Spiritual Practice: Blessing and Releasing

releasing

 

We’ve all had relationships that changed from healing and helpful to damaging and unhelpful. Many of us have had these kinds of relationships within our own families. Some of us have worked at jobs that, because of toxic cultures, were sucking the life from our souls. Some of us have attended churches that became so controlling we were dying on the vine.

How do you extricate yourself from this kind of damaging relationship, job or church? There are good ways and bad ways to make the exit.

You try and you try, but when you really need to leave, when that is what is best for your soul, it’s important to leave with as much peace as you can. I love the wisdom that says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)

And that is where Blessing and Releasing come in. Is there a way you can draw a firm and healthy boundary to separate yourself from a toxic person or environment and yet live in peace?

May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.

John O’DonohueTo Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

Here’s how to know if it’s time to Bless and Release:

  1. Take a piece of paper and draw a line vertically down the middle of the page. Label one side “Pros” and one side “Cons.” Then write honestly about the thing or person you are considering leaving. If the Con side is heavily weighted, it might be time to bless and release.
  2. Go to a mentor or spiritual adviser, someone who knows you well and yet can be objective. Ask for their honest opinion about leaving. If you have two or three folks who can help you with that kind of wisdom, get more than one opinion. This will help you know if it is time to bless and release.
  3. Pay attention to your body, mind and spirit. When this person calls, do you cringe? When it’s time for work, do you get a heavy feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach? Is your inner voice screaming at you to “get out?” Our body wisdom is important to listen to when deciding to bless and release.
  4. Sit comfortably in a chair. Let yourself believe that you have already made the decision to leave. Feel it in your body as if it has happened. How does it feel? Do the same exercise as if you have decided to stay. Compare and contrast. This is a good way to get in touch with your true feelings to know if it is time to bless and release.

Then, if it is time, picture the person, job or church cupped in your hands. Slowly open your hands and offer them to God. Pray a blessing over them and let them go. Follow through with whatever it takes to make this happen in your life: a change in relationship, quitting a job, leaving a church…

You might need to hold this person or place before God and let it go more than once! It is so important to bless and release, rather than break off and curse. If we break off relationships and curse those left behind, we become bitter and angry. It hurts only ourselves and leaves a trail of brokenness behind us. To bless and release will put you in a much healthier place as you move on to what is next. And what is next is sure to be a softer, wider and more spacious resting place for your soul.

Have you tried blessing and releasing? I’d love to hear how it went for you.

 

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A Very Big Day…Indeed

the retreat

Happy 2018!!

I’m taking a moment from my blog for some shameless self promotion! 

January 2nd marks a big day for me. The Paperback publication of The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening is finally available! Woot!

I’m very excited to hold this book in my hand.

About the Book

A week at a retreat becomes a transformational journey of faith renewal for a young Christian suffering a crisis of the soul in this poignant, illuminating, and spiritually wise teaching novel for fans of Jen Hatmaker, Shauna Niequist, and Brene Brown.

For her entire life, Amy considered her evangelical Christian upbringing the foundation of her life and beliefs. But when she stands up for her gay best friend, Amy is ostracized and banished from the church she loves—resulting in a crisis of the spirit that causes her to doubt her conservative upbringing as she enters her thirties. Seeing Amy’s pain, a caring friend raises the money to send her on a week-long retreat for contemplative activism, hoping that a few days of quiet reflection will help her rekindle her faith.

At the retreat, Amy meets two women her age-teachers who introduce her to new types of prayer—as well as Celeste, a seasoned church mentor who takes Amy under her wing and gently shows her new ways to practice her religious beliefs. In the course of just a few days, Amy finds an inspiring and more meaningful view of God.

How can you help?

1.You can post a link to the book on your social media. goo.gl/EpYxjD 

2. You can buy the book: for yourself, for a friend, or to send to a jail (hey, inmates need to read. If you do this you must have it sent directly to the jail’s address, they won’t take anything that’s been opened).

