Birthing Grief

My heart is heavy. Last week we travelled to see a dear friend for the last time. I never wanted that day to come. Yet there was no where else I could have been. No where else I wanted to be. Before Advent began we heard that there was nothing else medicine could do for her, it was the beginning of the end.

Waiting takes on a whole new meaning.

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Downside Damsels CPW 2013.

We prayed harder, after all when all else fails we fall on our knees.
Advent in the Northern hemisphere comes when the year is darkest. In all honesty it has never been darker.
Tine and time again I listen as people shared with me their stories of loss, and heartache. The news offers a continual window on to the pain in the world.

And although it does not add to my own sorrow, (my heart can not be heavier), it deepens the space that my grief inhabits.
I walk slower and speak quieter. I have lost the ability to put my grief down and get on with things. I have no room in my head for anything else.

Grief is as they say all encompassing.

The grief I feel, is not, of course just one grief, but all of the griefs I have faced but were terminated: when my grandmother died I was told not to cry, I had to be strong for my mother; the end of my marriage meant my very young children needed me more than ever; when my heart was secretly broken, no one knew, so how could I explain? Of course there are more, those moments of loss that I can not, even now write their name.
They all fed into the misconception of a hierarchy of grief where I was at the bottom. It was never my time.

This time though it will not be silenced. I can not stop it: it leeks from my eyes, drowns my thoughts, swamps my actions, engulfs my heart.

It is time, I can no longer hold this grief inside my body. Like pregnancy at some point there is no going back. All the grief I have been gestating for so long must be borne and given expression. I remember when I was pregnant suffering from maternal amnesia, and a restlessness. This process of grief is similar. Similar too is the not knowing, knowing that both processes leave an indelible mark upon my soul, that I will not be the same as I was before the journey began, but unaware of how that change will be manifest. But the greatest similarity is the presence of the Incarnate. At this thin place where my grief is palatable, tangible, is where Emmanuel becomes reality.

And because of the Incarnation I know that the process of birthing mmy grief is already underway. It is already but not yet – a fitting motif for Advent.

And like the Christmas glitter, that takes hold, refusing to be dislodged, (despite our attempts to clean it up), specks of joy and wonder break through where you least expect them…

…Spending time with our friend last week we laughed as well as cried.

…I have spent time reminiscing with other friends when they call to see how she is.

…She will be alive, against all odds, to attend her daughter’s wedding.

…She has allowed me to love her and to be loved by her.

…She has brought my grief to birth.

For all this, Jane, and so so much more, Thank you.

Advent: a time of joyful waiting and Holy longing.

A year on, but the truth remains…

Advent: a time of joyful waiting, of Holy longing.

So far, this season of Advent has brought into sharp focus those for whom the waiting is not joyful…

…for those waiting for the bombs to drop

…for those waiting to fly over combat zones

…for those waiting for asylum

…for those waiting for a border to open

…for those waiting for their next fix

…for those waiting for to be evicted

…for those waiting to be made redundant

…for those waiting to die

…for those waiting to hear from an estranged child

…for those waiting for a spouse to come home

…for those waiting, waiting.

Or for the longing that seems far from Holy…

…for those longing for someone to love

…for those longing to be loved

…for those longing for a lover’s touch

…for those longing to be a priority

…for those longing for the grief to pass

…for those longing with such longing.

Advent is full of waiting and longing. And it’s the longing that I find painful, I always find Hope such a cruel virtue.

Whatever we are waiting for (and it doesn’t matter if it is good or bad), hope leaves the door open ajar when sometimes it would be easier if it slammed shut. Never to be opened again.

But hope springs eternal, and particularly in Advent.

For in Advent we await the coming of the only One that can make sense of it all…

…The One who calls us to rest when the waiting wearies us

…The One who invites us to lean on when hope seems impossible

…The One who makes all longing Holy

…The One for whom we all long, all the days of our lives.

…The One who loves us.

But we’re not there yet. And I know there is always hope, it’s just sometimes hard to find it joyful. And as for the longing!

Even when we have seen the light, heard the ancient promise and claimed it as our own.

O God, come to our aid,

O Lord make haste to help us.

Christ the King

Surprisingly I love this Feast! It is surprising because I am a feminist and in no way a Royalist. It also goes against my Irish roots and my liberal tendencies.

But perhaps it is because of the line that ‘My Kingdom is not of this world’ that I can so easily buy into the image.

Christ as King is so counter to the world’s idea of Royalty that the sense of other, the rule breaker, the questioner, inside of me can rejoice.

