I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing new sides of what it is to be human these days. Today in the Western Christian calendar is the Saturday of Holy Week, sometimes known as Silent Saturday. I’ve been reflecting on how much of what I’m noticing is grief, and how being with this grief can inform a deeper experience of hope, love and courage in the days to come.
For the short version, I offer these words from Traci Blackmon, Executive Minsiter of Justice and Witness with the United Church of Christ. For the long version and some links, read on.
Don’t rush Easter.
Sit here in between.
In the ambiguity of grief.
This can’t really be happening....can it?
Sit with his mother in the suffocating sorrow of life snatched from her first born.
Sit there as she labors to breathe as reality takes hold.
Sit with the disciples in that tenuous space between fear, doubt and rage. What does his execution mean? How dare them? Will they come for me next?
Visit with Judas in his desolation. How do we handle the consequences of our actions when “I’m sorry” cannot change things? Some of us are overwhelmed by remorse. Longing to be forgiven.
Sit with Peter as he faces the realities of his human frailty. Sometimes. We think we can...until we discover we cannot.
Walk with Thomas who simply can’t be still.
Violent death is reason to rage!!!
He was only 33!
Angry at his murderers. Angry at his deserters. Angry at unfaithful friends. Angry at a silent God.
God can handle our anger.
Sit with the wailing women...who refuse to let go.
The rituals of death help ease the pain.
What do we do when rituals are interrupted? Can we move forward without our goodbyes?
It is still Shabbat. (Jesus was Jewish, remember?)
In Judaism, Shabbat is a day of holy rest...but the horror of grief takes no rest. Sit in the agitation of needing to “do something” when there is nothing to do.
The urge is to rush to the tomb. Even if we don’t know why.
But don’t you do it. Not today.
The tomb is sealed.
The graveyard is closed.
Sit here. In the silence of the Sabbath.
In the darkness of grief.
In the shock of life taken too soon.
In the flooding memories of your time together.
In the sorrow of words left unsaid.
In the rage of state sanctioned murder.
In the shame of borrowed tombs.
In the isolation of abandonment.
In the fear of what’s next.
In. The. Struggle. To. Breathe.
Sit with parents who have sons who look like him.
Don’t you dare rush to Easter.
Sit right here...in the silence...and let grief do its work.
In the darkness of despair.
Hope will return.
But not yet.
Sit. And be changed.
Grief and stress can do strange bull-in-a-china-shop things in us tender creatures. Perhaps you’ve noticed grief and stress doing uncomfortable, mysterious new things in you over the last few weeks?
It’s different for everyone of course.
I’ve noticed powerful undulations in my energy levels which have nothing to do with how faithfully I went to bed, ate healthy meals or drank water (or coffee). I’m simultaneously more attentive to some things, and completely scattered in others. It’s as though something in me knows this is long term, and I must be regulated in order to persist; this is global, and I simply cannot be allowed to push myself to carry out too many regularly scheduled days in a row. Other times in my life due to illness or stress or grief I’ve had a ‘crashier’ version of this, but the rhythm of it in these days is new. Slow.
When it’s fatigue that has risen, it’s through all my soft tissue. It leaves me pacing slowly in a little circle trying to remember all my favourite restorative yoga, or choosing the simplest tasks from my lists and taking far too much time to address them because perhaps I really need a nap instead. Then when fatigue subsides it’s a dramatic, focused energy that has me mapping out everything I plan to do for the next three days, focusing unusually well in writing or back to back zoom meetings and phone calls, or rendering my kitchen sparkling clean after cooking an unusually lovely supper.
I consider myself very accepting of crying, and a willing participant in the ebb and flow of emotion. I find there to be something sacred, ‘righter than right’ about those moments when tears override whatever I had planned for the moment, but it’s fascinating what’s changed in the timing of tears. I may find no need to cry while catching up with a beloved friend, while holding the truths of our concern and despair. But then as I walk, or chop spinach or pick the dry leaves off a house plant, that’s when they arrive. The same is true of joy, it seems to come and go on a schedule that’s harder than usual for me to sense.
Then there’s the anger. A few weeks ago now, as the sun was setting, I took a walk. I live in Harewood. Our streets and sidewalks are ordinarily quite busy. Now everything is lessened, and slowed; quiet. Echoing through the streets was the ripping, thunderous streak of motorbikes, travelling much faster than usual. I was annoyed but ignoring this easily and enjoying the evening until eventually these three motorbikes and I ended up on the same street. In the seconds I was able to watch them, the minor annoyance instantly expanded to anger; an adrenaline- spiking anger.
What was the composition of this uncomfortable anger? Frustration that this was happening in an otherwise quiet moment. Disappointment that something as basic as speed limits can’t be respected right now, when we all have so much more to be concerned about. Self-righteousness because I’m making every effort not to impact the peace and safety of others which is obviously what you three people should be doing. Indignance that anyone would so casually obliterate the quiet which I intended to appreciate though it’s eery and fraught. Fear for the safety of the people scurrying through the intersection ahead.
No. THIS is not what these empty streets are for!
Any capacity for empathy or mutuality between me and these three people was crowded out. Suddenly, I had enemies! That was intense. That was unusual. That rather obviously had very little to do with the people who, in the moment, I believed, had caused my anger! So I am reminded of the practice of lament. Lament gives us an opportunity to live more fully in to our grief. To acknowledge its force in our lives and wash away everything around it, so we can see down to the love and hope and courage at its roots.
Much as I indulged for a moment, I don’t get to build my house in my hero-enemy story. I don’t get to claim a permanent superiority over people who exceed the speed limit in neighbourhoods on motorbikes because their enemy status for a few seconds in my head was never the point. The point was learning to live this moment with honesty and vulnerablity, so others who are seeing new sides of what it is to be human know they’re not alone, and we are mutually encouraged in finding peace even in these days. The point was lament and grief.
Grief that these streets are so quiet that it’s even possible for someone to go so fast and blow through stop signs.
Grief that about 1 minute later, those folks from the intersection and I awkwardly sorted out who would cross the street... I lament that right now, I’m a person who crosses the street when I see someone else coming! That’s not how I usually live in this neighbourhood and even as I practice physical distancing with dedication now, I long for the day we are done.
We have today. It’s not a silent day, as the Holy Week nickname suggests. But there is something different to how I hear the sounds of life in times like these.
And we have tomorrow. Easter Sunday. This year, in a different way than other years, it seems clear that our celebration as people of the Easter story is not complete. And the call to live as people of this story is not an easy one to hear. In Part Two a few days from now, we will revisit the Psalms of lament for some wisdom on finding our roots of love and hope an courage.
For now, as Traci Blackmon invites us, we sit. And be changed.
For an interview on CBC this week with Brene Brown on coping with these unusual times:
For An article by Scott Berinato titled ‘That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief’:
For a recording of Mary Oliver reading her exquisite poem Wild Geese aloud: