Psalm 84 has been on my mind this week, especially this phrase:
As they go through the valley of Baca…
Baca is often translated as “the valley of weeping,” a place of adversity, dry, devoid of water and nourishment. Some point to an actual valley, Rephaim, that fits this description and that is close to Jerusalem.
Many of us have walked through our own valleys of weeping and adversity, whether literal or figurative. Mark Wiebe and Anne Brady Bloos certainly know this valley as they, together with their youngest son, Noah, reel from the sudden and shocking death of their 25 year old son, Quinn. You can read the obituary here: Quinn David Brady
Last week I met with the Wiebe family in their home. The family asked me to help them center their pain and shock, hopefully in a spirit of love. As I sat with them in the valley of weeping, these are some of the words I shared. I still hope and pray that that they will find their way within this valley toward the springs of life, but now is a time for sitting with them in the valley. Now is the time for acknowledging the pain and sitting in the void.
July 21, 2017
Dear Quinn’s beloved family and friends,
I brought some symbols from Rainbow. The large candle graces the front of the sanctuary every Sunday at Rainbow. Some people call it the Light of Love, some call it the Centering Light, some call it the God Light. We relate to and name light and the divine in different ways, and that is beautiful.
The little candles in the sand stand like little figures to me. They make me think of all the people surrounding you right now from near and far, holding you in the Light of Love.
What many people at Rainbow don’t know is that sometimes the wick of the large candle gets buried from all the wax build up, and sometimes during the middle of the service, the light goes out. When this happens, my thoughts usually drift to the sad, but true reality that sometimes life has a way of snuffing out potential. Life is blown out by disease, injury, sometimes unknown causes. When this happens, we are left struggling to relight the potential, to relight our lives in the face of loss, and to surrender to mystery.
To you who knew and loved Quinn the most, to you who Quinn knew and loved the most, your grief and pain is raw. This is not a time to say clichés or look for resolution or even answers. Rather, it is a time to hurt together. Tears are welcome and I would say they are holy, for they flow from love.
John O Donahue, the great poet writes this: “To acknowledge and cross a new threshold is always a challenge, especially when thresholds open suddenly in front of us, for which we had no preparation. This could be illness, suffering, or loss. Because we are so engaged with the world, we usually forget how fragile life can be and how vulnerable we always are. It takes only a couple of seconds for life to change irreversibly. Suddenly we stand on completely strange and shaky ground…..”
This is the shaky ground you stand on. And the challenge is to let grief be as it is–wild, raw, and untamed. And as best we can, be present to it and one another. For in honoring grief and sorrow, we honor the love that it stems from.
I was searching for poetry to share with you. Quinn, after all, loved poetry.
So often poets, especially of the religious variety, want to move quickly toward the transforming power of grief and sorrow, toward a resolution. But today isn’t a day for seeking full resolution.
The one poem I did want to share with you is called A Grief Ago, by Michael Shepherd. I shared it with a friend and she wrote this in response: “I have to admit that I am kind of pissed at grief right now. Yes, I have experienced its beauty, its transformational energy, its paralyzing heaviness and protection, but I so badly want to lock it up in a cupboard for a minute. I want to gather up everyone else’s grief and plant it somewhere, again if only for a minute. Bearing witness to so much pain, so much grief… There really is no hiding from it, no burial for it, no putting it up somewhere- this I know to be true, sigh.”
I think Michael Shepherd says something similar in this poem.
A grief ago
There is no grief
which time does not lessen
or soften’ –
so said Cicero, a man so often right;
a Stoic, those for whom
all life presents a lesson
to be learned from,
and then, to move on from..
But I wonder about all this:
is grief ever lessened or softened?
Is it not, perhaps, overlaid
in our so various ways?
For some, grief framed and falsified
to ease that grief;
For some, like hyacinths and crocus bulbs,
left in a dark cupboard in the autumn of our grief
to respond to time, and
become at last
gently, gently, the covers pulled
over the loving bed,
the true, the pure, the lovely painful grief,
the memory deep cherished,
gently, gently, folded
into the cupboards of the heart
there to be known, without the door disturbed
until the time – ‘a grief ago’ as Dylan wrote –
the cupboard opened only for love’s sake
those carefully folded memories
brought out and loved
and lived a while…
not grief, not grief…but
the pure memory of grief