3. Then, when you read it, you can write a review for me. Reviews, unfortunately, are the way books sell these days. Don’t you look at reviews now when you buy something online? I do, so a review would be SUPER appreciated!!

my books

In other writing related news:

I’m getting all new covers for the Finding Home Series – and – the books will also be coming out in hardback! Librarians and Teachers tell me that paperbacks don’t last in schools so I’m hoping hardbacks will get that series into the hands of schools. It continues to be a popular series.

I had to change the covers because the little girls on the covers only had so many pictures I could buy. Also, I made the rookie mistake of using a title for the fourth book in the series that was inconsistent with the first three books. I used the name “Riley” instead of “Willow.” So the fourth book has been renamed Willow’s Ride, with a matching cover to tie it back in. And…the fifth book, Willow’s Roundup will be out soon! Whew!

In the meantime: I’ve got two fiction and one non-fiction books I’m shopping to publishers, so I’ll tell you more about those later.

Thank you for caring about my writing and helping me get the word out about my books. It means a great deal. I hope 2018 is a wonderful year for you and yours. If you’d like to be added to my quarterly book news list, email me at jacci at renoshalom dot com.

Jacci

 

Spiritual Practice: Keeping a Dream Journal

dreams

 

I’m in a car, heading to the retreat center with two friends, and our conversation topics include Dolly Parton, letting go of baggage, and having your breasts cut off. What on earth were we talking about? The dreams we had the night before. It was interesting to me that the day after I’d decided to write about the importance of dreams, we all had spiritually significant dreams to talk about! Especially my Dolly Parton dreaming friend, who never remembers her dreams.

Dream interpretation has gotten a bad rap over the years because it’s often been done poorly. But, done well, it can become a very beneficial spiritual practice. I tried it about seven years ago when someone mentioned it could be helpful. I found a book called, The Chocolate Covered Umbrella, a short book that looked at dreams from a Jungian perspective.

The book encourages you to get a notebook and start writing down your dreams, even fragments of dreams, as soon as you can in the morning. In fact, savoring them before you even get out of bed will help you remember them. Writing down these scraps of dreams will “prime the pump,” and you’ll begin to remember more and more of your dreams.

You don’t have to focus on the images, e.g. A snake= sex or flying=freedom, in fact, I would caution against that. But, after you right down the dream, you can ask yourself these questions.

  1. How did the dream make me feel? Different parts may have raised different feelings.
  2. Take each character in the dream and ask: if that character (person, dog, etc.) is a part of me, what is that part of me saying, wanting, needing?
  3. Is there an overall theme to the dream? This can be interesting over time if you begin to see the same theme emerging from several dreams; it may be important to listen to.
  4. Is there something the dream is leading me to do? Change? Release? Heal?

A word about nightmares. Nightmares are just as important as dreams, maybe even more so. If you have a nightmare, try this (when you are awake and safe). Picture the monster or scary part of the nightmare and have a conversation with it. Ask, “What are you trying to tell me?” “What do you need?”

dream journal

I did this dream journaling for a solid year and it was really helpful. I believe there is great Biblical evidence that God speaks to people through dreams. But, there are also pastrami dreams that you get from eating weird food, and there are also stress dreams. Stress dreams are the most common types of dreams and help you sort out your day-to-day life, the things on your mind when you go to bed. All types of dreams can be a fountain of wisdom and information from your unconscious, to help you learn and grow during your waking hours.

But, God dreams are the most significant! They might bring significant healing or give you wisdom about a difficult decision. Don’t worry about discerning the different kinds of dreams, just enjoy getting to know your unconscious self through your dreams. Pondering God dreams led me to write my first book series, The Birthright Series, in which I used dreams to lead a group of teens to help people in trouble.

Hold on to your dream journal though. I took mine to a conference and left it in the night stand at the hotel. When I called the Hotel to ask, they could not find it. That means somewhere out there someone is reading a journal thinking, “Wow, this person must have been on drugs!”

