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Posts Tagged ‘presence’

We are now in the season of Advent…a time of anticipation and preparation in the Church.  I used to get really frustrated with the Christmas craziness that surrounded me and how Advent got trampled every single year.

While I still believe this to be true, I realise there really is little I can do about it.

When I was a child I would not allow (yes, would not “allow”) any Christmas decorations up until after my birthday at the end of November.  Whether this means I have grown up or not, I have started decorating the mantle for Winter.  Eventually it will have some additions for Christmas, and for Hanukkah, but for now, it is simply a reflection of outdoors.  I bought two rustic stockings because I like things to be balanced.  Eventually I will hang them.

I have a lovely galvanized bucket that I filled with cedar branches from one of the bushes outside.  It looks lovely.  I have ribbon, burlap and some sparkly stuff to put down.  First I have to clean the mirror.  Today I hung a small wreath on the front door.

I’m decoupaging candles for the Advent wreath and I wrote a new setting for this year.  I’m meeting with colleagues on Thursday to discuss details for the Community Lessons and Carols service.  It’s going to be a great deal of fun.

I need to put the finishing details on the Advent Quiet Day happening in a couple of weeks.

My Christmas cards are ready, I need to address and mail them.  My Christmas presents are purchased or supplies ready to be crafted.  Keeping things very simple this year.  I like simple.

I’ve been working on a website for the Church and while it’s a work in progress, things a coming together nicely.

So, while I’m in a place where it sometimes feels like I can’t finish any single thing, I’m in a place where things are getting finished.  My house right now is a mess because there are many things happening, but I know, eventually, they will all be finished and my house will be returned to order.

Trying to stress less and enjoy more.  To be more fully present without the necessity of a plan.  A wise friend is known to mock me when I ask “what’s the plan” and the wistful reply is “for that, you don’t need a plan…it will happen as it happens”.  Which yes, does drive me mental.  But I’m learning…and that’s something.

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Lately in the parish and community there have been several significant losses. It seems I’m spending more time with the grieving then any other group. What I’ve learned with time is that there is nothing useful to say to someone who is experiencing a great loss.

There are, however, many things that are NOT helpful when in crisis or grieving. This hit home with me after my dad died. Every one of these phrases was said to me. And they all made me angry. So here they are, in no particular order…

I know how you feel.
Been there, done that.
S/he’s in the arms of Jesus.
They’ve gone to a better place.
You’ll get over this.
You have to stay strong for your mother.
You must be used to this, given what you do for a living.
God now has a new angel in heaven.
OMG, this reminds me of when…
Chin up, s/he’s not in pain anymore.
I’m sorry for your loss.
What happened, exactly? How did s/he pass on?

Now, while these may be true sayings, they are NOT helpful when someone you love has died. So I’ve taken to letting congregations know that the phrase “I’m sorry” is perfectly acceptable, with nothing else added.

Yes, I am a religious person, but it brings me no comfort to be told that my agnostic father is in the arms of Jesus. He wouldn’t like it there. Too many people try to appropriate someone else’s grief by telling their story. With time that may be an appropriate way to share how you’re coping, but not at the funeral home or the church. The person who is mourning is a combination of exhausted, hyperactive, frightened, nervous, and numb. They are not there to comfort you. You’re supposed to comfort them.

Something we seem to be so frightened about is silence between two people. More and more often, when I’m sitting with a family I will deliberately not speak for several minutes, and let the silence wash over the room. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and there’s chatter about weather, sports, etc. But sometimes it’s comforting to be still in the silence, especially of the parishioner is finally sleeping.

Everyone reacts to death and illness differently. There is no right or wrong way to do it. There is only your way. I stress with families that if they feel the need to be angry, they should express that, especially if they are angry with God. As much as we are prepared mentally for a person to die, when it actually happens we realised just how UNprepared we are. It hurts like hell. And it will for a long time.

It’s not helpful to tell someone to “get over” their loss. The death of a loved one is not something that you ever “get over”. But with time, love and grace, you will get through it. You will be affected for the rest of your life. There will be times when you burst into tears because of a song on the radio. Or collapse in a fit of giggles because of a remembered phrase of joke. And both are absolutely okay.

At some point in the future I will post about stupid euphemisms people use for death. But not today.

Today is about the gift of silence. About the gift of presence. I remembered when my dad died, what I needed was someone to hold me and say nothing. My husband is awesome with that. Not a single word is exchanged, but I can feel the strength of his arms around me, hear the beating of his heart, and know, for this moment, I am safe.

True ministry, I’m discovering, comes from the heart, not from the mouth. There are times when it is appropriate and necessary to speak. But more often, especially when in crisis; it is more important to be wholly present with the person, and to save the words for another time.

With permission, take their hand, give them a hug, but say nothing. The strength you will feel from that experience will be life changing.

Don’t be afraid of silence. Don’t be afraid of anger, tears or laughter. Don’t be afraid of numbness. All are appropriate emotions when mourning.

So the next time you are at the funeral home, or greeting someone in the community who has sustained a significant loss, resist the urge to say “So, how are you?” because that’s not a fair question. A better statement is “I’m sorry.” And offer a hug or handshake, and be still in the silence.

I truly believe that God appears to us, not in the eloquent homilies, or the well prepared eulogies, but rather that God appears to us in the stillness and silence of simply being present.

“Preach the gospel, use words if necessary” is a misquote attributed to Francis of Assisi. While somewhat contentious, I believe it means that to be fully present with a person, you don’t need to say anything. Great comfort can come from silence.

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