Loss, Lament, and Letting go

How many of us walk through our days carrying a burden from the past? Just when we think it’s well buried, it surfaces causing pain, confusion, anger. How many times have these emotions caused me to stray from my path – seeking distraction, seeking numbness, seeking ways – perhaps unconsciously – to take it out on someone else?

Last night Lynn and I walked up to St. Andrew’s United despite being too tired to go. The invitation was to meet two indigenous folk visiting Peterborough. Frances Whiskeychan and Patrick Etherington of the Oskapewisak Mushkegowuk Truth and Reconciliation Walkers. They had passed through this way last spring and we missed them then. They had led a walk from Cochrane to Toronto to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final ceremony in Ottawa – some 1,200 kilometres.

It is a sacred thing when someone opens their heart and shares their pain – telling their truth. It was obvious that the effort to speak their truth was difficult. Opening your heart to a group of strangers takes courage. Fear of judgment, fear of confusion, fear of fresh wounds must be overcome by the hope of a higher purpose.

Carrying a burden can be a sacred act. Did you know that the name Amos means “burden carrier”? The prophet carried a burden for his people’s exploitation – and the religious systems that ignored it. Amos expressed his burden in words and in symbolic acts.

Tonight is the third of our Bedford House sessions called Loss, Lament, and Letting go. The invitation is to bring a Loss you are carrying and feel ready to Let go of. We invite participants to explore their loss using the ancient formulas of Lament.

Opening up a wound to share can bring the healing powers of sunlight and air. As I share my story – risking judgment, risking shame – I open my heart to the compassion of other human beings who know what it is to suffer. Using ritual, poetry, and visual expressions can help me to hear or see something I might have missed or wasn’t yet ready to see.

There is a formula for the biblical Lament. Many of the Psalms follow a similar pattern that can be used as a skeleton to add the flesh of my own words to.

Here are some of the words that came to me when invited into the practice in our second session.

Father Mother god
I come to you burdened with a heavy heart.
When the dam finally broke open
so much hurt was released
water under the bridge.
But there remains
a whirlpool of hurt
where what I’ve held dear for so long
is caught in a cycle of anger, retribution, blame.
It threatens to suck me in
Sophia wisdom, You put my feet
on solid ground
give me footing in rushing waters.
The whirlpool tugs and pulls
but I am not swept in.
I want to pull my heart’s desire free
but I cannot reach it.
I want to hold it close again
but the torrent of anger
keeps it whirling away.
Where is the healing of hurt?
Where is the peace you offer?
Who can speak words to salve broken hearts
when my voice gets drowned in the rush
of angry waters
memories caught and confused.
Silence those who speak from the safety of river banks
their judgments only adding to the whirling confusion.
They want to see me swept in.
They long to see me drown.
Stuck in the mud of their own pain
they can’t stand to see others free.
You have made us to be free.
Our wild hearts
are meant to ride currents on and on.
How can I be free
when what I’ve held close for so long is caught?
I know You see.
You watch as the heron in the tree top
You soar to lift my eyes.
Help my heart to see.

The invitation to follow the formula of Lament, to put pen to paper and express what I’d dared to surface with this small group, connected me with the divine imagination. A metaphor arose that helped me to see the tension between the need to hold on – and the spiritual liberation that “wild hearts riding the current” offers.

I experience both. The release and freedom of moving on – and the powerful pull of the whirlpool that holds captive what I don’t want to lose.

While I still struggle with the tension, and it isn’t yet clear to me how it might be resolved, this metaphor has given me a new way of looking at the problem. I can now enter into my story from different perspectives; from the midst of the whirlpool, from the bank, from down river looking back, from the heron’s “big picture” view.

This morning I give thanks for those who listen without needing to fix me. I give thanks for those who walk in the hope that healing offers. Liberation from fear that truth telling can stir in both listener and storyteller is how we find ways to walk together towards reconciliation. To find a common bond in the suffering and struggle that all human beings experience is to discover how we can work together on our common hopes and higher purpose.

This from the Aboriginal Activists Group…

“If you have come to help me

you are wasting your time.

But if you have come because your liberation

is bound up with mine,

then let us work together.”

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