Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Six Weeks: Suddenly I Have Things To Say

I have been thinking a lot about Psalm 88 in the context of preaching. I can see why it doesn't pop to the top of the list of homiletical text choices. The majority of sermons I've heard in my life have been of the exhortative variety, and it's difficult to imagine sending a congregaton off with the admonishment to walk in darkness.

But there's another way. It was when I first heard Barbara Brown Taylor's evocative sermons (at Chautauqua, where she has preached many times) that it dawned on me that I might be a preacher. How well I remember that stunned realization almost literally spreading through and warming my entire self: if that's what preaching can be, then maybe I am...?

It took me a very long time to get out of bed yesterday. I won't admit to how long. But once I had achieved that most monumental of tasks, which is exactly what it is during a time of profound grief, and had taken a shower, I called the director of my spiritual direction training program, who happened to be free, and drove over to the university to see her. We spent about an hour reflecting on our family's loss, on my situation, and on what I might do about returning to seminary and about returning to the spiritual direction program. Seminary is more than two hours away and my return is going to require some planning (although the administration and professors have been generously willing to go the extra mile in accomodating my needs). The spiritual direction program is right here, but this year entails a practicum and I am not about to attempt that at the moment. We concluded that I would go to this month's class next week and we would think about the practicum in a few months.

The director mentioned a difficult period in her own life and noted how grateful she had been at that time for work, for college and graduate classes to prepare and teach. "I know this loss is different," she said, "and I know that it will never not be with you, that it changes who you are, and that 'distraction' is not really the word that you are looking for." I responded by talking of one of the aspects of grief we all know about intellectually but still cannot overcome when we are personally affected: that everytime you do or think about something else, you feel that you have betrayed the person who is gone. "Somehow," I said, " if I am going to have any kind of a life again, I find to find a way to hold the two in balance: the life and work that go on, and the vast ocean of loss and sorrow that accompany them."

As I left, I thought about Pslam 88. The balance involves learning to live in a way in which ordinary tasks and events, laughter and frustrations, are intricately woven into the fabric of darkness. If I were to depict this balance in a quilt, it would be one in which patches in all shapes and shades of black were sewn together with threads of all colors, some of them even shiny and sparkly. A quilt on which you could stretch out on the grass in the sunshine, a quilt in which you could roll around and curl up in the darkness of a stormy day, a quilt which you could hang on the wall and gaze upon as you pray to embrace and live out both darkness and light.

Cynthia, whose husband died last spring,
wrote yesterday about those events of life from which everything else streams as "befores" and "afters." I wrote about those events once; I can't remember whether my words were here or in a sermon, but I know that I said that the things that we think constitute such markers -- the long-planned for graduations, weddings, and births -- tend not to be nearly as significant in terms of interior transformation as those which are unplanned, sudden, and cataclysmic. Those other, expected events - they change your status. The catastrophes change your very being.

Cynthia acknowledeges that it is too soon to know where this phase of life will take her. I commented that yet another, seldom-mentioned, aspect of loss is the coming to terms with the reality that we are now someone else, not by choice, and learning to be that person.

And so. Psalm 88. Those words of the psalmist -- full of trouble, overwhemed, engulfed -- those are the ones I am looking for. I am learning to live as a different person. Gingerly and tentatively. But I am learning.


Magdalene6127 said...

For me it was my husband telling me he was in love with another woman... my own personal 9/11, as I came to think of it. I don't want to compare loss to loss... but I resonate with the profound truth of being another person, not by choice, and learning how to be that person and both honor the loss and walk forward as a living being.

So much love coming your way.

Mrs. M said...

Thank you. I really appreciate your insight.

Cynthia said...

God, this is beautiful. You can command the language of grief, and I feel like I'm learning to speak all over again (still). There's so much here to comment on, but I think I'm going to send the rest in email.

giggles said...

I feel such hope in this much lucidity and....truth. Beautiful.

Carol said...

This post sounds as though a bit of light is finding its way back into your new life, GG. So happy to hear it.

Stushie said...

Thank you for today and pointing me to Psalm 88.

Quotidian Grace said...

I'm glad to read that you are taking a step forward by talking to your spiritual director and giving thanks that you have her to turn to.

"PS" (a.k.a. purple) said... you quilt? Perhaps that was an invitation "to create" something like/similar for yourself.

bean said...

so you're going to make me go look up psalm 88, eh? ok then. (())

Gannet Girl said...

It will be good for you, Bean. A Jewish girl should know where to send her friends when they are in despair.

Purple, no I don't quilt. That actually gave me a smile. I am pretty clutzy. But I have a good imagination.

And QG, that was the program director I was speaking with, not my own director. But you make me realize that I do have a goldmine of friends and companions on this journey.

RevDrKate said...

Thank you for continuing to write. The quilt metaphor captures so much.

Kathy said...

I keep trying to write a comment to you, but I have no ... words ... to express my sympathy or how grateful I am that you share your very personal insights to your grief here.

Know that you are in my prayers.

Kathryn J said...

I was hoping to find a moment to read Psalm 88 before I commented but for now I just want to say I'm here and I'm listening. Your writing on this is breathtaking.

I also think of you in moments of joy and feel bad about them. I know that's odd and twisted but I am thinking of you often - not always in the joy but also in the silence.

Lisa :-] said...

"...Suddenly I Have Things To Say..."

I counted on that when you wrote that you could not write publicly now.

You have such a fertile mind, a questing never stops. Even now, in your all-encompassing grief.

And I will always wait through your silences and read when you "have things to say."

Love you, my friend...

bean said...

ok, i did read it. but, as you probably know, i'm as secular as they come these days...having completely left organized religion behind. starting to love the quakers...the light within us.
anyway, i did understand that it addressed the depths of despair but it was hard for me to sidle up to the deeply religious content. i have a hard time joining groups. that said, my deepest human hopes are that you find some forward moving peace (eventually) and if someone is going to be a preacher, you'd be my choice.

Songbird said...

Yes, this is just right.
My grief is about an illness, a different kind of loss, but I resonate with what you are saying and thank you for putting it into words.

christine said...

Dear Search the Sea. I saw your comment today on my blog-truenorth
I am touched. I didn't recieve your least I am not sure if I have--please email again and say this is your post as I have gotten many emails lately since the newspaper article. Will be glad to connect. your blog.

Catherine + said...

I have found your blog through Choralgirl, Gannett. For me it was the loss of my mother over 15 years, years I spent taking care of her full time. She was a wonder. I was there as an unknown light shone in her eyes, the joy there.

That was almost five years ago. I am only now finding the me that has been lost for so long. I asked, Who am I now? I am no longer a caregiver. Slowly I have found purpose and though the climb out of grief is steep, there are foot and hand holds, we only need find them to keep ascending.