Grief And Our Greater Humanity – Mourning Part 2

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The greatest challenge we face in today’s world is how to be better human beings. Most of the world’s problems are an outcome of our living beneath a greater sense of humanity. It is therefore necessary to widely spread ideas that encourage us to become better humans. One such idea is mourning. A process of giving space and expression to the emotions that emerge when we face the fact that all is not perfect with us and the world around us. This is a follow-up conversation from an earlier post.

The reality of life is that there is a lot of pain. I want to believe that everyone has at some point or another experienced some form of hurt whether big or small. Mourning is pausing and allowing ourselves to feel the pain and hurt dealt to us. To allow it to bear it’s full weight on our hearts until the pain is ready to heal. I love the way author and priest Henri Nouwen puts it:

“Mourn, my people, mourn. Let your pain rise up in your heart and burst forth in you with sobs and cries. Mourn for the silence that exists between you and your spouse. Mourn for the way you were robbed of your innocence. Mourn for the absence of a soft embrace, an intimate friendship, a life-giving sexuality.”
”Mourn for the abuse of your body, your mind, your heart. Mourn for the bitterness of your children, the indifference of your friends, your colleagues’ hardness of heart. Mourn for those whose hunger for love brought them AIDs, whose desire for freedom brought them to refugee camps, whose hunger for justice brought them to prisons. Cry for the millions who die from lack of food, lack of care, lack of love…
“Don’t think of this as normal, something to be taken for granted, something to accept… Think of it as the dark force of Evil that has penetrated every human heart, every family, every community, every nation, and keeps you imprisoned.”
“Cry for freedom, for salvation, for redemption. Cry loudly and deeply, and trust that your tears will make your eyes see that the Kingdom is close at hand, yes, at your fingertips!”
(New Oxford Review, June 1992).
 
What comes out clearly in this excerpt is the breadth of life experiences that call for mourning. We can rightly say that any opportunity for rich living carries it’s share of painful experiences. If we brush off or deny the pain, then we are brushing off and denying a core aspect of a genuine human experience. I have found this insight almost transformative in my life over the last couple of weeks. My default for the most part of my life has been to deny and brush away the pain whenever it shows up. It always seems to be the easy way out but I am learning that there are gifts – insights, personal transformation and healing –  that come from sitting in the pain for a while. I still run when pain shows up, but I am learning slowly to sit with it and have a conversation.

Violence and Pain

Mourning helps us to come to terms with all the let downs, shame and pain we have ever experienced, process them and allow them to make us better and not bitter. When the brokenness and pain is properly mourned, we transform them instead of transmitting them. When we look around at our world today, there are so many inhuman things going on: mass shootings, terrorist attacks, domestic abuse, ethnic and religious intolerance…just to name a few. Dr. Parker Palmer says that “Violence is what happens when we do not know what to do with our suffering.”
In other words, violence is our pain gone bad!
How different things would be in our world if we came to terms with the fact that we will experience pain from time to time and that pain is meant to be mourned and processed and transformed within us for the greater good. We can somehow dare to believe that it is a more peaceful world when people have done the work of mourning. It is fascinating that the christian scriptures devote a considerable portion to mournful and lamenting poetry. The Psalms and the prophets do not hide their cries and lamenting when need be. There is even an entire book called Lamentations and it is all about mourning.
The scriptures are simply validating the humanness of mourning.
Things in the scriptures come to a crescendo through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On the cross I believe God picked a side and stood in solidarity with the great pain of the world. Jesus Christ humbly suffered, absorbed all the pain, transformed it within himself through the resurrection and never transmitted it. It’s as if on the cross Jesus was saying ‘let the history of human violence come to an end from this point.’ No wonder he is referred to as the prince of peace.
And unlike many revolutionaries throughout human history, Jesus never left any victims in his wake.
It seems that we have largely missed the point and human history continues to be marked by unspeakable violence and so there is so much unacknowledged pain in people everywhere. When we take time to listen to pain and heal it within ourselves that’s a good place to start towards our own peace – and even world peace! Our lives have become busier and we increasingly get to do more and more. I believe we can manage to set some time aside every so often for some much-needed mourning. I bumped into a poem by Fr. Ronald Rolheiser that points out some areas of our lives that we need to mourn:

Mourn, my people, mourn—or else you will give in to blame and fill with self-hatred, restlessness and bitterness.

