Sermon for June 23, 2019
Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult things we can experience. It lays us bare in a way few things can, often ripping through things we once thought could give us some peace and happiness. Grieving seems to be able to create a kind of void, deep within us, in a place rarely touched. Yet, grief is somehow also able to cut that same space. The way grief is able to create this empty hole, and then torture it, is something that catches most, if not all, unprepared.
In other times of trial, we often seek space, find time to just be, to recover and recharge. In grief, there is a unique process where our ability to use space is somehow thwarted. Activity doesn’t help, space doesn’t help. Religions, philosophy, promises, kind words- it all just falls into this void of grief. We can feel in great pain, and totally numb, seemingly at once. It seems a great paradox, and source of incredible pain, that this space, this void, can be both so empty, swallowing up so much, yet palpably occupy a core of who we are.
The primary reason grief seems immuned to nearly every conventional remedy is because, at its essence, it is the loss of the most elemental of things- being. We have lost a being that was part of our being. In fact, this merging of ‘beings’ is a worldly hint at our ultimate oneness with the divine itself. Our ability to merge with something apparently separate, love someone without reservation, accept the essence of who they are in a way that we can’t even fully see until we believe it has left, is one of the most clear clues to us that we are not just able to love, we ARE love. We exist in that place of being, not separate, never alone.
When we experience a communion with something, or someone, in this life, it is because we are realizing that connection of being, not creating it. It was already there and we are opening up to experiencing it. In the deepest sense, we are intimately connected in this way with everything. Most times, however, we stop at a few people and things we’ve connected to most profoundly and these form the core of our lives. Although unrealized fully, for most of us, this shared being can be realized with all things, yet the immensity of such an experience keeps most of us at arm’s length. Hence, our family, friends, our calling in life, our cherished experiences, all become the core things we share being with. We limit ourselves to these core connections because it feels more safe to us, more easily understood. It is a kind of accepted separateness, a degree of limitation we put on ourselves, until we are ready for more.
When we realize that the source of our grief is literally a loss of being itself, it makes total sense that no worldly thing can seem to touch it. Being can only cure being. Our deep sense of presence with someone we love is beyond any other worldly thing that comes after. The sense that being with that other person’s very presence is what we most need, no matter where, no matter how, shows us that it is truly their being we miss and not any other condition. If we could just feel that being with our being again.
Seeing this larger context is ultimately important. Being able to finally experience reprieve from that empty, all encompassing, pain is part of healing. However, within grieving for one of the core elements mentioned above, like a loved one, the larger context will seem empty. The larger picture will mean nothing. We will be consumed by the painful space, the lack of a being that was once with us, and a larger picture will mean almost nothing. However, it is important to plant this seed where the emptiness lives because, eventually, it will sprout right where the most pain, the most numbness, the most empty feeling lives. This is where those of us who surround the one grieving may serve, and where we may serve our own self while grieving.
Seeing that grief is often immuned to our conventional remedies, it’s often so difficult to know what to say, how to act, how to help someone in deep grief. Even when we are the ones grieving, we don’t know what to do. Nothing that worked in the past seems to be the same.
If we think again of that seed mentioned above, of the larger context, our ability to realize again that we are connected, that being is not lost, we can have a clue about how to heal. Envision this seed buried in the frozen soil of winter. It remains through seemingly lifeless, harsh conditions. When we seem to forget, in the dead of winter, that warmth and life could even come again, the seed remains, unaffected, waiting, knowing, perfect in its patient purpose.
Now think of yourself as the one grieving, or of someone who is trying to help the person grieving, as the spring sun. It is neither retiring and elusive as the fall sun, nor intense and forceful as the summer sun. Stepping back too far from one grieving may be likened to the fall sun. You give too much space, either to yourself or as a friend, and rather than being helpful, you are distant, unavailable, elusive. One who tries too hard, is too close, may be likened to the summer sun. Perhaps you are a loved one who wants so desperately to make the grieving person feel better. Maybe it is you yourself that pushes too fast to ‘get over grief’. Whatever the case, the summer sun is too close, too intense, and can destroy further that it seeks to help.
The spring sun is steady, present, almost to the point that we don’t notice what it is doing. It warms without burning, beckons without forcing. The spring sun is simply present, somehow perfect, without expectation, for each seed that sprouts in its own time. The spring sun’s being-ness is so pure that it is only it’s simple presence that the seed needs to emerge. Whether it is how you treat yourself while grieving, or how those around you try to help you, simply being with someone in grief is enough. Being available, present, silent, just being is what grieving of loss of being needs. It’s not what you can do or who you can be that is needed, but you’re very being itself, being with the other. The spring sun simply shines and the seed does what it naturally know how to do.
Whether we are in grief and trying to navigate our way through the process ourselves, or we are trying to be there for someone else in grief, see that most basic element, that lost connection to being. Remember that the seed is always there and that it’s lifeline is the connection, the beingness itself. See that there will be no substitute for the individual beingness that was lost, but that, when the time is right, the spring sun’s light illuminates all things, allowing them to return to their natural beingness, the divine itself, in their own time and way.