“There is an “ache” in autumn that is also within each one of us. This ache is the deep stillness of a late September morning when mist covers the land and the sound of geese going south fills the sky. There is a wordless yearning or a longing for something in the air, and it penetrates the human spirit. It is a tender, nostalgic desire to gather our treasures and hold them close because the ache tells us that someday those treasures will need to be left behind. Autumn speaks to this pain in our own spirits, that ache which we try so hard to ignore or deny or push aside, that little persistent reminder that death is always a part of life.” ~ Joyce Rupp, Praying Our Goodbyes
Whether we can name it or not, I believe each of us feels this existential ache that is brought on by the visible dying of the world around us, the shorter, darker days and the colder temperatures. Some might wish to run from this ache as it brings up the darker feelings of grief, loss, and loneliness. But the spiritual journey necessitates that we dive head first into the ache instead of running the other way. In fact, the Psalms and other scripture draw us into lament… to passionately express or feelings of grief or sorrow.
(For the full audio version, click here.)
There is a misnomer in Christianity, perhaps in all religions, that one can skip over the darker times and the darker feelings, especially the feelings of loss and grief, if one has enough faith. This is fueled by the clichés tossed at us when we’ve lost someone we love:
- Be happy that so-and-so is in a better place.
- God only takes the best.
- God needed so-and-so.
- It’s God’s will and we must simply accept it.
- God has a reason for this (Implying that God caused your suffering for a perfectly good reason which may be a mystery to you, but God has a bigger plan. This one in particular drives me crazy.)
In my opinion, these types of theological beliefs are spiritually abusive, and often drive people to deny or hide their feelings of pain, loss and grief. After all, what are you supposed to do with all your anger, fear and sadness, if God willed whatever happened? Clearly, you must be in the wrong for feeling it, and so people stuff it and pretend they’re fine.
In addition to that, our society and our families do a really good job of making us believe that showing our emotions is a display of weakness (unless, of course, you are shouting obscenities at a sporting event). By casual show of hands yesterday, it appeared that about two-thirds of us grew up in homes where crying was unacceptable, or where emotions simply weren’t shown. I didn’t have to be told not to cry when my mom died when I was seventeen. The stoic, be strong, don’t show your feelings model was the only one I’d ever seen. Oddly enough I couldn’t really identify that, nor did I did even realize it how unhealthy it was until much, much later.
So, how do we dive in when grief and loss are such uncomfortable places to be? Why would we even want to dive in when we feel empty, weepy, abandoned, exhausted, tied up in knots, scared, lonely, and more? And why doesn’t God just jump in and fix everything?
In case you hadn’t noticed, God isn’t in the habit of changing events for us. At some point we need to realize that we have responsibility over own lives and our own healing. God’s role is to give us strength and help us grow through our experiences.
There is a Japanese poet, Kenji Miyazawa, who gave us a very good image of dealing with pain when he said that we must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. He said embracing pain was like picking up a bundle of sticks for a fireplace. We necessarily embrace these sticks as we carry them, then we thrust them into the fire, getting rid of them, letting them go, but finally we are warmed and delighted by their gift to us in the form of flames and warmth and energy.
Imagine picking up your suffering and embracing it like that pile of sticks. Maybe it feels rough, heavy, awkward, and uncomfortable. It may even poke into you or scrape you up. But you are determined to carry that difficult load to the fireplace where it will serve you. The walk across the room is the journey with your pain. It is time to feel and time to be. You journey by crying, lamenting, going through old pictures, telling stories, lighting candles, listening to music, going out in the woods and screaming your anger out to the Divine. Each person’s process with their pain is different, but the goal is the same – to let it go.
Finally, we finish the journey, we have embraced the pain long enough to process it and we are ready to release it in a deliberate manner. Just as the sticks are thrust into the fireplace and transformed, so our pain is transformed into compassion, understanding of others, a renewed passion for life and living, and a deeper connection with Spirit. We are beginning to heal.
Madisyn Taylor reminds us, “It is when we get stuck in our pain that it becomes detrimental to our well-being and development. If you notice that you feel closed-off, resentful, heavy-hearted, or that you try very hard to avoid being hurt again, there may be a part of you that is still stuck in pain. Perhaps we began thinking that staying closed and unwilling to try new things would keep us safe from heartbreak, safe from rejection, and safe from failure. We may have even gotten so used to being in pain that the thought of being without it scares us. But, if we continue to hold onto it longer than necessary, we are expending a lot of energy that could instead be channeled into making our life experiences more positive.”
And Matthew Fox, in Original Blessing says, “Liberation begins at the point where pain is acknowledged and allowed to be pain. From there pain becomes shareable. And, where possible, resolvable.”
This is the perfect time of year to utter our true pain from the depths of our souls, that it might not fester, but find full expression and carry us down the path toward healing.
Love & Light,