I also have a deep seated need to belong, to be known, to be loved in my entirety, which it is not something to be shouted from the rooftops in today’s society: a society that prides itself on privacy and independence, and values individuality most highly.  This was brought in to sharp relief this week at work.

Over the last week my work has enabled me to connect with just under 90 families as the Sacramental preparation programmes all begin.

For many of these families an extra ‘activity'(which is often how catechesis is viewed) causes a dilemma: what to give up, how to make room in an already overcrowded schedule. Our families buy into the ‘having it all’ ideology. The parents’ want their children to ‘belong’ to all forms of clubs and groups. They gladly pay into the demands and constraints that this brings in belief that these activities will enable their children to be all they can be. Yet the preparation for the Sacraments of Communion and Confirmation, which lead to full initiation into being part of the family of God, do not hold the same weight in decision making. Many of these parents implicitly question the need for catechesis…why so many sessions? Do we have to go to all of them? How many can we miss? My child can’t do that evening, can you move the sessions?

The understanding that of all the activities we could sign our children up for, nothing is more essential than Catechesis is lost. Catechesis reminds us that it is through Christ that we become the fullness of who we are called to be. That we are nothing if we do not depend on the Lord, on the God who created us. We are to centre our life on Christ our King. And therein lies the rub.

Christ the King Tapestry

Naming Christ as my King means that I willingly everyday offer my life for Him. As His citizen I answer the call to work for His Kingdom: to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned. And when I fail to get it right being able to claim Christ as King means I can bow before the One who loves me. One, who as King does not force my allegiance through fear or coercion, but to whom I can give willingly my respect and reverence simply because of all that He has done for me, as a response to the way that I am loved, because I belong.

Catechesis does not yield worldly benefits which is difficult to justify to busy parents who want the best for their children. The catechist, modelling Jesus can not force attendance. Catechists desire the community to want to come closer to the Lord. But like Jesus, sometimes we have to watch as they walk away, as they are not ready to fully choose Christ, to allow Him to answer the need to belong to Him.

As catechists there is much work to be done because of course Christ is not MY King but the Universal King. We do not worship in isolation. As the Universal King, we are reminded that we are all children of God and there is nothing or no one that does not belong to Him. After the events of last week in Beirut, Kenya, Paris and Syria it is easy to encompass the victims into that idea.

Harder to see that those instigating the attacks are also loved by God, known to Him in their entirety, just as we are.

 

P.S.

I am listening to the radio as I write and the singer sings…

‘And I don’t want the world to see me,

Because I don’t think that they’d understand.

But when everything seems to be broken

I just want you to know wh0 I am’

Add to fade…

(Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls)

Living the Word
  • Where does Christ’s kingship make a difference to you this week?
  • What, for you, is the reason Jesus was handed over to Pilot?
  • Where does your life ‘testify to the truth’ this week?
For Children
  • Jesus says that His Kingdom is not of this world. What do you imagine His Kingdom to be like?
  • How might you show reverence to Christ your King this week?
For Families
  • When we pray the Our Father we pray for Christ’s Kingdom to become a reality on earth. What does that mean to you?
  • If you choose not to bow down before the Lord – what or who has your allegiance?
 

‘It is absolute fidelity to the principle defined in his own preaching that condemns Jesus. There is no other cause for his death than the love of one’s neighbour lived to the very end.’ (Rene Girard, Theologian)

Prayer

Our Father, Who art in heaven…

 

 

Surrendering to trust

A couple of years ago I was introduced to an idea where, rather than making new year resolutions, I spent time in prayer and waited for a word to come to me. This word would then be something to try to live with or by for the year.

This year the word that the Lord gave me was surrender. Great! I think I’d rather resolve to go to the gym each week.

Too frightened to think much about it, the idea of surrender has been working away in the background of my life. And like so many things it is only on reflection that we see where the Holy Spirit has been gently bringing us to a moment of insight.

That insight came this week, through a painful but (probably) necessary situation.

Proverbs extols me to ‘trust in the Lord and not on my own understanding’. I have been praying and desiring something and then not trusting in the Lord to answer it. I have continually got in the way. And the Lord who never forces His way upon us has waited patiently until I realised that what I thought was trust wasn’t. I was keeping my fingers crossed behind my back. I was giving the Lord a hand. After all the adage says, ‘The Lord helps those who help themselves’. Yet not trusting is painful. Time and time again the Lord waits for me in the pain, willing me to see that it doesn’t have to be this way, because the Trust to which I am being called requires Surrender.

And it is scary!

In the eyes of the world it is foolish, madness, almost inexplicable and totally without reason.

