him because he has not yet ascended.

Ah, this story of grief and joy! Do you know it?  Many of us experience similar tales though it is usually through some dream where our loved one appears or some symbol/sign in nature.  Letting go is one of the hardest tasks we endure in life–of our identities, our ideals, our dreams, our hopes, and our beloveds. In Jesus Calling last week, Sarah Young writes This is a time in your life when you must learn to let go: of loved ones, of possessions, of control.  Yes, I thought, this rings true for me.  I have let go of some of these and much more is yet to come.

At the Easter Vigil reception the other night, I had two conversations back-to-back just prior to heading home before midnight.  Both were with people I had known for a long time.  The first caught up on my health and told me I was looking good.  I became a little teary in our exchange.  Despite telling her I was fading, she said she looked forward to seeing me at the Vigil next year because it would not be the same without me. The next woman was a dear friend’s sister.  She had not known I was sick and I had been meaning to find the right time to tell her.  Oddly enough, we laughed so much as she learned the news.  Her sister had died of a rare form of cancer too. She teased me about trying to be special just like her sister. The difference in the reactions was priceless.  No clinging here, just acceptance.

Why do some of us weep at the news of an impending death while others are joyful?  There is no easy answer.  I am glad that I left the Vigil though after talking with my friend who made me laugh. Letting go makes us weep but if there is one lesson I have learned in these past three years it is that I am a stronger person who knows better what I can endure.  I have less patience for my whining about the unimportant parts of life.  I have learned that joy is different than being happy.  I am not happy that I am dying.  I am not happy that my life changes every few months as more of who I am is stripped away.  I am full of joy though at my core, even when I find myself weeping for what was. I am ready to go.  I am at peace with how I have chosen to live these past three years. The joy comes from knowing I am ascending to my heavenly home.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What is the most challenging thing you have had to let go of?

Why do you weep in the letting go?

Prayer

Life is filled with choices.  Creator, help me to chose joy over misery, love over hate, engagement over withdrawal.  Help me not to cling to earthly attachments but to keep my eyes on you.  Ame.

 

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The Quiet Tomb

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A couple of decades ago I was on a retreat team that hosted a Holy Triduum weekend.  The event ended up being one of the most profound experiences of my life.  We created a rich and powerful journey for the participants who ranged in age from infant to elderly.  Also on the team was my clown alter-ego, Violet, who greeted each guest with a large nail.  She ended up making several appearances throughout the retreat. We began with Holy Thursday and the washing of the feet.  Good Friday we added a Taize-style veneration of the cross where people could spend as much time as they wished with the prostrate wood, laying their head or hands on it.  Holy Saturday we created an empty tomb so that people could go inside the darkness and wait.  That is where I went so that Violet would be fully ready for her performance early the next morning.

I lay down upon the floor in the small room at the back of the chapel, allowing the darkness to envelope me.  I wanted to get in touch with what had happened in the day proceeding for Jesus so that when Violet did her liturgical dance, she would take all that knowledge with her.  I replayed in my head Maundy Thursday and Good Friday’s events, letting the words of the liturgy settle into my soul. I imagined Christ here in this space, throwing off the burial linens and laughing with great joy.  Death had no victory!  Yet it was not over.  He would descend into hell.  I tried to picture that moment but wrestled with images.  I was not yet trained in Ignatian contemplation.

I chose instead to settle in on how it felt for the disciples and Mary, each in their own tomb. I could feel their pain, disappointment, and disbelief.  Now what? I let those emotions run through me.  He is dead.  Good and dead, as a friend said to me in an early morning text today.  I have come back to those words a few times today….good…..sinless, compassionate, merciful, kind….not what was meant but what I keep hearing today.  Good…and dead.  Killed. Crucified. Pierced with a sword.  Good and dead.  Ain’t no way he is coming back.  Or at least that is what people thought.  Those poor disciples!  Their dreams shattered in a million pieces. Their master shamed and framed. He did not even put up a fight but seemed to go willingly.  What had happened?  This was not what they had envisioned.