Mourn because your life cannot not be inadequate, that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished, that you cannot help but live in a certain vale of tears.

Mourn because you cannot not disappoint your loved ones—and cannot help but be disappointed by them.

Mourn because you can never live with or love anyone for long without seriously hurting him or her.

Mourn that the good you want to do, you end up not doing and the evil you want to avoid, you end up doing. Mourn the stains in your baptismal robes.

Mourn what might have been, all that you missed out on in life while you were doing something else.

Mourn your restless heart, the fact that no spouse or family or friends can ever take your loneliness away.

Mourn that you are so different from others, that you cannot help but irritate them, anger them and make them impatient with you.

Mourn your lack of gratitude, that you can so easily take what’s most precious for granted, that you can so blindly seize as owed what’s given as a gift, that charity is most difficult with those you most owe it to.

Mourn your lack of prayer, your infinite capacity for distraction and the heartaches and headaches that make you think about everything but God.

Mourn your lack of hope, all the life that’s been crucified in you, all those dead spots that have taken the bounce out of your step, the light out of your eyes and the expectation out of your heart. Mourn that you no longer believe in the resurrection!
 
All pain was never meant to be denied but acknowledged, mourned, healed and transform us to be better humans. We have undermined a vital part of our lives for too long – sitting in the ashes and processing our pain. Mourning is human and good, good, very good even if it’s messy. Allow it for yourself.
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Daily Grief – Mourning Part 1

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Most often the word grief sounds like a dangerous dirty word but it shouldn’t. Neither is it a sexy pretty word. I think it’s a necessary mess.
Brené Brown in her work Rising Strong points out that grief is simply acknowledging our loss, lostness and longing. Most often, we understand grief as only what we experience when we have lost a loved one but that is just one expression of grief. Grief is as broad and as wide as there are human experiences. When I was in boarding school in my early primary school years I would experience a chronic case of homesickness. Now as I look back, I understand that to have been a moment of grief. Grief comes to us both in big and small ways.
We need to make mourning a normal part of our lives. Yes. I know that statement doesn’t sound like good advise. We would rather hear words such as how we need to step into life with positivity. That is perfectly alright but it’s not the whole story. The reality of life is that things don’t always go our way. We are never always on our A game. Sometimes things around us tend to be so broken and stressful. Sometimes we suffer small silly losses like when a beloved sugar dish falls and shatters or forgetting to pick our change from the matatu and it’s gone for good. In both big and small ways life reminds us that not all is as it should be.
Mourning is what happens when we give space and expression the emotions that well up during moments of life’s imperfections.
Mourning is simply acknowledging that something in our lives isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. And mourning is as much a part of our humanity as joy, and spreading positivity are. Therefore, let us mourn often. It is a way of saying that indeed, whatever happened has happened. It hurts and it is not okay. We may have experienced an injustice of some form and mourning or lamenting that could be a good place to start.
“To properly cry is to see injustice, indifference, lack of love and hardness of heart for what they are—evil, living in each of us, in need of redemption” –  Fr. Ronald Rolheiser.
Eventually what begins to happen is a sense of healing and wholeness both within us and in the world around us. It is said that we least tolerate grief in others because we haven’t done the work in ourselves. Thus mourning the daily griefs does expand our capacity for helping others with their grief.
Just as we enjoy the rising of the sun, we do also enjoy the setting of the sun. I’m inviting us to pause and take in the sunsets of life. Whatever it is, big or small, let us learn to mourn it. Let us pause every so often and allow the grief to get what it needs: a good cry, a walk, silence, journaling, a conversation – give it the attention it needs. It does go away after a while, hopefully we’ll give it some attention. Let us learn to go through the griefs of daily life all the way to the gift that come with them.

Our faith journey is not about perfection…

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…it’s about wholeness!

