Minister’s Corner: Memorializing the Losses of 2019
There is nothing truer in life than the fact that we all need to process and move through the changes that inevitably come our way. Life brings wounds, pleasant surprises, expected and unexpected losses. Life is essentially a medley of how joys and concerns get woven together. Our fragile nature is nearly the subject of every novel, movie, and news story.”Life will hurt” is essentially the first sentence of Buddhism, and that pain is the reason we imagine heaven is free from it. Religion largely exists to get us through these times, at its most functional to guide us through them.
To begin again anew in the New Year with a fresh heart we need to incorporate these challenges and transitions into our lives in a healthy way. On December 22nd we have a Sunday service I have titled “Memorial for the New Year.” This is essentially one act of reflection on and participating in that process. I built this service as an act of respect for the multi-layered pattern of mourning the dead I would hear my Dad talk about at the wakes he would attend as a boy, and the liberating raucousness that is the conclusion to a New Orleans style funeral.
My father used to tell of wakes that were held in people’s homes. During the wake, friends and family would sit up all night with the coffin, not only singing, but remembering and sharing stories together. Sharing stories is healing and helps us deal with grief, is also so often the centerpiece of Unitarian Universalist memorial services. In recalling and sharing stories, the burden of grief and memory can become not solely an individual concern, but something dealt with in community.
Although nothing about grieving is universally true to each person integrating a hard loss or new suffering into their lives, in general keeping pain inside is isolating; sharing it is both liberating and healing. There is no spiritual shortcut through grief and pain. The best way past sadness is to work through it, digest it. Most anything else is likely a false message of denial, repression, or a short-cut. One of the best ways we know of as human beings to do this difficult work, to honor the pain in some ritualized way is in religious community.
Even if to be healthy there is no way to avoid finding some way to grieve the changes that challenge brings, there is also no one way, or right way to grieve and move on. There is no polite way to be appropriately sad and embrace life. However, the Irish and the residents of New Orleans “Nawlins” have a few interesting traditions as we head to the close of the year, and I wanted to lift them up as possible guides.
On December 22nd after the kids have gone, all of us are old enough to have seen the finite fragile nature of our existence up close will have a chance to honor and share the hardest parts of this past year in a ritual where we burn notes written on the portion of the 2019 calendar that we want to mark and remember as challenging.
So, in that same spirit we will give ourselves a chance to let go of all the sadness we spoke of and wrote about in last year, and “cut ourselves loose” as they say in Nawlins for the hope that rests in 2020. Try to come on Sunday December 22nd.
Rev. Steve Wilson