Posts Tagged ‘silence’

Today is Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, or whatever you want to call it. It is the day where we use up all the fat and whatnot before we enter the 40 days plus Sundays of Lent. A time of fasting, of almsgiving, of turning our attention inward.

This year I have challenged my congregation to keep one word at the forefront of Lent: mindfulness. So often we go about our days in autopilot and we forget about the joy and pleasure that surrounds us. We don’t listen when people are talking; instead we are formulating our response. Lent is a time of year when we need to slow down and look around.

I have challenged my congregation to deepen their relationship with God. In whatever that looks like for them; be it daily bible reading, meditation, prayer, sitting in silence. It’s about shutting out the sounds, embracing the silence and being at peace with the sacred.

Today I burned last years palm crosses for ashes and they are ready at the Church. The silver has been put away and the pottery brought out. We have veiled all the brass, veiled the crosses and now begin the time of contemplation, the vivid and shocking realisation that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

Lent is about turning yourself inside out and examining everything about yourself; even the dark and scary corners that you usually avoid. This is the place to sit in the stillness and anxiety; to allow yourself to look at failure and doubt, knowing that you rest in the arms of a God who loves you completely and honestly: always has, and always will.

I have decided to give up processed food and to embrace juicing every single day. For my spiritual discipline I am committed to spending 20 minutes of uninterrupted silence for meditation and/or prayer.

I encourage you to keep a holy Lent and to rest in the arms of the One who created you, who loves you, who sustains you.

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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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