Today, I’m in Wilmette, IL. Where we gathered with family and friends to remember Robert Boehm, who died too young on September 13. I stand alongside Rabbi Andy Bossov. We cry and laugh and tell stories.
Reminded about the fragility and precariousness of life, I raise my voice to the sky, “Again?” (As with the synagogue shooting last week and the Tallahassee shooting this week, I come face to face with my paucity of words.)
I also confess to a kneejerk (in part a need to wear my pastor’s hat), required to explain or rationalize life’s interruptions and cruelties. Something about the need to provide answers. We want to make sense of it somehow.
But here’s the deal: It’s not what we expect from life, it’s what life expects from us. Even face to face with death or loss or sorrow. I assumed that being strong (and therefore safe) is about being impervious and invulnerable. Well, that is simply wrong.
It’s okay to hurt. Let me rephrase. We lose our humanity when we can’t hurt, when we can’t choose empathy.
So, what does it mean to honor and befriend life’s fragility and woundedness?
I told the group gathered today, the story about the young girl who returned home from school in tears. Her Mother worried, asked, “Sweetheart, what happened?”
“It was awful,” the girl told her Mother. “My best friend’s cat died. And she was very, very sad. And I don’t think I’m a good best friend, because I didn’t know the right words to say, to try to help her.”
“What did you do?” the mother asked.
“I just held her hand and cried with her all day.”
I have an idea. Let’s make attention our new currency.
Because no one of us is on the journey alone.
We can learn from Día de los Muertos (the first two days of November, what in our church we call All Saints and All Souls Day.)
Whereas Halloween is a night of mischief and scary stuff, Day of the Dead festivities unfold over two days in an explosion of color and life-affirming joy. Yes, the theme is death, but to demonstrate love and respect for deceased family members. In towns and cities throughout Mexico, revelers don funky makeup and costumes, hold parades and parties, sing and dance, and make offerings to lost loved ones. The rituals include an altar, or ofrenda, built in private homes and cemeteries. These aren’t altars for worshipping; rather, they’re meant to welcome spirits back to the realm of the living. As such, they’re loaded; with water to quench thirst after the long journey, favorite food, family photos, and a candle for each dead relative. If one of the spirits is a child, you might find small toys on the altar.
Above all, this is a feast for the senses. I’m reminded of that as I read to the group what Holly (Bob’s wife) wrote, “The deep quiet of early morning, listening to music with his entire body, mind and spirit, listening to the birds while sitting on the balcony, sipping tea, eating berries, ice cream, chocolate, lobster; a sip of craft beer, the diverse beauty of trees and flowers, listening to a thunderstorm and maybe more than anything–immersing himself in ideas, feelings, and experiences through reading. Touch was Bob’s primary love language and he melted into relaxation from even the most gentle touch.”
Thank you Holly. That’ll preach.
I was sick with a cold this past week, so spent time sleeping and recovering and irritated with my own vulnerability. But grateful for the pause. Someone once wrote about the Power of Pause. I’m thinking I may need to read it, and maybe even practice it. We shall see. Let’s just remember that it’s not about stopping for the sake of stopping. It is about what we allow ourselves to see, savor, honor and embrace.
Here’s the good news. When we pause, we are no longer afraid of the woundedness (it is not a threat to wholeness). And in embracing our wounds, they become (as Richard Rohr reminds us) sacred wounds. For grace is alive and well.
From these places—sacred wounds—we speak truth, we do not need to pretend or excuse. We offer hope, we extend hands and hearts of compassion and kindness. We see our connection with the lives of others around us, especially those broken or grieving or lost.
We see that they need a hand to hold. They need a voice. They need a sanctuary.
So, we stand in places of death and loss, and we find grace there.
My friends, let us not abdicate our role as places of sanctuary and benevolence and healing and hope. We spill the light.
When we require closure, or live defensive and fearful, we miss grace every time. Which is why I love stories about places where Grace shows up. Have you seen Les Choristes (The Chorus)? It is set in WWII. The boys are orphans (fated to Fond de l’Etang), and forgotten by society. It is a school for lost causes and the boys live up to their label. It is not surprising given an egotistical headmaster who believes that troubled boys need severity in discipline.
Mathieu: You see evil everywhere.
Chabert: Here? Yes.
(Believing the label given us is easy, and something every one of us is prone to do. For we see what we want to see, in others and in ourselves.)
Clement Mathieu is a composer who had given up on music. “Rock bottom,” he told himself.
The boys and their new prefect had no future. Until he found a way to reach them.
Underneath the label, locked inside is a treasure. For Mathieu, it is his love of music. And it became the key to unlock the boys’ hearts. They form a chorus (les choristes). “I had sworn never to touch my music again. Never say never,” Mathieu discovers. “Nothing is ever truly lost.”
In the music, each one of them hears the voice of Grace.
Because of grace, from a place of woundedness (and sorrow) is born hope and healing and reconciliation and mercy and kindness and generosity of spirit.
Our photo is from Sabbath Moment friend Brian McKernan, taken in Budapest this past week. It is a memorial to Jewish men and women (about 20,000) who (in 1944 – 1945) were taken to the shores of the Danube and told to remove their shoes. They were shot and their bodies were thrown into the river and swept away. This monument was placed in 2005 as a memorial.
This last week we lost Father Thomas Keating. Known for Centering Prayer, a method of silent prayer that allows one to rest in the presence of God. “Silence is God’s first language. Everything else is a poor translation,” he reminded us.
On Tuesday, we vote. Use your voice.
Quote for your week…
When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. Henri Nouwen
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Shall I scream into the ether?
Shall I wail against the walls of ignorance?
Shall I throw the pieces of my broken heart into the crowd?
Yes, I shall.
But know this:
I WILL NOT,
Stop my voice against silent acceptance.
Stop fighting for justice.
Stop staying silent.
Shalom! Shalom! Shalom.
SM friend Iris Brewster
Every minute someone leaves this world behind.
We are all in “the line” without knowing it.
We never know how many people are before us.
We can not move to the back of the line.
We can not step out of the line.
We can not avoid the line.
So while we wait in line –
Make moments count.
Make the time.
Make your gifts known.
Make a nobody feel like a somebody.
Make your voice heard.
Make the small things big.
Make someone smile.
Make the change.
Make sure to tell your people they are loved.
Make sure to have no regrets.
Make sure you are ready.
Do not be daunted
by the enormity
of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated
to complete the work,
but neither are you free
to abandon it.