Give dream journaling a try and let me know what you discover. Have you tried it before? I’d love to know how it went for you.

 

*Don’t forget, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening is coming out in paperback. Get your copy now. It’s full of fun spiritual practices for you to try and has a great story line too!

Photo Credits: Dreams and Dream Journal

Spiritual Practice: Soul Care

Soul Care

I’m writing over at Me-At-Last today about Soul Care. This applies to all ages. Start here then head over!

Soul Care

What comes to mind when you think about caring for your soul? In ancient wisdom, the soul is made up of three distinct parts:

  • The Body,
  • The Mind, and
  • The Spirit.

Therefore, caring for the soul must also honor all three parts of who we are.

Wisdom of the Body

The body: We sometimes forget that our body is full of wisdom if we just take the time to listen. Try this: While sitting or lying quietly, let your mind scan your body. If there is any part that draws your attention, really focus on it. Then ask, “What do you need from me?” You’ll be surprised to hear that your body will be quick to tell you. It might just point out the obvious: “I need food, exercise or sex.” But, you might hear something more nuanced, “I need you to step out and take a risk,” “I need you to go see that dermatologist,” “I need more time to play.”

Click here to keep reading!

 

 

If you’re enjoying these blogs, you might also enjoy my new book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. 

Photo Credit

Spiritual Practice: Rule of Life

trellis

 

When I hear the word “rule” the rebel in me instantly reacts. Most of us can’t keep a New Year’s Resolution, let alone a list of rules to live by. But a Rule of Life is not about making a list of rules, it’s more about discovering what is important to you and building a trellis upon which those values might grow.

The Rule of Life came out of the desert mothers and fathers from the 3rd and 4th centuries. Interestingly, I recently did a Vision Board with some friends and found the process of working through the Rule of Life very similar. I once hired a business coach, (she’s amazing; here’s her link) and she also took me through a very similar process to find my goals for my business as an author. So, as with many spiritual practices, this wisdom from so long ago, has entered many different areas of our world today.

An important caution about creating a Rule of Life is the need to take your time. What you’re looking at are the different areas of your life: Your spirituality, your family, your work, your health, your friendships and how you give back to the world. When you find your core values in each area you can see everything else more clearly. It’s a clarification exercise. When you find out what is most important, you can make better decisions about what you want to keep and what you want to let go. Your Rule of Life can help you get back on track when you find yourself lost on a rabbit trail.

lonely-man-on-bench

Here are two different ways to start.

  1. Brainstorm a list of fifty values that are important to you. Then narrow the list to only ten. Try living with that list for a week or two, looking at it daily. You may have to drop or add values to your list until you come to your top ten most important priorities.
  2. Another way to begin includes a vision exercise. Sit comfortably in your chair and breathe. Picture yourself on a bench somewhere safe and comfortable. Have Jesus or a spiritual leader you respect sit next to you. Tell that other person what you value most and how you want to live faithfully in the world. When you are finished listen to what they might say about what is important. (This idea comes from www.SSJE.org)

Once you have clarified your top values for each area of your life take your own pulse in each area. Are you doing what you really value with your time, energy, resources? Be gentle and loving with yourself here. This is not a “beat yourself up” moment,  rather it’s a time to free yourself from unhelpful things and help you focus on the gold.

Recently I was walking under a big tree that was dropping its leaves for fall. The leaves were stunning, red, yellow, orange…and I thought, “What a beautiful waste. Why does something so lovely have to be discarded?” I knew the answer of course; the tree had to make way for new growth in the spring. Often, we have to give up good things to make room for better things. That’s what a Rule of Life can help you do.

Once you have refined your list of important values you can make a set of statements or goals to keep and place it somewhere visible. That list, is your Rule of Life. Of course, it can be revised over time as priorities change, but it’s essence will probably not change much.

Have you ever done a Rule of Life? I’d love to hear how it has helped you.

