On Grief and Love: We Need Each Other

These are some of the words, readings, and songs I offered for a service with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Springfield, Vermont, March 29, 2020.

Opening Words:

In a time of challenge and change, we light a flame of sharing, the flame of ongoing life. In this time when we search for understanding and serenity in the face of loss, we light this sign of our quest for truth, meaning, and community.

Song: Woyaya (We are Going)

Woyaya

We are going, heaven knows where we are going,
We know within.
We will get there, heaven knows how we will get there,
We know we will.

It will be hard we know
And the road will be muddy and rough,
But we’ll get there, heaven knows how we will get there,
We know we will.

We are going, heaven knows where we are going,
We’ll know we’re there.

Woyaya was composed as a collaboration of seven South African musicians. It was recorded by Sweet Honey in the Rock and also covered by Art Garfunkel on his debut solo album. Lyrics written by Annie Masembe from Uganda.

When I started thinking about the topic for this service, several months ago, what I had in mind was holding space for a general conversation about the entwined nature of grief and love; joy and sorrow; and that they are each community feelings. They arise in our own bodies—but they do not arise without context, without stimulus, from the worlds and communities we are connected with.

Now, in the midst of a global moment of challenge, talking about connection, context, and the coexistence of grief, love, joy, sorrow, pleasure and suffering seems even more relevant. In honor of the ways that these community feelings arise in our bodies, I’d like to offer a short meditation.

I invite you to find a comfortable seat, or if you are more comfortable standing you are welcome to do so.

  • close your eyes as you are comfortable
  • connect with your breath—place your hand on your belly, take a breath into your hand, filling your belly
  • imagine a connection running from the base of your spine into the earth, down through the floor, the building, the soil, the rock, through the layers of the planet into its warm center, rooting you
  • imagine another connection arising out of the top of your head, the crown, moving into the air and up towards the stars.
  • As you breathe in, let the energy of the earth flow up from below through your connecting cord into your root, the base of your spine, flowing into your body.
  • As you breathe out, release into that cord.
  • As you breathe in, let the energy and spaciousness of the sky and stars flow down through your head, and let the light of the stars warm your heart. Pull that energy into where you need it most.
  • As you breathe out, release.
  • Breathe in the earth energy, and let it go to the places in your body which are sore, tired, tight, numb
  • exhale aching and tenderness down into the earth, and allow the earth to hold it.
  • Breathe in the star energy, letting it go into the places in your body and heart which are too full, which are heavy
  • exhale and let light enter those places, softening.
  • Breathe in earth through your seat, breathe out and release into the ground
  • Breathe in stars through your crown, breathe out and let light fill you
  • Breathe in, …. breathe out
  • Breathe in,…. breathe out
  • For these final two breaths, breathe in the gifts of the earth and skies, and breathe out a blessing or a gratitude that you feel

When you are ready, open your eyes.

Our bodies tell us stories. They tell us stories about what’s going on in the world—they give us signs about how to proceed in processing difficult things. I honor you and the process you are in the midst of, living in this human body, right now.

I want to tell you a story, too. This one is about Chiron, a Greek mythological figure. Chiron was a centaur—half human, half horse—and immortal as a result of his parents, one of whom was a Titan and the other of whom a sea nymph. He was the god Zeus’s half brother. Classically, Chiron is represented with human forelegs and the rear parts of a horse, unlike most centaurs, who are represented with the front legs of a horse as well. The fact that Chiron has more human parts is meant to indicate that he is less warlike, less violent, and more intelligent than most centaurs were thought to be.

I bring up Chiron because he is known as the wounded healer. He was deeply knowledgeable about medicine—plants and foods and how to prepare them. He was a gifted educator as well as a healer. It’s said that he was the teacher of dozens, including Asclepius, a root figure in Greek medicine. The word “surgery” we commonly use now originates from the Greek kheirourgos—the same root as his name. Chiron, then, taught; he healed; he prepared medicines; he was kind and intelligent and gentle, and quite important.

One of his students, Herakles, accidentally shot Chiron’s foot with a poisoned arrow while trying to fend off other centaurs. The hydra-venom poison couldn’t kill Chiron, but it caused him great pain, and he was for once unable to heal himself, though he tried mightily. In generosity, he offered up his immortality in return for the freedom and life of Prometheus, who Zeus was punishing for bringing fire to humankind. Prometheus was freed, and Chiron was granted a place among the constellations. There’s a celestial body, an asteroid or perhaps the heart of a comet, in our solar system named Chiron to this day—and the wisdom and kindness he enacted lives on in the hearts of many who practice medicine.

Kindness and loss; woundedness and healing; grief and love. We humans have been living lives full to the brim of all this and more. And we have been telling each other innumerable stories about them—about how these feelings, these community feelings, are connected. We have been telling these stories since the beginning of telling stories.

Why, though? Why do we need to keep telling each other such stories? Surely, each of us in the fabric of our own lives is no stranger to the grip of anticipatory grief—awaiting a loss we know is coming. Surely nobody is under the illusion that love and healing are free of struggle. Why, then, do we need to keep talking about it?

I suspect one good reason is that the actual feeling of grief, of woundedness, of pain, can arise in our bodies with such intensity that it seems like it must only be ourselves who feel this feeling. Sometimes we find ourselves thinking, I alone am suffering in the world. This pain is unexpected and large—I alone am grieving. The loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of a species, the loss of a world as we knew it. In our aloneness, we become stuck, and the pain defines us.

There are times for seeking solitude to make space for what is challenging. And there is also a deep need for the collective honoring of grief and pain. It matters for us to be able to turn to one another and say, you are NOT alone. Not only right now, but always. In any moment. This world teems with life, with people around you, with birds and plants and the sun rising and setting as though nothing else was going on. You have never been alone, in that sense. We may not feel exactly the same feelings, but it is a certainty that each of us confronts loss and grief.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Myanmarese politician and activist, has said that there are three movements in the flowering of compassion: the courage to see, the courage to feel, and the courage to act.

Courage. It takes courage to be present to grief. It takes courage to be present even to our own pain—to tune in to the stories that our bodies are telling us. These days, I move through a sea of news and silence, interspersed by participating in acts of radical love and imagination. Despite the fact that I know that grief and love are both community feelings—that I have personal practices which I intend to honor these related feelings and body processes, it’s still a challenge sometimes to be fully present to my own process, even as I try to hold space for others in theirs.

Suu Kyi starts her three movements of compassion with the courage to see and feel, first, before she mentions the courage to act. It takes deep courage to encounter pain, and to hold ourselves and those around us in compassion. Com-passion, which means literally, the deep feeling-with. So then, maybe part of the reason we humans have been telling each other stories about wounded healers, star-crossed lovers, and the inevitable suffering in life, is because we matter to one another—it matters to reach out and offer a hand, and say you are here with me.

Maybe part of the reason we write each other poems, songs, stories, is to keep reminding each other that we are able to make room for one another. There is room for your grief. There is room for your fear, and your sadness. There is room. We do this for one another, we make room. And we name that room compassion, presence, and love.

SongWe Shall Be Known by Mamuse (Thrive Choir!)

We shall be known by the company we keep
By the ones who circle round to tend these fires
We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap
The seeds of change, alive from deep within the earth

It is time now, it is time now that we thrive
It is time we lead ourselves into the well
It is time now, and what a time to be alive

In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love
In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love
x3

Closing Words
Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities
and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth,
the glory of action,
the splendor of beauty;
for yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today, well lived, makes every
yesterday
a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
-Attributed to Kalidasa