I used to think that our spiritual life was a long continuous journey to perfection. And by perfection I am referring to the complete elimination of all our flaws. With this view, spiritual maturity was marked by how little we messed up. I would look at my life with a sense of satisfaction when I happen to have gone for a season without any struggles and think  of this as a sign of growth. And then there are just those moments when you slip back to old struggles or surprising new expressions of brokenness. In such moments I would be very crushed with the sense that I have fallen a few steps back in my relationship with God.
Fortunately or unfortunately this seems to be the way we experience our spiritual journeys. A few steps forward then few steps back over and over again. As this is happening, we can grow increasingly impatient with our weaknesses and think of them as spoilers towards our attaining maturity which in this case looks more like perfection. And so we label our weaknesses or our shadow as the enemy. But no matter how hard we try or how long we stay on this relationship with Christ, we never quite seem to shake off the shadow completely.
Having realised this, how we respond to our weaknesses and our shadows is what makes a difference in terms of how deep or shallow our spiritual journeys become. When our shadows are the enemy our lives and efforts are oriented towards eliminating the enemy and since we still end up with many flaws, we turn to unhealthy ways of managing our weaknesses. And these appear in the form of guilting ourselves, faking that we’ve got it all together or projecting our flaws on others.
These approaches do nothing to our weaknesses as far as healing and transformation is concerned. We end up with a very surface level spirituality.
On the other hand, we can embrace our weaknesses and brokenness, make friends with them and believe that they are not a hindrance to God’s presence and action in our lives. In fact, the scripture says that God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses [2 Corinthians 12:9]. And isn’t it because we want to be powerful that we are so enraged by our weaknesses? Yet the scriptures tell us that God’s power, the ultimate power in the universe is made perfect in our weaknesses. What a freedom and sense of healing it is when we realise that in our struggles, messing ups and even when we most dislike ourselves, God does not cover his eyes in frustration and disgust but reaches out with open arms to receive us like a loving parent about to pick up her precious baby. That is grace; and that grace is sufficient for us.
And when we respond to his loving embrace, our struggles and weaknesses cease to be the main point.
We are awakened to the fact that our brokenness does not stop God’s love from getting to us. And in that context of love, we open up about our struggles to God and a slow gradual healing begins to take place. A deeper transformation. Not based on our own efforts to do away with our weaknesses and brokenness, but in letting more and more of God’s love to fill us and do it’s healing work. A deeper sense of wholeness begins to appear within us because we are  being transformed by responding to God’s love rather than in eliminating our flaws and weaknesses.
My journey now still includes frequently waking up to the fact that I am deeply flawed and broken. I still find myself scampering to set things right. I still end up feeling nervous and guilty about my lack of perfection. But I am increasingly hearing a still small voice that is urging me to make friends with my weaknesses and in vulnerable surrender, allow a loving God to pick me up and tell me of his great love for me. That’s the beauty and tension of this spiritual journey.

Batman Vs. Superman and the question of Power

Imagine working very hard to find a way to explain clearly to a group of people what power is and who deserves to wield it. So you come up with a wonderful story to explore this ever troubling human question. That is what, I felt, the movie Batman vs. Superman is all about. We gathered at the theatre to be part of Zack Snyder’s story and at the end of the two hours I left the theatre thinking even more deeply about the issue of power.

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It’s been said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Story is full of moments that ask the question of what to do with power. The super heroes seem to be so powerful and are faced with the opportunity to reassert their power. The villains want to be the only power. The human systems want power to be controlled. And all this creates an epic drama that keeps you at the edge of your seat.
 What is the biggest lie in American politics?
That all power can be innocent.
I think the greatest human temptation is wanting to be more powerful than we already are. We have an inner desire to build a superior self than the one we already are. Sometimes on our quest for more power we bring about so much destruction upon life and create a very violent world. And that is why I think this movie connects deeply with a core part of our humanity. It is humbling to see our revered superheroes fail, lose and even give in to their shadow side.
I wonder what we could do if we realised we had more power than anyone else around us? Would we use it to protect or to destroy? One of the things I learnt from the story is that greater and greater power is better in the hands of someone who is willing to lay it all down if need be. The more we want to hold on to power the more dangerous we would be with greater power.
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I couldn’t help but also leave the theatre thinking about how it must be for God; having all the power at his disposal. It is a few weeks since Christians worldwide celebrated easter. The events of Good Friday are a depiction of an all powerful God who lays down all his divinity to reach out in love. Probably this is one of the most important reasons why this God is worth trusting in. When we entrust our lives and our world in his care, we can know that he will use his power for good.
Everytime a story is well told, the Gospel is well served.
I look at our society and wonder how things would look like if leaders took their limited power and used it for good. Certainly things would be very different.
What I like most about Batman vs. Superman is that it is not just simply a story about superheroes displaying their superpowers, fighting of bad guys and then saving the world. There is a little of that. But the story is more about the characters exploring the deeper question of what to do with their power. This question takes them through dark, soulful moments; to the point of inner death and back, until ultimately they realise that they have to wield this power very responsibly and not just to serve their personal whims.
P.S. The score by Hans Zimmer is just an amazing piece of work that blends beautifully with the film!