Photo Credit: Rose Trellis
Man on Bench

Try more spiritual practices here: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening

Spiritual Practice: Giving a Blessing

Mother and daughter
Words are powerful. We see it every day when someone uses the wrong word on social media and a career is over, or a relationship, or… The wrong words can inflame a nation to war, but the right words can move a people to peace.

Recently I ran into a familiar face during my yoga class. Afterwards I said, “You are so familiar, how I know you?”

She said that we had worked together in the school district over fifteen years ago. She remembered me because she had just moved to town from a different state and knew no one. Another woman and I hosted a party for her and made her feel very welcome.

The thing is, I remember none of that; I’m absolutely blank about the whole story. But kindness stays with us, and she remembered. Then she added, “You look fantastic! You look younger now than you did back then.” Well, that made my month! Every time after that, when I thought of her words, a smile lit up my face.

Bad words stay with us too. In fact they are stickier than the good ones. I can probably remember every mean thing ever said to me. Thankfully there weren’t too many, but you can see why bullied kids sometimes take their lives.

Last week I was in a medical office and the office staff greeted me with, “Unfortunately our computers are down so please be patient with us.” I took my clipboard to sit down with the rest of those waiting patiently when a man came in. He got visibly upset when he heard the computers were down. Somehow, it was as if the office workers had done it personally to him. He threw a fit and stomped out shouting that he “didn’t have time for this sort of bulls**t.” It was very disturbing.

I went on to my appointment and on my way out heard the office workers still discussing his behavior. I imagine that it set the tone for their whole day and they would probably be retelling the story for a while. That man needed a good dose of the book of Proverbs, which has a lot of say about our words including: “A gentle answer turns anger away. But mean words stir up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

Unfortunately, we live in a time when it is easy to say bad things about others. People from both sides of the political spectrum seem eager to hurl insults online that they would never say face-to-face. I have found myself in this mindset too and I am trying to replace this behavior with either silence or kindness.

I’ve noticed that when I get attacked online, if I either don’t engage or continue over and over to respond with kindness, it takes the fight out of people. I’m trying to live from what the New Testament book of James has to say about our words, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19b

blessing 2

So, how do we push against our baser instincts and bless others? Here are some ideas:

First, the best way to bless is not by speaking, but by listening. If a person feels listened to they will feel loved. If they are sharing something you don’t agree with, you might say, “wow,” or “hmm,” but you don’t need to volunteer your opinion unless asked. This builds trust and relationship for a more open conversation later on. Who doesn’t like to be listened to? And here’s a bonus: the elderly and the otherwise marginalized are RARELY listened to – what a gift you can give.

Second, sometimes we toss the word “blessing” around, as in “God bless you,” when someone sneezes, or “Blessings,” at the end of a letter. But, what does giving a blessing really mean? Well, if you’ve ever received one from someone you respect, you won’t soon forget it. Have you ever had one of your parents look you in the eye and say, “I’m proud of you,”? Or a mentor that touched your shoulder and said, “Good work,”? Or had someone pray a blessing over you that sent waves of peace and love flowing through you, suddenly you’re crying and you don’t know why? These are real blessings that come from the heart. It’s as if the person giving them is giving you a part of themselves. Even if we haven’t experienced receiving these kinds of blessings, we can still give them to others.

Third, another huge way to bless is to ask for and offer forgiveness. Recently, when my boss and I had a big disagreement, it took a few days to work it through as I strongly disagreed with a decision he made. But still, he is my boss and I trust him, so at the end of the conflict, when I had calmed down, I went up and offered him a hug, saying, “I understand why you did what you did and I’m not mad at you.” He was very grateful for those words of forgiveness. And, just so you don’t freak out, I work in a hospice – we hug.

So, here is our challenge. Let’s spend November sharing blessings. It is the month of gratefulness anyway and we can give others something to be grateful for. Listening, blessing and forgiving will help bring light and love into a desperately hurting world.