In the quiet tomb decades ago, I realized fully how great the price he paid.  For me.  So that I do not end up in hell. So that I may join the Resurrected Christ in Heaven forever.  The next morning, as Violet slipped through the door,  the words Remember he is dead came.  I had to stop myself from sobbing. The music had begun and I could not stop to recompose myself.  On with the show, as they say.  The retreat house director’s toddler son’s voice could be heard over the music:  Daddy, clown sad. Clown sad.  I almost lost it again and yet as if I were not in my own body, I danced my way to the tomb and slipped inside.  When I came out again, I held high the empty linens, beaming with joy.

I have spent this Holy Saturday doing nothing but sleeping and resting in silence.  I have remembered what Christ is doing before tonight’s Easter Vigil, the high point of the Catholic Church.  I have recalled my experience in the tomb from that retreat.  I have thought about my own in-between experience of waiting for my resurrection.  I wait without knowing when that will be but grateful that I have a Saviour who has prepared the way for me.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Holy Saturday is often busy with Easter preparations.  How have you spent this day?

How do you envision Jesus spending this day?

What are you grieving this Eastertide?

Prayer

Waiting is never easy.  Grieving is near impossible.  Show us the way as someone who knows.  You waited in the garden.  You grieved for your friends. May we take up our cross with courage and walk.  Amen.

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Abandoned

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Abandoned….as I sat in the church after the altar was stripped that word echoed in my head.  The invitation from the priest had been to sit for a bit in the bareness of the sanctuary and consider how Christ felt after his disciples abandoned him.  Even the word felt heavy. His closest, most trusted people were afraid, bewildered, and confused at what happened in the garden.  They were expecting something different.

Earlier this week, I had a video chat with a friend who is mourning a significant loss in her life.  I told her that grief changes your address book–a quote from a book by Stephanie Ericsson.  We humans do not do well with accompanying people through the darkness as we struggle with our own disillusionment and despair. As I sat in the near empty church, I thought of the handful of people I feel abandoned by in my illness.  There are not many but there are some significant ones. I do not really know how to approach them again.  I have tried before without success.  As time is slipping away I feel sadness at the distance and silence.  And yes, as I sat there last night, the sense of abandonment seemed to resonate.

I flipped the coin and know many people feel abandoned by me too at this time.   I simply do not have the energy to call people like I used to.  I read all the messages I get but returning them seems onerous.  Where do I start when I am days behind? I keep trying to find a balance of needing to rest and wanting to be with my people.  I am not always successful.   I practice self-compassion when I miss birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and other significant celebrations. I wish people knew that in my heart I want to send a card, flowers, or a care package but cannot seem to pull it off anymore. I would love to send a thousand thank you cards for the kindnesses with which I am showered.  I ask forgiveness for the many times I have abandoned my usual rituals and you, as a friend, in these past three years. I can only assure you that once I get to heaven and have renewed energy that I will sing praises to God for you and your forbearance of my seemingly lack of gratitude and remembrance of our friendships.

Good Friday Christ was still abandoned by most of his followers, his inner circle.  Only the Marys stood by him in the Gospel reading today. I feel the cloud of witnesses sustaining me.  I recognize the awkwardness from those who are devastated by what is to come. In a chance encounter this week, I ran into someone whose life I changed through the power of Christ.  This person started to cry as she told me I had saved her life.  She was on a path of destruction but God wanted to use her and her story for glory and I was to be the instrument to draw her to the Trinity. This person did not hold back and I appreciated that.  The sacredness of our sharing was not without emotion but the honesty was beautiful. We were women standing at the foot of the cross together.

I pray we can all stand at the foot of the cross I am bearing together.  I hope my heart can be large enough for everyone.  My desire is to be inclusive, as much as I am able, while at the same time, trying to take care of myself.  We may be bewildered and confused together but I trust that God will make a straight path for us.  As I look to my model, Jesus, I know he did not hold it against anyone who abandoned him and that will be my goal too. I ask for the grace to do this.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Who do you feel abandoned by?

Who have you abandoned?

Prayer

Christ-Alone, how did you feel? Watching everyone scatter? Observing the betrayal of a word with a kiss and the silence of the protester who promised to be with you in the end?  The cock crows in all our lives.  Help us, Jesus, to break beyond our fears, trusting that you will be with us.  We are no different than any of the followers.  One moment we deny you and the next we stand at the foot of your cross. Do not let us be lukewarm any more. Let us claim you as the Christ and receive your mercy for our transgressions.  Amen.