Artisan Series: Interpretation – Translation of Life

Translation of Life

Photo Credit: gravityoflife.blogspot.com

I am often inspired by Erwin McManus of Mosaic LA and I have decided to share out some of the lessons I learn from him with you. Sometime in 2012 Erwin gave a series of talks called Artisan: create a life, and over time these talks keep opening me up to the possibilities of stepping into the life we were meant to live. I have posted notes from the first two talks here and here and this is the third talk in the series. You can subscribe to the mosaic podcasts and listen for yourself and glean some more insights.

The whole journey started with a conversation themed Soul: the essence of art. Life is a work of art therefore, everyone is an artist. The most significant work of art that we will ever create is that of our lives, and in the end, the life we end up creating is one that is reflective of the health of our souls. Thus, before we begin to create our greatest work of art, we have to allow God to begin creating in our souls his greatest work of art: The person we were created to be so as to live the life we were intended to be.
It all begins with the health of our souls and it is here where we should place our greatest focus.
The second conversation is themed Voice: the narrative that guides. We are all trying to find our unique selves though somewhere along that quest we give up and become an echo of what others say of us and the environment that shaped us. To truly craft a life that is a work of art, we must take the responsibility of defining the dominant voices that guide us and in turn invite God to be the singular most influential voice that guides our life story.
Interpretation: the translation of life is a process of taking that unique inward voice of who we are and expressing it outwardly. One of the stories from the Scriptures that has a lot to teach us on this process is the story of Job. Job is a noble man, doing his best to live a good life. A conversation takes place in eternity between God and the devil concerning Job where the devil claims that Job only loves God due to all the benefits life has brought on him. God allows satan to take all that Job has but not to touch him. In one swift stroke Job loses all he owned including his children. He is left with only his wife. He does not give up on God.
Satan later claims that Job only loves God because he is of perfect health; that he loves himself so much. God allows satan to afflict his health but not kill him. Job suffers from painful sores from the sole of his feet to the top of his head. Job is definitely going through the darkest moment of his life!
In Job 2:11-3:26, the story picks up where all these incidents have just happened to Job. Three of his friends: Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar come to console him and then Job begins to interpret all that is unfolding in his life. In fact, what follows in the book of Job are 40 chapters on interpretation of life.
The central question is how can you explain your pain? The greatest challenge we ever face in life is to make sense of our lives. It may be very hard to understand the conversation going on in eternity behind Job’s back. Why was this decided on Job? Did he really need to go through this test yet he truly was devoted to God?
One of the thoughts we can pick up is that the book of Job acknowledges that everything in life does’t all go well even when we live well. Job acknowledges the reality of suffering in the lives of those who are trying to live well. We should not interpret life falsely as to eliminate suffering from the lives of those of faith!
Have you ever suffered even when you were close to God?
What we find in the book of Job is that the power of Job’s connection to God was not that it spared him from pain, but that it gave him the capacity, the power and the wisdom to interpret that pain then translate it to life.
If you’ve never lost anything, you’ve never aspired greatly enough. If you’ve never had pain in your life, it is because you’ve never loved anything. The more deeply you love, the more deeply you can be hurt.
The people who are not interesting in life are those who have not experienced loss or pain. The other kind of people who are not interesting are those who have experienced loss or pain and that is all they know and live by. They wallow in their pain and loss.
The most interesting people in life are those who have experienced loss, pain and suffering in life and worked their way through it and risen above it and still have a translation of life that brings beauty, meaning and hope to the world!
What happens in our lives are our experiences and we have no control over them. In fact to control our experiences is to limit our life and what God wants to do in us.
What has happened to you is your experiences. Your interpretation happens when you begin to explain why it happened to you. That is why two people can go through the same experience and come out differently; because of how they interpret the experience.
Here are three questions that are the context of how we interpret life:
  • How do you understand who God is?
  • How do you understand who you are?
  • How do you understand the world?
What you do with your experiences is the beginning of finding your voice.
Much of who you become through those experiences is the interpretation of life. Job had no control over what would happen in his life but he never lost control over how he would respond to those experiences.
You are not your experiences but you are how you respond to those experiences and your voice becomes your interpretation of those experiences into life.
What you learn from those experiences is how you translate the human story into these experiences. How those experiences change you is what transformation is all about.
As the narrative of Job comes to a conclusion we learn a lot from the way Job approached his experiences.
Job 42:5
My ears have heard you but now my eyes have seen you.
What Job found in his pain and loss is a deeper intimacy with God that had previously eluded him. However the translation of life from Job’s friends did not bring honour to God.
Sometimes life doesn’t make sense because it is a snapshot of a bigger story that God is writing. Job teaches us that we should not give up especially when we are seeing life through our small filter of experiences; before the final chapter is written.
The experienced self is the sum total of all that has happened in our lives. The remembered self is how we remember our experiences – our translation. It is our remembered self that most influences our lives.
Job had his fair share of dark and painful experiences as well as blessed and joyous experiences. He chose to remember that God is good!
The more we give ourselves to life and to others the more we open ourselves up for disappointment. That is why we have to focus on the good, beautiful and true in life.
May we be the artisan translators of the human experience so as to bring hope, beauty and meaning to the world.
How does this conversation challenge you to live differently today?