But isn’t that the point? The trust that we are invited to, called to enjoy is out of this world. It is a trust that is unlike anything we know. And that is why it is frightening. I have to let go, to open my hands in order to be able to take hold of what the Lord offers me. It is so big, so wonderful, that I will need both hands to accept it. I am simply not able to hold one hand behind my back, or to hold on to the little bit that I believe suffices because it is better than nothing.

I know that if I want the Lord to be at work in my life, to answer my prayer then I must, as Ignatian Spirituality tells me, be unattached by the outcome. Again I must prayer for His will not mine. What I have been praying for is that God align His will with mine. And trust, I realise requires me to do the opposite.

Trust in You

Of course for me realisation and action are miles apart and I walk a road that I seems to have no end.

I need to be like the Women in this week’s readings. Both gave everything they had, emptied themselves and waited on the Lord to replenish them. And He did. The Gospel story of the Widow’s mite is not simply one about greed or generosity, but of trust. The widow gave all she had, her life. She didn’t try to help, she held nothing back. She trusted that the Lord would not leave her destitute, which in those days was a distinct possibility.

My heart knows that the Lord will provide, that through such trust I will be given more than I can imagine.

So why does my head insist that I keep a little back for a rainy day? That I still keep my fingers crossed behind my back?

Let go and let God
Living the Word
  • How does it feel to know that the Lord observes you in all that you do this week?
  • Where are you tempted to hold back in your relationship with the Lord this week?
  • How might you come a little closer to the widow’s way of giving this week?
Living the Word for Children
  • How good are you at sharing? When is it difficult?
  • Draw 2 coins In one draw something that reminds you of something someone has done for you this week. In the other draw something that reminds you to do something for someone else.
Living the Word for Families
  • Talk about generosity – what does it mean to give all you have?
  • Why do we find that difficult?
  • How might your trust in God grow this week?

Praise, Purify, Pilgrimage the 3 states of the Church*.

The beginning of November brings the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls. They, of course follow the Celtic festival of Samhain or Hallowe’en.
Celebrating All Saint’s on November 1st was set by Pope Gregory III in the eighth century, with All Souls joining it in the Liturgical Calendar in the eleventh century. When I was younger it really bothered me that All Saints preceded All Souls, it was as though the majority of those who had died were an after thought, an add on. Another reading of this might be that celebrating these feasts this way around, we move from an elite to a realm that reminds those still living, of hope. Hope is one of the foundational pillars of our faith. Celebrating All Souls enables us to aspire to the great rewards spoken of in this Sunday’s Gospel We ‘wait in Joyful Hope’ to the day we too are called home to join those who Glorify God in Heaven.
When we are called Home by the One who calls us Beloved, the Church teaches that we spend time in Purgatory.
I like that.
Karl Rahner once referred to this state as the opportunity ‘never to wave goodbye to the person I might have become’. However hard I try to be Christ like here on earth, I fail. However long I live I will never be in a state of grace that prepares me to meet the One who loves me unconditionally, the One who loves me beyond measure, the One who gets me. I both need and want purgatory. I want to spend time without the stresses of earthly demands to prepare myself to be in the presence of the Presence. After all when we go on a date we spend time getting ready, we talk to our friends, and are filled with excitement and expectation. I view purgatory in the same way.
Yet before we are called Home we journey together, a pilgrim people, working to bring the Kingdom on earth. Espousing Gospel values we have a mission to work with the poor and those on the margins, to comfort those who mourn, to hunger and thirst for what is right, to be bring peace to be meek, to be merciful, to have a clean, uncluttered heart that desires God, desires to be called Home and enjoy the rewards that we are promised.
So this weekend, ‘rejoice and be glad’.
Celtic Cross
Living the Word
  • Where do you recognise yourself in the Beattitudes this week?
  • Where do you notice your blessings this week?
  • How does your life reflect the great rewards we are promised in Heaven?
Living the Word for Children
  • Take time this week finding out about the Saints. Do you have a favourite? Why is this Saint special to you.
Living the Word for Families
  • How might you ‘hunger and thirst for what is right’ this week?
  • In the Creed we profess that we believe in ‘the communion of Saints’. Talk about what does this mean to you. Choose a saint for your family.
  • Tomorrow is the feast of All Souls, If you have any memorial cards of family of friends who have died, (or write their names on pieces of paper and decorate them) put them where you will be reminded to pray for them over the coming week.
Find out more about the communion of Saints http://www.loyolapress.com/assets/fg_comp/pdf_124883.pdf
Prayer
Dear Lord,
We pray for all those who have died,
V. Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord.
R. And let perpetual light shine upon them.V. May they rest in peace.
R. Amen.V. May their soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
R. Amen.