How have you received blessings? How have you given them? I’d love to hear your stories.

For more on spiritual practices check out my new book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening which is out in eBook and releasing in print January 2nd. Pre-order now! 

Photo Credit: Top Picture, Second Picture 

 

Spiritual Practice: Looking for God’s Light

light

All of the world’s major religions share the idea of divine light. In a Christian worldview the Bible is full of references to light. Jesus said, “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.” Matthew 5:16 The Message

The founder of the Quakers, George Fox spoke of, “reliance on the inward light” and how everyone should listen for the still small voice of God within them1.

St. Teresa of Avila, speaks of the soul as a crystal castle in which God dwells. It is described as, “In the seventh and innermost of which was the King of Glory, the greatest splendour, illuminating and beautifying them all.”2

Thomas Merton said, “We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and God is shining through all the time…in people and things and nature and events.”3

The problem is, we forget to look for this divine light in ourselves and in others. We get so busy that we forget to stop “doing” and start “being.” Finding the balance between those two ideas is the idea of living with a contemplative orientation and a life of compassionate action.

Thankfully our western culture is once again waking up to this need, as John Phillip Newell writes, “Regardless of our particular vocation, age, stage of life, marital status, and family commitments, we are invited to find balance — between being and doing, between inner awareness and outward engagement – that will lead to a fuller fruiting of our lives and relationships.”4

Where do we begin to regain our balance? This blog is committed to easily accessible spiritual practices to help with just that. Find one that speaks to you and start there. I often remind myself of the inner light on my way to work by praying “God that I will have your eyes today. That I will walk in your light and look for that of you in the others I meet today.” This gets my eyes off myself and prepares me to walk in peace and unity with others. Can you imagine the change in the world if we could stay in that orientation?

light 2

I’ll leave you with a meditation by John O’Donohue that someone shared with me yesterday. The first line alone is worthy of contemplation.

 

Awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.

Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.

Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.

Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to follow its path.

Let the flame of anger free you from all falsity.

May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame.

May anxiety never linger about you.

May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.

Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.

Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.

May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.

 

Let me know how you keep the balance of doing and being in your busy life.

Photo Credit, Top light, Bottom light

  1. Poverty in the United States: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, and Policy. ABC-CLIO. 2004. (pg. 615) 
  2. Interior Castle, St. Theresa of Avila (pg. 2)
  3. Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer, (pg. 84)
  4. John Phillip Newell, The Rebirthing of God, Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings. (60)
  5. John O’Donohue (author of To Bless the Space Between Us)

Interested in more help with Spiritual Practices? Check out my new novel, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening.

#MeToo – My story

 

me too

 

I am married to the most loving man. Last night, when he scanned page after page of Facebook and saw all the women saying, “Me Too,” adding their stories of abuse and rape to the swelling narrative, he wept. That is our hope for all men, for all people, because men have also been raped and abused. Our hope is for broken hearts, awareness that leads to change.

No one is telling their story because it is fun; it is not fun to share your humiliation, and trust me when I say it is humiliating.  People are telling their stories because the world needs to change. Our children and grandchildren need to grow up in a safer world than the one we did. We need a world where it’s okay to tell if someone hurts you and your friends, family, and those in power will stand with you and say, “I believe you. Let me help.”

No one ever did that for me, mostly because I didn’t tell. I didn’t tell because I grew up in a culture that believed women were created for men’s pleasure, like a nice brandy or a good cigar, and it was normal to be treated as such. Later, when I worked with college students, I began to tell my story as a rape survivor, because, as a therapist I heard over and over the stories of women who’d been molested as children and were still trying to make sense of it. I learned that the telling of the story is the key to healing and to empowerment for change.

But still when I saw the #metoo hashtag, I posted the obligatory “me too” and that was it. Why should I continue to rehash the past? But last night as I lay in bed, and all my own stories started to bubble up, I realized that this is not about me. It’s about my granddaughters and changing the world for them. So, it is with that hope that I add my voice to the voices of brave women and men who are speaking out. Ours are the voices of change.

– When I was 14, my friend and I were in San Francisco, waiting to cross a street when we were propositioned by a middle age man wearing a suit. We were mostly confused and raced away when the light changed.

– When I was sixteen I was driving down a mountain pass at night and a 16-wheeler kept flashing its lights at me. I thought there must be a problem with my car so I pulled over at the nearest pull-out leaving space for a quick exit and he pulled in next to me. I rolled down my window and he rolled down his. “Is there something wrong with my car?” I shouted.

“No,” he said.

“Then why were you flashing your lights at me?”

He just gave me a leering smile and raised his eyebrows. I took off.

– When I was 17 my much older boss raped me one night after work. He was a man I trusted and liked. I thought we were friends. At that time in history, rapists were said to be men that hid in bushes, and there was no understanding of friendship rape or date rape. So, I didn’t tell anyone for four years, because I thought it was my fault. I shouldn’t have stayed after work for that drink to celebrate a special occasion. The PTSD from that event has taken years to work though.

– When I was twenty-two I was jogging down the street when a car pulled over ahead of me. I thought maybe the guy had car trouble as he flagged me over. I stopped several feet away from his car at the passenger window to look in; he was masturbating.  By then I’d grown used to being treated this way. I was shaken but mostly felt dirty and angry as I jogged away.

I could never count the number of times someone grabbed my butt, or catcalled me or made lewd comments. In fact, I was recently working with a lucid 80-year-old man who tried to grab my butt as I walked by. When I told him it was inappropriate, he innocently asked, “Why?”

Why indeed sir, why indeed. This was the soup I was cooked in. This is why there is a #metoo hashtag. It’s time for a change. We need a society where girls and boys can be safe. Where men and women can respect, honor and stand up for one another. That is why I’m telling my story. It’s easy to be aghast the way girls and women are treated in other countries and I believe in fighting for them. But it is obvious that we also need to start at home.

If you want to tell your #metoo story here, I’d be honored to hear it. If you don’t, I understand and will hold you in my heart.

Spiritual Practice: Thin Places

beauty

 

Have you ever encountered a place where heaven/God felt particularly near? I think of these as “thin” places. For me, I feel that groves of giant redwood trees are thin places where the Holy feels practically near. I’ve had the same experience sitting on a rock while ocean waves crash around me. I’ve also felt it at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting I visited once — the definite sense that God was present.

That’s not to say that other places are “thick,” or that God is not always near; it’s just that there are times or places that seem to draw us into the presence of the Holy.

John Phillip Newell, in his book, “The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle For New Beginnings,” speaks of the Island of Iona, Scotland, “Iona and other sacred sites of pilgrimage, and healing throughout the world, are like sacraments or living icons through which we glimpse the Light that is present everywhere.”
Why is it important to seek out thin places? The world can be a hard place. As I write this, we have experienced one of the roughest summers I can remember: hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, mass shootings and fires have ravaged our world. If we are called to be people of light to a dark and hurting world, then how are we to replenish the light within us that gets drained away by this kind of rampant despair?

redwoods

I believe we need to go to places of light to do so. Many find these, “soul recharging stations,” in churches, in fellowship with friends, in prayer, and in compassionate action. I’d also like to encourage you to take a bit of a pilgrimage to a thin place, outside of your normal experience. Get out in nature, hug a tree, listen to the wind. The Creator would love to speak to you through creation. I promise it will recharge your soul battery!

Have you found places that are particularly “thin” for you?” I’d love to hear about them.

 

*If you enjoyed this blog please check out my new book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. It is available now for pre-order in paperback!

Spiritual Practice: Grieving

bathing the dying

 

Grieving is a spiritual practice? I believe it is and it’s one we often try to cut short, but it’s time to reevaluate grieving, it’s time to give it it’s due. I mean, even Jesus wept.

I’ve learned a lot about grief, personally and in my work as a hospice counselor. I guess if I had to summarize what I’ve learned about grief, I would say: White, non-Jewish Americans don’t have the practices in place to support a grieving process that allows the body, mind and spirit of a person to truly heal after a loss.

Grieving is a beautiful, natural outcome of loss, but we just don’t know how to make space for it in our culture. Let me give some examples of grief I’ve seen in white, non-Jewish families and then compare them to that of other cultures.

I attended a death yesterday of the husband/father of a beautiful family that was quite typical in this way. When the father died, the mother rushed everyone out of the room while the funeral home attendant loaded the body onto a gurney, covered him completely with a blanket and took him out to an awaiting van. It was all very quiet. Then the wife looked at me with a blank expression and asked, “What do we do now?”

Typically, in these kinds of families, what happens next is a flurry of activity. Family and friends are called, the house is cleaned, insurances companies are informed, death certificates are ordered, funeral arrangements made, and the bereft has to make a million small decisions. This process takes about a week, maybe two. Then the funeral comes, an hour of remembrance about the loved one, and that’s it. Now you are expected to go back to work or life — as if your world didn’t just explode.

In a Jewish death, people observe Shiva: the mirrors are covered and people gather to sit with you at your house for a week to offer condolences. Often the dead body is lovingly washed by family. A candle burns in the home and everyone wears a black torn ribbon to symbolize grief. A Jewish friend of mine said when a family experiences a loss, they can turn down social invitations for a year without any bad feelings; I think that is beautiful.

My hospice agency had a Latino family who lost a beloved sister, and when we went to pronounce the death, the house was packed full of friends and family, weeping, wailing and eating together. Death in the Latino community is a communal affair. No one grieves alone. This is true in many other cultures and I believe communal grieving is extremely helpful in allowing the natural process of grief to occur. Grief can receive its full expression and is not cut short.

We need some rituals for our grieving. In the Hebrew Scriptures, grieving is taken seriously. There are psalms called Psalms of Lament and an entire book called Lamentations. Sadly these two sets of scripture have been removed from many modern prayer books. It’s as if we are afraid to give expression to our grief and we choose instead to “suck it up and be strong.” In my opinion, this leads to prolonged/unresolved grief and unhealthy bodies that have to carry unexpressed grief.

broken instrument

Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?

 

How can we learn to grieve well?

  1. Realize that loss is a natural part of life. Not just death, but any kind of loss: loss of a job, loss of a friend, loss of a pet, loss of your health…
  2. Lament is another name for deep grief. Cultures that lament together heal together. As a culture, we have a lot of things we need to lament together to heal our nation: let’s start with the loss of our national unity, or our failure to end racism or systemic injustice. What would it be like to lament that together? Might that be a starting place for the healing of our nation?
  3. Make room for grief in your life and give yourself permission to grieve. Take naps, wear waterproof mascara, eat chocolate, lower your expectations…
  4. Invite people into your grief so that you don’t have to grieve alone. Friends don’t know what to say to a grieving person but they usually want to help. Let them in on how you’re doing, accept offers of food, chores, and company.
  5. Brainstorm, in advance how you want to respond to grief so that you have some ideas/structures in place to help. There are many grief groups, generally offered by hospitals and hospices; those are important, especially if you don’t have family or friends who understand what you are going through.
  6. Remember that everyone grieves differently. There is no rule book to follow and those unhelpful reminders by others to, “get on with it,” are just that: unhelpful. It’s okay to stand up for your right to grieve in your own way.

We need to create new rituals to allow for grief. What new ways can we allow ourselves to heal through the power of grief? Are there ways that we can facilitate healthy grieving through art, music, or dance? How can religious/spiritual organizations help create these spaces? What can you add to the discussion? I’d love to hear ideas about how we can help each other grieve more freely.

 

For more spiritual practices check out my newest book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening.

Photo Credit: Statute , Violin