My work in grief ministry has given me the opportunity to observe very personal, and at the same time, “universal” responses to loss. And into that mix, I bring my own unique experiences of loss. One thing that is painfully clear, losses know other losses. Maybe they’re all part of the same web, in the way that trees are interconnected under the grass in my backyard.
Our maple trees are being “cleaned up.” That translates into 1) cut out dead and dangerous branches off of five trees and 2) remove one of our trees and our neighbor’s tree. I sit here in the middle of our house, listening to the sounds of the tree’s “death,” I feel loss.
On Friday, May 29, 2020, that isn’t the only loss I’m experiencing. My soul vibrates with the losses that surround me: Three hundred and sixty thousand people have died from Covid-19 around the world. The city of Minneapolis is screaming with agony. Our black brothers are being hunted. Individuals and families are facing hunger, homelessness, illness, and deep despair. Our fear of dying has moved way past a literary question, into a haunting echo. Our, seemingly, collective lack of trust IN ANYTHING has infiltrated our very private conversation with trust. All of these movements in our collective consciousness are losses.
Our experiences of loss vibrate together like the caterpillar’s silks connecting their chrysalis homes. The trees , clamoring down around me, are pulling at my heartstrings, and as a result, I am vibrating with other losses in my life, all at varying frequencies.
This tree work will end. The yard will be cleaned up, the newly discovered tree rot will become a pat on the back. I will sit outside, ask the trees to forgive me, and enjoy a few extra rays from the Sun. At the same time, I will be holding my brothers and sisters, in their anguish, a little more closely to my heart. As I experienced our collective grief, I named their experiences. I do not return to the Land of Hope alone. I carry the hearts of those I’ve met in prayer with me.
People ask me, “What can I do? How can I, possibly make a difference?” Our sense of helplessness is a common response to loss and it is everywhere. I know what I have to do, I have to change my daily routine to include quiet time with the God of my understanding. I have to experiment with many other names for the Divine, to develop and deepen our love-relationship. I have to surrender into the Love that Knows No End, surrender everything, even if it’s just for that time of morning prayer. I have to trust that my singular effort to shine the light of Love in my life could somehow support you in your life. I have to proclaim that we, like the trees, share an interconnection.… my brother’s pain is my pain, my sisters joy, I share too. Our souls
“experience a coming together, a communion of hearts, knowing that, as philosopher William James puts it, ‘the trees also commingle their roots in the darkness underground, and the islands also hang together through the ocean’s bottom.’ ” *
Let us embrace the idea that in addition to collective grief, we also experience collective soul, collective hope. We have the capacity to share “good vibes,” the Spirit…. Love. Let us, together, bring our broken hearts into moments of connection. Let us rest with the God of our understanding and the abiding strength found in union. Let us say, “Yes!” to Hope. I close with words from Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault from Mystical Hope, to nourish your relationship with Hope as you, dear friends, nourish mine.
“Hope’s home is at the innermost point in us, and in all things. It is a quality of aliveness. It does not come at the end, as the feeling that results from a happy outcome. Rather, it lies at the beginning, as a pulse of truth that . . . will send us forth in hope, regardless of the physical circumstances of our lives. Hope fills us with the strength to stay present, to abide in the flow of the Mercy no matter what outer storms assail us. It is entered always and only through surrender; that is, through the willingness to let go of everything we are presently clinging to. And yet when we enter it, it enters us and fills us with its own life—a quiet strength beyond anything we have ever known.”
Peace to you this day,
*Grieving – The Sacred Art: Hope in the Land of Loss,” Skylight Paths/Turner Publishing, 2016