Beyond Wood and Stone

Rev. Elisabeth's Cedar Park Blog site

Month: February 2018

Grief’s Seasons

We’ve had one crazy winter! Long cold snaps, freezing rain (always on a Sunday, what’s with that?!) and a huge pile of snow, that has blanketed the lively earth beneath for three months, and counting. Winter this year has  been long, unsettling, and unpredictable.   Like grief.  As most of you know, my father died just after Christmas.  He had lived a long life, and the type of illness he had was like falling leaves and creeping frost slowly taking abundance of living away from him.  In his way, he was ready for death.  Was I ready for it? In my head, yes… and for the first week or so, I was able to look at the landscape of his passing with some equanimity, knowing it was somehow ‘right.’  But like this winter, grief has moved into a longer season of unsettled unpredictability,  which has included not a little irritability on my part.  I’m startled by sudden downpours of tears (freezing rain?).  I’m amazed at how energy draining it is to put on every day the heavy mantle of loving and missing.  Then there’s that inevitable shovelling to clear a path through the snowbanks of estate and probate and funeral decisions.  Grief, it seems is a wintry season. Perhaps grief’s winter will thaw into a spring grieving season, I don’t yet know. Some of you will be my teachers I’m sure, having lived the seasons of grief before me.

One thing I do realize, however, is that like winter, I have no control over this grief season. I can’t make it “go away” any more than I can shift the earth on its axis to shorten the winter.  Grief, like winter, is to be lived as well as one can. It will take its own time.   As the days outside my window begin to lengthen, and the icicles shorten in the strengthening sun,  I’m learning to  hope, that grief’s harsh coldness, like snow, will yield , and Spring’s gentle hybrid holding of cold with light, warmth with darkness, will create a new season of  of grieving, one that is lighter, and  and hopeful for the growing season ahead.

No words…..

This is Lent’s Journal, week one.

Ash Wednesday.  Parkland, Florida. Mass shooting #18 in the US this year alone…. No words.

Thursday.  No words from Congress, or the President.  Oh, to be sure , there were promises of prayer, sympathy, thoughts…. but not the words we long to hear… “Every child deserves to grow up.”  or “Every child deserves to go to school without fear of automatic rifles, so we are going to do something.”  Not those words.

Friday .   I take time to read some background material on the Colten Boushie case in Saskatchewan. What a failure of justice! For this I have no words worth speaking. “Sorry” seems too little, and far too late.
No words. Just silence.  The silence of a sullen, lowering wilderness.  Stunned silence….

   “Listen in the silence…. listen in the noise…Listen for the sound of the Spirit’s voice…”

I hear the Spirit’s voice in that of  Justice Sinclair.

I hear the Spirit’s voice in that of school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez.

But me,  I have no words.

Ashes or Chocolate?

For the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day, which is provocation for some interesting spiritual reflection. One commentator opined, “If the choice is between love or guilt,I choose guilt every time!” (Score one for Ashes) I note in the news feeds this week that according to some rather stern RC bishops in Europe and N. America, the admonition is to  “celebrate your loved ones, but not with chocolate, steak or other food indulgences” (pun!)… Take your date to a fish fry, but not before getting your yearly dose of ashes.” (Score one for Guilt). For many Protestant churches that have a less rigorous Ash Wednesday observance,some have not offered ashes this year, saying, “No one will show up,” or, “We shouldn’t even ‘guilt’ people by offering a service, and making them choose.” (Score one for Chocolate).

Does it have to either or? Guilt or Love? Ashes or Chocolate?  Is there something about this calendrical confluence that can point beyond the polarity? Or take us deeper, beneath the apparent conflict, to enrich both days, when they separate again in years to come?

Every year on Valentine’s Day,  the curmudgeon in me wants to run a mile, away from what has, at its worst, become a superficial or guilt ridden homage to an unattainable romantic ideal barely recognizable as love.

For those who aren’t romantically attached, it’s a day of being excluded.
For those whose loves have died or moved on, it’s hard, sad, aching.
For those whose love is toughened by hardship, chocolates and roses seem insultingly vacuous.

All of a sudden, the option to choose to be marked with ashes – the sign of endings, mortality, –  suddenly seems a more fitting way to mark love than with a chocolate kiss.

The legend of S. Valentine is worth sharing dusting off (oh the puns keep coming) on this confluence of his day with the Ash Day. He was killed, so the story goes, executed for his love of God, his love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and his commitment to love and serve the poor. His love, for which he died wasn’t erotic love at all, but a wholehearted, pure-hearted, clean-hearted love for others, and especially  those least likely to be able to reciprocate with steak, roses, or chocolate,

“Create in me a clean heart” sang the psalmist.  (Ps 51). “Wash the ash from me, put my feet onto a path, that though hard, is paved with love. God’s love, our love for God, ourselves and others, especially those whose lives are marked more with ashes than our own.

As for me, today?  I’ll mark my forehead with ashes,  and I’ll take  with gratitude the chocolate heart that is offered,  and offer some myself. And I’ll remember that today – Valentine’s Day  or Ash Wednesday – is not about guilt, but about the sort of love we want to spend our lives living for, and the sort of love I want to die still living.






The Wisdom of noticing (a prayer for Isaiah 40:21-31)

Prayer for Gathering  

Through your prophet-poet,
you ask us if we’ve not seen,
not heard,
not known
that everything in creation
is your love-child.

We have known,
but we forget,
We have seen sun on snow,
waves on a beach;
we have witnessed
the plume of a volcano,
the rush of an avalanche,
but we ignore.
We stopped noticing.
We unlearned the wisdom of awe.
We are too busy finding ourselves
to take notice of you in the language of creation.
We are sorry.
Teach us again, Holy One,
to see, to hear, to listen, to notice,
and in so doing, to find our place again,
wise and humble, open to mystery,
within the vast community of your creation.

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