Living the Word
  • Where do you recognise yourself in the Beattitudes this week?
  • Where do you notice your blessings this week?
  • How does your life reflect the great rewards we are promised in Heaven?
Living the Word for Children
  • Choose one of the Beattitudes and think about how you might live it this week?
  • Take time this week finding out about the Saints. Do you have a favourite? Why is this Saint special to you.
Living the Word for Families
  • How might you ‘hunger and thirst for what is right’ this week?
  • In the Creed we profess that we believe in ‘the communion of Saints’. Talk about what does this mean to you. Choose a saint for your family.
  • Tomorrow is the feast of All Souls, If you have any memorial cards of family of friends who have died, (or write their names on pieces of paper and decorate them) put them where you will be reminded to pray for them over the coming week.
Find out more about the communion of Saints http://www.loyolapress.com/assets/fg_comp/pdf_124883.pdf
Prayer
Dear Lord,
We pray for all those who have died,
V. Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord.
R. And let perpetual light shine upon them.V. May they rest in peace.
R. Amen.V. May their soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
R. Amen

* Lumen Gentium 49, Constitution on the Church Vatican II

Your will…

And again this week the Lord asks us what we would like Him to do for us.

So they called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Bartimaeus

If we are in any doubt that the Lord our God has only our bests interests at heart this should quell them. God does not look down from on high, deciding for us what is best and intervening in our lives. Rather God waits until we come and articulate our needs.

God waits.

God the Awesome, God the Ineffable, God the Immanent, God Who is and was and is to come, God the Uncreated Creator waits for us, waits for our approach, waits for us to realise our dependence. This God we can be sure will listen to us while we pour out our hearts, stand in all vulnerability and call on the Lord to come to our aid. For as we are told in the response to this week’s psalm ‘The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.’

Some friends and I have been praying the Novena to St Jude

Many of us know St Jude as the patron Saint of Hopeless cases.

Yet this novena was called St Jude the Saint who does the impossible and indeed I was invited to pray it for someone whose prayers are for the seemingly impossible. But she is not without hope and neither are our prayers so I rejoiced in this seemingly insignificant change of name.

Today is day 3 (Yes I know today is day 4!) and part of the prayer says

Pray for the impossible if it is God’s will.

Pray that I may have the grace to accept God’s holy will even if it is painful and difficult for me.Pray for the impossible if it is God’s will.

Pray that I may have the grace to accept God’s holy will even if it is painful and difficult for me.

I was struck by the connection of God’s will and Jesus asking us for the last 2 weeks what we want from Him. Of course you and I know that we pray for God’s will not ours, but somehow there was a newness to this knowledge when I was at prayer this morning. There was a deeper awareness that the Lord really wants to grant our prayers for us.

Praying for God’s will, not mine, makes the praying easier. I do not need to feel unworthy if my prayer is answered in a way that I do not want (for all prayer is answered) but I can accept that the lord knows best and only works from love.

I do not believe in an interventionist God. I do believe in a God who only wants the very best for us, that we are called to be the best we can be, and that when we pray to align our will with that of the One who loves us our prayers will be answered. This of course requires us to understand, to see, that we need to trust the Lord our God in all things. To have faith that the Lord knows us better than we know ourselves.

Which is perhaps why Jesus answers Bartimaeus’ prayer but not that of James and John!

Living the Word
  • Where will you cry out to the Lord this week?
  • And again Jesus asks ‘What do you want me to do for you?’. How do you answer Him this week?
  • What is the blindness in you that needs the ‘Master’s’ healing touch this week?
Living the Word for Children
  • If Jesus asked you what you would like Him to do for you, what would you say?
  • How will you follow the Lord this week?
Living the Word for Families
  • ‘…your faith has saved you’, how does knowing you are saved change the way you live this week?
Prayer
Master,
Son of David, have pity on us.
Help us to see more clearly and follow you more nearly this week.
Amen

Living the Word
  • Where will you cry out to the Lord this week?
  • And again Jesus asks ‘What do you want me to do for you?’. How do you answer Him this week?
  • What is the blindness in you that needs the ‘Master’s’ healing touch this week?
Living the Word for Children
  • If Jesus asked you what you would like Him to do for you, what would you say?
  • How will you follow the Lord this week?
Living the Word for Families
  • ‘…your faith has saved you’, how does knowing you are saved change the way you live this week?
Prayer
Teacher,
Son of David,
have pity on us.
Help us to see more clearly and follow you more nearly this week.
Amen