Thank you!

There is a very interesting observation that among the first words little children are taught are the words ‘Thank you.’ In fact I doubt there is a culture that lacks in its lifestyle a way of expressing gratitude. Well except the Uruk-hai in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – thankless creatures that were bred only for the purpose of destruction. The exact opposite of the orcs in that world were the Elves who appreciated life and were about the business of creating beauty.

However, when we learn to say the words, society assumes that we know all there is to do with gratitude. And we don’t often visit that topic. as long as you get to say ‘Thanks’ often, you are good to go.
The truth is that there is more to do with living a life of gratitude than saying the words ‘Thank you’. It is about living out these words. It is a way of life, a filter through which we experience life.

Gratitude is a function of how we view ourselves. If we view ourselves too highly than we ought to, we in turn feel that we deserve better than others. A view of life that creates little room in our hearts to truly be grateful.

Or, we can go through life with the view that we deserve nothing! That all we have is something we have received. Life takes on a new meaning and we become so grateful.

Gratitude increases our capacity to love and feel loved. Gratitude leads us to a journey of healing and experiencing wholeness.

There is a story in the scriptures where Jesus met ten men languishing in leprosy. After crying out to him for help Jesus sent them to the priests to present themselves. (Once someone caught leprosy in those days they were outcasts and if one was ever cleansed from the scourge they had to be certified by the priests and embraced back to society).

As the men went, a miracle happened and all the 10 were cleansed. One of them, a foreigner returned to Jesus and worshiped him with so much gratitude. Jesus asked “were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Too often we seek solutions to our pressing needs and too quickly we forget to be thankful. We are all one of the ten and there are so many things we can be grateful for. The question is: are we going to be the ONE who turns back and remembers to say ‘Thank you, life means so much because of your kindness!’?

BE THE ONE!

Human Becomings

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Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:12-14
I have always looked forward to a time in my life where “I shall have arrived.” Thus most of my life has been sort of ‘in wait’. I always think to myself… one day when I will be this or that and I shall have certain things and on and on, then life will truly be what it was meant to be. But this always leaves me hungry and thirsting for the next moment, when these things shall come to be. And I keep waiting… living a very unsatisfied life.
Until recently when I started learning about appreciating the moment. The here and now.
I have come to realize that there is not any one time when we are fully complete in our human Journeys. We are human becomings and life is the process. The experiences and circumstances of our daily lives are the tools that God uses to shape us. Just like a rock boulder of marble that falls into the hands of a skilled craftsman, so are our lives in the hands of God. He chisels out the unwanted parts and reveals the beauty underneath. It is not always a  painless process, but  the end product is a lot more polished and refined.
My take is this, let us embrace life’s moments in their full color and texture. Be passionate and squeeze all life out of the moment. Alicia Britt Chole says this in her book Pure Joy, ‘God continually challenges us to have greater trust in His deity than we have fear of our humanity—to have more hope in who He is, than hesitation because of who we are.’
Hello fellow becomings, enjoy the process of life…