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Day of Command

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Maundy Thursday begins the Triduum, the holiest celebration in the Catholic church.  Many people do not know this.  The Triduum begins with the footwashing where Jesus shows by example how we are to love one another, moves to the crucifixion where he shows us again how to love one another, and culminates with Easter and the resurrection when Love is revealed anew.  These are holy days and I have loved them since my young adult days. I am grateful to those who introduced me to the richness of these rituals and celebrations.

Maundy is from the Latin mandatum which means commandment.  Tonight in John’s Gospel as he gives them a humble example of service, Jesus will ask the disciples to love one another by doing the same. In the synoptic gospels he shares the last supper with them, breaking bread and drinking wine, foreshadowing the Eucharist.

How much do we love those around us? How do we show it?  I have been overwhelmed these past few years with expressions of love, manifesting the love of the Trinity.  I am not completely sure how to understand it or reconcile that I feel so unworthy sometimes.  God’s ways are not our ways though.  Turning the world on its head is something God is an expert at.  We are not able to predict so much because we do not look at the situation through the eyes of the Divine.

I watched the movie Paul yesterday and the ending was shocking to me.  (Spoiler Alert!)  After Paul’s beheading, he is welcomed joyfully into heaven by those he persecuted.  When I imagine those who will greet me, it is the ones I have loved and who have loved me.  In the film, the unexpected happens which is so like God.  What if the first people to welcome me to Heaven were those that I had hurt or ignored?  Tonight Jesus will invite us to a new way to love and asks us to do as he does. May we pay attention to his command.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Can you accept Jesus’ command to do as he did?

What can you do to show in humble service how to love people?

Prayer

Kneeling before us, you, Footwasher, invite us to love one another humbly, in service, and without ego.  You hold what is dirty and make it clean.  You accept the crooked, the worn, and the tired into your hands.  We may protest but you proceed. You show us a new way. May we learn to embrace such love both by extending it and receiving it.  Amen.

 

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Sharing Stories

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What happens when we take a risk and share something vulnerable with another person? Oftentimes a sacred encounter occurs.  I have experienced this sacredness many times over the decades. Whether the conversation happens one-on-one or in a small group. the honesty and beauty of the story is long remembered.

Even before I became sick, I had conversations with people that were intense and honest.  I was involved with ministries that required me to develop strong listening skills–healing ministry, prison ministry and spiritual direction.  I often walked away from those times of ministry sensing I had encountered the Divine. I have also been blessed with friends who open up to me and who receive my stories well.  Somewhere I learned to be vulnerable and because of that my circle of close friends is quite large.

I have continued to have conversations with the inmate at prison when I visit.  He is opening up lots.  When I first started the lifers would often let one another rotate among themselves to talk with me.  Those conversations were revealing and helped me to understand what some people went through in life.  The brokenness is sometimes hard to heal.  I learned not to judge harshly.  We never know what people have survived.  Some hold their stories close without ever sharing.  My observation is that creates a lack of trust and healing never really happens for these folks as fear holds them back from fully living.

Currently I am grateful for those who walk the path of reality with me.  There are no words sometimes.  Stories do not need to be made up of verbal speech. There can be tears and silence.  I find it hard to accept all the accolades that are bestowed upon me but I can also tell when my life choices do affect people profoundly.  These are the life-giving people who accompany me as I feel my energy ebbing away from my body.  They are the ones I want around me in my final days to give life as life leaves my body.  To make my end days sacred.  The ones who know me and I them because we have shared life journeys.

My agenda book is dotted with visitors.  I need to find a balance of my physical and social needs.  Messages, texts, cards, and emails from faraway people I will not see bring me joy.  Sometimes I initiate these and am blessed in receiving a response.  I value the remember when stories. Often a visit or piece of correspondence spark these for me.  It is as if I load up the VCR and watch an old movie.  A smile forms and I appreciate anew the relationship I have had with a particular person.

Some days I feel overwhelmed by the number of people who I want to see or who want to see me.  Despite it all I feel blessed to have not stayed safely in my shy, introverted space.  I have allowed myself to be vulnerable and I have gained rich treasures in relationships that sustain me now.  What a joy!

Peace,

Suzanne

 

 

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