THURSDAY – ACCEPTANCE
So far on our journey through grief we have looked at denial, anger, bargaining, deep sadness or depression and now we come to acceptance. In her understanding of the grief process this was Elizabeth Kubler -Ross’s final stage. It was only after her death that David Kessler, her co-author later in life recognised a sixth level which is finding meaning in the loss. So today we look at the importance of accepting the loss we have suffered as a result of the pandemic while recognising that even Jesus had to accept the loss that he was about to suffer for your sake and for mine.
It is important ot state from the outset that this is not about being okay with what has happened. This is not the case. How can any of us be ok with the tragic loss of life over this year, the jobs lost, the businesses that have gone under, the stress that business owners have felt trying to care for their workers yet cut costs to keep the business afloat. How can you be ok with not seeing loved ones for a year, eighteen months or in some cases even longer. We can never be OK about loss such as this but we can eventually come to terms with the loss that has occurred and recognise that the new reality is the permanent reality and accepting it. We may never like this new reality, but healing does not mean liking it means accepting so that you can slowly move into this new reality in a healthy manner.
Healing will look like remembering, recollecting and reorganising to fit in with the new reality surrounding us. We must try to live now in a new reality which includes the virus, the possibility of annual injections and having to be fluid in holiday plans because of reimposed travel restrictions as required due to new strains, new outbreaks and further deaths. In resisting this new norm, at first we might want to maintain life as it was before the pandemic but in time, through bits and pieces of acceptance however we will discover that we cannot maintain the past intact. It has forever changed and we must adjust. The more our identity was shaped by things that have changed, the more difficult this adjustment will be. As we heal however we will start to put the pieces back, maybe in a slightly different order and a peace will descend.
We see that in Holy Week as Jesus prayed in the garden. Listen to how the events unfolded according to Matthew:-
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter. 41 ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’
42 He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’
Here we see in stark relief the grief and sorrow of Jesus. Luke says he sweated blood such was the grief and intensity of his prayers. For the young boy Mark, who was the only witness to these events as the others slept, this must have been terrifying. You witness here the bargaining, if this be possible take this cup away, the deep sadness or depression heightened by his closest followers inability to stay awake and then finally acceptance as Jesus submits to his Father’s will with the words, “may your will be done.” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in describing one case study, involving a young man killed in a parking lot after being caught in the crossfire of some gang violence, says this, “acceptance is a process that we experience, not a final stage with an endpoint.” I think that this is important to recognise. It would be too easy to say, I have accepted what has happened, now let’s just get on with life as if nothing has happened. But that is not true acceptance, that is reverting back to stage 1 and denying the reality of the past year altogether.
For the father of the boy shot by a gang member, he thought he had reached the point of acceptance until the gang member convicted came up for parole five years later. The proceeding were brief and parole was denied. But the father was more struck by how quickly it happened and the tears of the convicted man’s father. For the first time he realised that there victims on both sides of the gun. He walked over and shook the man’s hand and as he did so his anger was replaced with curiosity. He wanted to know about the father and hat had led him to that place. Over the next couple of years they started to meet regularly and they formed an alliance to help gang members stop the violence and find their place in the world. They went from school to school telling their story. His acceptance was deeper than he ever could have imagined.
We too can eventually accept the new reality around us. It will not stop us harkening back to the way things were. Goodness we all know that folk in the church are good at that. Remember when the Sunday School was full, remember when nothing was open on a Sunday so there was nothing to detract from worship. We will still remember, it is not as if our minds will be wiped clean of memories. But we will slowly accept that things are different and we have to do things differently. Already there are green shoots of hope. There is willingness in the community council and at St. Mary’s monastery to continue the partnership that was formed to create “Loving Your Neighbour” in order to continue to discover the needs in our community and to minister to those needs. We are looking at grants to help us adapt and thrive as one grant is even called. There is even possibly a grant that we can access that would help us to employ a mental health and well-being nurse, part-time most probably, to help with the emotional trauma of this year.
Jesus managed, through intense prayer, to accept his new reality. We can too and you never know, just as we will find meaning to the loss of Jesus on Good Friday so we might find meaning in this time of grief and loss. But to hear about that you need to come back tomorrow. May God bless you.
Welcome to this meditation for the Wednesday of Holy Week. As we are processing our sense of loss and grief that we are experiencing during lockdown so we process the anticipatory grief that took place in what we call Holy Week all those centuries ago. So we have looked at denial, anger and bargaining. Today we move on from bargaining, which so often dwells in the past to be firmly in the present. In some ways this next stage is the most dangerous. After all how do you differentiate between clinical depression which needs professional help, counselling and even medication to the deep sadness and depression of loss? In our pastoral counselling course we were told that one particular lecture was the most important one of all. That if we learnt nothing else to keep this one lecture uppermost in our minds and that lecture was about knowing when you were out of your depth. Knowing when you needed to find a way to get the person referred for professional hep. Get it right and you could save someone’s life, get it wrong and the results could be calamitous. Nowhere is that more relevant then when helping a person through this stage of grief.
In this stage empty feelings present themselves and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined. The depression stage feels as if it will last forever. But this is not mental illness, this is merely a very important response to the deep loss you have experienced. In this stage we tend to withdraw from life, we are left in an intense fog of sadness, wondering if there is any point in going on alone or even at all. The alarm goes off, it is morning, but you really do not care. You do not want to face the day, you cannot even find a reason to get up. To get up out of bed might be just as well climbing Everest. You simply feel heavy. Everything seems empty and pointless.
You sense something of Jesus deep sadness at the reality around him in his concern over Jerusalem. Listen to his words now:
37 ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Here you see the intense love of Jesus for the people and for the City of God. It is seen again in the shortest verse of the Bible, Jesus wept. Jesus is weeping for what might have been, what could have been and what should have been. But knowing what lay ahead simply broke his heart. I would suggest that this was probably the most intense sadness Jesus felt during his earthly ministry until he experienced the separation from his Father on the cross.
If grief is a process of healing, as I suggest then this intense sadness which is depression is a part of this process, and a necessary part, unpleasant though it may be. When you realise what is happening you might try to snap yourself out of it and seek a way out. But as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross suggests, “ Seeking a way out of depression feels like going into a hurricane and sailing around the perimeter fearful that there is no exit door. She suggests that you see it as a visitor, albeit an unwelcome one. They are visiting whether you like it or not. Make a place for your guest. Invite your depression to pull up a chair with you in front of the fire and sit with it without looking for a way to escape. Allow the sadness and emptiness to cleanse you and help you explore the loss in its entirety. When you allow yourself to experience the depression in that way you will find that it will leave your life as soon as it has served its purpose in your loss. As you grow stronger, it might return from time to time, but then that is how grief works. As I said on Sunday, part of my sense of loss over this year has been the milestone events that we have not been able to be present to celebrate, James finishing at the Police Academy, his wedding, watching Thomas paly for his University and now we can add Thomas’ 21st. Sometimes I find myself simply looking at the photographs, picturing the event, imagining that I was there, putting myself in the picture. That is what helps me to get over the intense sadness of not being able to be there. You will I am sure be developing similar coping mechanisms as you process your own grief.
I think one of the things that we have to be careful about regarding this particular stage is that society has no room for depression. We seem to have a desire to stamp it out at every opportunity, hence all the medication that is available. It is important to differentiate between depression as a normal stage of grief and clinical depression which is a quite different animal. If we try to treat grief depression as clinical depression then we will never process our grief in a way that is healthy and lead to a sense of healing. Likewise if the grief depression becomes clinical depression then again we find ourselves in difficulty, hence the importance of that lecture in New College and the need ot be able to sense when something is getting out of control.
As difficult as it is to endure and also to monitor, depression has elements that are helpful in grief. It slows us down and allows us to really take stock of the loss. It helps us rebuild from the ground up clearing the deck for growth to occur and takes us down into the deep places of our soul that we would normally not explore.
It is this stage of grief that is taking its toll on our medical and emergency services at this time. Because people do not recognise the effects of lockdown and the pandemic as being like a loss, they do not understand the grief and the sense of deep sadness that is in their lives just now. That is why so many are asking for treatment for depression while others have gone beyond this point and are actually seeking an end of everything. We all have a part to play in reaching out to others, not to try and cheer them up, which could be worse thing to do, but to be with people. To let them know it is OK to be sad, but above all to let them know that they are not alone emotionally, personally and spiritually even if we cannot be present physically. Depression will come and go but eventually life does settle into some sort of a pattern, as it will in this pandemic and we come to accept the new reality that is before us. That acceptance however is our theme for tomorrow. Every blessing.
TUESDAY – BARGAINING
So far in trying to understand our feelings of grief after a year of the virus and lockdowns we have looked at denial and anger. Today we look at bargaining. This one is likely to happen even before a loss if the person is very unwell. An example I read was , please God, I will never be angry with my wife ever again if you will just help her recover. But it also happens after a loss, what if I devote my life to helping others and I can wake up and find this all to be a bad dream. We become lost in a maze of what ifs and if onlys. We want life returned to normal, we want our loved ones back, we want restoration.
This is the stage I hear a lot of people talking about. If only we had locked down sooner, if only we had closed our borders earlier. If only we had not allowed so much movement in the summer. What if I had been more diligent. Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. In our if onlys we find ourselves at fault and we think we could have acted differently. Found the tumour sooner, recognised the illness more quickly, not stretched the rules to go visit a relative.
There is an example of this in Holy Week. We read it in Matthew 21
Jesus curses a fig-tree
18 Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig-tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered.
20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. ‘How did the fig-tree wither so quickly?’ they asked.
21 Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig-tree, but also you can say to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.’
The story of the fig tree is a strange one. What if the tree had supplied fruit? Yet how could a tree have fruit in the spring? Is this a case of Jesus being really quite unreasonable? Well not really, for in the spring, if a fig tree is going to have fruit in the autumn, there are little pre-fruits, which are edible, if really hungry. If the tree was going to produce fruit, it would have had these to feed Jesus and to provide a sign of fruitfulness. If only, if only……
Howard insisted that he and his wife go for a walk each day. He was sure it would ward off alzheimers and generally give them a healthier life. Millie was getting tired of it. Surely a day off would not hurt? Couldn’t they go a little later that day. But no, this was Howard’s routine and they were going to stick to it. The trouble was on this day that Millie was being so reluctant, a stolen car came rushing round the corner and killed Millie and injured Howard. Howards did not know this at first. Please God, let Millie live, I’ll never make her do something she doesn’t wat to do again. I’ll be a better person, I’ll do more volunteering, please God just leet her live. Then once the news came through that she had died in the operating room, please God let all this be as dream. What if I hadn’t made her go. What if we had waited until later. What if I had not read that stupid article on the benefits of walking. Bargaining was his escape from the pain and a distraction from the reality of life without his wife. For six months denial, anger, particularly aimed at the car thieves and bargaining were a constant companion. He would move around the three of them almost like a dance, they were his constant companions until depression and eventually acceptance slowly took over. Bargaining can be an important reprieve from pain that occupies your grief, you never really believe the bargaining but it does give a little relief.
In other cases it helps the mind move from one state of loss to another. It helps to keep suffering at a distance when we have no emotional strength in ourselves. It allows us to believe that we can restore order to the chaos. Sometimes bargaining also helps us to move from the past to the future. We might bargain that we can see our loved ones in heaven, we might bargain for a respite from the illnesses that have beset our family, we might bargain that surviving family stay fit and healthy.
For us now, in our loss, in our grieving over the past year we might be bargaining hoping to see loved ones we have not seen in months. We might be bargaining that we can get away on a summer holiday, or that long awaited cruise. This is an important process so do not shy away from it because as we work through it we will eventually come to realise that this past year with all the pain, all the suffering and all the separation has gone and we cannot bring it back, we cannot give it another go and the reality will sink in and that will lead to depression, not clinical depression but an overwhelming sense of what we have lost. But that is for us to explore tomorrow.
God bless you all.
Welcome to our Holy week Monday meditation as we try to recognise the grieving process, we are all experiencing this year, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Yesterday for Palm Sunday we looked at the denial that can occur and, at the moment, some of you are experiencing that. However, once our minds get beyond denial, and as we start to come to terms with the losses we have experienced then the next stage of our grief begins to rear its head which is anger.
It is very appropriate to look at anger today when in the synoptic Gospels it is on the Monday of Holy Week that Jesus turns over the tables in the temple. It is a shocking scene in many ways. After all, this is the king of love, a meek and humble man who talks of peace, yet this scene is far from peaceful.
Jesus at the temple
12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘“My house will be called a house of prayer,”[e] but you are making it “a den of robbers.”[f]’
14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant.
16 ‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked him.
‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read,
‘“From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise”[g]?’
17 And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.
I think to understand Jesus anger you need to consider what the animals and temple tax was used for. They were used by the people in their worship, for sacrifices of atonement and to renew their relationship with the Father. Jesus in five days time is going to suffer an extremely painful death to offer this to all people, yet in these courts you had people exploiting peoples’ religious desires for their own ends, to become very wealthy. You can understand why Jesus felt as angry as he did. He might well have been thinking that if they were actually helping people draw near to the father then he might not have to undergo the suffering as he was about to experience.
Anger occurs in many levels during the grief process. Anger that you are left behind, that you could not do more for your loved one, that the medical fraternity did not do more. You might be angry that you did not see it coming. You might even feel angry at God feeling that through faith your loved one should have been healed. At the heart of the anger is pain, your pain. It is natural to feel deserted and abandoned in loss, but at the same time we live in a society that fears anger, which makes the bible story even more shocking to us than it would have been in Jesus day. You will get told your anger is misplaced, inappropriate or disproportionate. But it is their problem that they cannot handle your anger, your job in grief is to honour that anger by being angry. It is a strength and an anchor. We need to find healthy ways to express our anger so it is not violent, such as exercise, gardening or screaming into a pillow. You must not bottle it up inside but instead explore it for the more anger you allow yourself to feel, the more feelings you will find hidden underneath. It is the most immediate emotion but as you deal with it you will find others, mostly the pain of loss but that is all part of the process. You will come out the other end, it will subside so do not let anyone diminish the importance of you feeling angry. You have to go through this stage.
I believe our society will be very angry for a long time. As we come out of lockdown, do not be surprised at the civil unrest that will develop. It is well documented from past epidemics such as Ebola in Africa. You might become angry at people not following the masking rules in the store, or flouting travel restrictions. You might be angry at politicians for throwing millions if not billions at their friends for contracts that achieve nothing. It is right for us to feel angry, just as it was right for Jesus to be angry. It is part of the process we must recognise it and work through it along with every other stage including the next one of bargaining, but we will look at that tomorrow. God bless you.
One of the questions that rolls around in my head from time to time is the place of infant baptism in the church. I know all the arguments about the role of the Holy Spirit, the outward sign of an invisible grace and the other theological aspects, but in some ways what is concerning me more is the practical side of things. I am still getting to know my parish. I am still meeting new people on my visits. They have not been in the church for two years, so I have not seen them on a Sunday and I am only now getting to meet them in their home.
As a result I am having conversations such, “I have not been in the church since the kids were christened.” The “kids” are now at University!
I am tempted to always say to people in this situation, “so you promised to bring your children up in the life and worship of the church, and have not followed through in any respect. How can I then believe anything else you now say?”
But then is it all their fault? Has the church ever done as Jesus suggested and “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ In other words, has the church ever followed up with these people and actually taken the promises seriously themselves?
Also has the church done as they promised and supported and helped them in this by providing a well equipped, staffed and functional nursery for the infants when they were very small and then a well planned, and well executed curriculum of discipleship for their children as they grew up and developed?
I will never forget the bored voice and look in my son’s face as he came home on one occasion to tell me that he was doing Noah’s ark for the fourth time! Too often, I think, we are simply looking for a way to keep the kids quiet so that the adults can do church!
I have no easy answer for these problems which are of course compounded these days by the whole raft of children’s activities and sports that now take place on a Sunday which are so much more appealing to the young people.
I have no quick and easy solution for these dilemma. I have no magic wand that I can wave. However I do think that we need to start asking questions, we need to improve how we respond to these promises, as parents and as church members before it is too late, if indeed it is not already too late!
On Facebook this morning appeared a post which simply says, “Black Friday, because only in America do people trample each other for sales exactly one day after they have been thankful for what they already have.” Tomorrow is thanksgiving in America. A time when families get together to remember and give thanks for the year that is past. it is similar to our Harvest Thanksgiving in that it occurs after the harvest is gathered in but with the added nuance that if it had not been for the aboriginal Americans sharing their produce with the first immigrants then in all likelihood they would not have survived their first year in North America. So table decorations, rich in the colours of autumn, reds, oranges and browns, also feature pilgrims and Native Americans and the table is spread with pumpkin, turkey, pecans and all manner of delicious food.
Unlike Britain, Christmas decorations in the stores are held back until this week. It is all about Thanksgiving until Thursday, but then as midnight strikes the gloves are off, stores transformed into red, green and white fling open their doors and the worst excesses of consumerism rear their ugly heads. And so Black Friday was born, a time for huge sales in preparation for Christmas and commercialism of the worst kind.
Sadly now, because of global companies such as Amazon, Black Friday has migrated to the UK. However because we do not have Thanksgiving I have actually seen some shops advertise a week of Black Friday sales, as if that somehow makes sense!
It does make me ask the question, why is it that in our increasingly global village we seem to only adopt the worst excesses of each other’s cultures rather than the best? Is there a way that the church can provide sanctuary from the madness? We cannot just stop the world because we want to get off but can we echo Jesus words and say, I want to show you a better way…..
“I wear the ring.” That is the opening line of a book entitled “The Lords of Discipline,” written by Pat Conroy. It is a novel based on his experiences at The Citadel along with the experiences of others who attended similar colleges in the 1960’s such as The Virginia Military Institute, Annapolis, West Point and The Air Force Academy. The ring he refers to is the class ring worn by graduates of The Citadel who have not only survived the tough educational and physical requirements of the college but also adhered to the honour code which states that a Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or condone anyone who does. Thus if you wear the ring you have proved yourself mentally, physically and morally. Those who are adjudged to have broken the honour code are dismissed from the college. The honour court can even demand the ring back from graduates if, in their business life, they break the code.
However on this eve of All -Saints, when we remember those who have kept the faith over the centuries and transmitted it down for us to keep, there is another aspect to The Ring. A Citadel graduate can stipulate, in their will, that upon their death their ring be given back to the ring foundation, melted down and the gold then added to the new gold being used to create the next class rings. There were actually six rings added to this year’s class, including Pat Conroy’s, as he died this past year. Thus there is a continuity, a communion of cadets which mirrors the communion of the saints in the church.
To wear the ring is a great honour and a great responsibility As the Foundation President stated in his address at this year’s ceremony, you may take off the uniform, but you never take off the ring. When people see that ring on a person’s hand it means something, it carries weight for it says something about the person wearing it.
We may not wear a ring to distinguish ourselves as Christians, we may not have any visible signal at all that we are part of the great army of saints who have faithfully and patiently kept the faith down through the generations but people are still aware of who we are and we are still ambassadors for Christ, just as Citadel graduates are ambassadors for their college. So as we remember this week the saints who have kept the faith and handed it down through the generations, let us dedicate ourselves once more to be loyal ambassadors in our generation. We may not wear a ring, but we carry a cross.
Those of you who know me will understand why I had to buy a book titled, Being weird, because normal isn’t working. It is a great book by Craig Groeschel that points out that if the way of Jesus is the narrow way then maybe the church should not be just going with the crowds. That if we are to be salt and light we have to be a little different from the society around us so that we can add a little flavour and illuminate those places in society that are dark and dangerous. It is a difficult book to read in many ways. After all in the Western World it has long been assumed that being a good citizen and being a good Christian were interchangeable. To then read in a book that says that we should not just be going along with the crowd, that we are supposed to be an alternative community of peace, love and grace that maybe does not quite fit in with the norms of the world around us is actually quite difficult.
But do we have any choice? The Kingdom of God is still growing, thanks to the growth of the church in other parts of the world outstripping the loses in the first world but there is obviously something that is wrong here. We have become too comfortable. We have tried to fit in with society and with the current values it supports instead of the Biblical virtues that, unlike values, do not change. In an attempt to bolster church numbers we have made the church so shallow that there is no depth of commitment. We need to realise that it is OK to be a little weird, that we are not the in-crowd, that our lives in Jesus Christ will be different from the lives of non-believers around us. Being normal is quite clearly not working, the precipitous fall in membership over the last forty to fifty years shows us that. Maybe it is time to be a little weird, to say we should stick out because of our love, peace and grace. Let’s all be a little weird this week.
Back when I was a teenager I got the chance to be at the helm of a very large ship. It was an incredible experience that I will never forget. However part of the reason that I was on board the ship in the first place was that there had been a severe fire in the engine room some weeks before and it had knocked the ship’s schedule out and caused all sorts of confusion which meant that my father had to spend a day on board since he was a director of the company that owned the ship.
However as a result of the fire although one engine was still delivering full power the other was not. That meant that without constant steering corrections the ship would simply go round in circles. So all the time I was at the helm I was pushing against this force. After a while it was tiring and I was quite glad when someone else took over.
I think all of us have experienced this in some way in our own lives. When we try to change our inclinations, our habits, our way of doing things, in our own strength it is like battling against that turning force. We may succeed for a while, but sooner or later we tire and it becomes too much effort. How many of you have already given up your New Year’s resolution to lose weight and get fit at the gym and could not now find your gym membership card if your life depended on it? In order to change direction we have to change our mind and our heart. The Bible calls this repentance and it is a radical change of mind and direction that is a radical life change. God calls us to a radical change of mind and direction in life so that we will know his peace and his happiness, his blessedness for then you can steer a sure and straight course through this life.