The Night Of Long Shadows: 2. More Thoughts

20191207 THE NIGHT OF LONG SHADOWS 2 MORE THOUGHTS

At the time when the world seems to come alive, at Christmas time, when the glare of neon fills the shops, ‘tumbles’ of out the tv in the shape of even more ‘over the top’ tv adverts, and store music seems altogether louder, this time of the year can make some people, the bereaved, those celebrating anniversaries or Christmas alone, feel even more lonely.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

[Rumi]

I’m not convinced, and it’s a personal thought, that many of those people want to be continually despondent, and they do acknowledge the gaiety of the season around them, it’s just that they may need some acknowledgement of their deep feelings and need for someone to hold space for them, and the ‘Night Of Long Shadows’ service may be the vehicle to assist them. See here for the #1, earlier article.

I had hoped to organise such an event this year, but the response has been somewhat low (and there are a number of understandable reasons for that) and many churches already had their programs arranged.

Relevant to you? Read on.

Nevertheless the following may be of use to you in planning a group event, or an event for yourself – you can still benefit, I believe, from the article, even if it’s to offer one-to-one comfort to a bereaved person. You might be just the person the Universe, ‘That Which Is Bigger Than Us’, The Source uses tomorrow?

So, what follows are thoughts about the shape of such a service, a plan with suggestions, that can be downsized and adapted if it is for a ‘solitary’ event with one person, or ‘up-scaled’ and adapted should there be a dozen or more people attending. Notes are included as to the rationale behind suggestions.

‘And when the stream that overflows has passed,
A consciousness remains upon the silent shore of memory;
Images and precious thoughts that shall not be
And cannot be destroyed.’

[William Wordsworth]

The following, then is an idea:

The Welcome

The environment might be one of subdued lighting. A few candles could be lit to welcome people, and project an other-worldly setting for a sacred-space, liminal encounter. Welcoming and being made comfortable is all-important.

If it’s for a group, then the celebrant would remember their two key roles. Firstly, to explain at the beginning and as the service progresses what is about to happen, to put people at ease, and so there are no unwelcome surprises. Secondly, to be sympathetic to those attending and to encourage them in their grief to participate and so benefit. They are, ofcourse, our primary concern, and some maybe want to just sit and watch – but they too are benefiting.

The atmosphere and tone of voice by the celebrant should reflect the occasion – one of a welcoming tone to draw alongside the bereaved person(s) and yet celebrating the life of those who have passed-on, but without any ‘over-solemnity’. Be natural, be understanding, be yourself.

Going Deep

In such an event we move from ‘clock time’ into ‘sacred-space’ time. Liminality ushers us into an altered state. This may sound jarring to some, but it just means we acknowledge that we have gone, and are going deeper into the real meaning of things – and similar happenings occur when we witness a christening, a wedding or major event. It’s a ‘magical’ time. We move out of the mundane, into the sacred.

‘Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints in the snow…’

[Mary Elizabeth Frye]

Music, particularly background music can assist us, to ensure our souls to ‘fly’, and move us into that liminal state where things happen. Music takes us deep(er). For me, I love Taize chants which have profound words and amazing harmonies (but if you didn’t want words sung or specifically Christian words sung, then Taize instrumentals are amazing (and a long sample of that can be found here).

The nature of this service is to ensure the group know what to expect, and to know what is expected of them, but to keep them in the ‘moment’, and so some forethought of what happens next and how to announce i,t and introduce it are important. Here, ‘unhurried’ is my favourite word.

At the very end of the event, musicwise, as it is Christmas time, as people file out, perhaps a seasonal song could be played. A moving ending such as ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ by Enya (see here) is a wonderful finale. For those wanting an instrumental version only, the Piano Guys have a wonderful version [here].

Tributes

It could be that some might want to share anecdotes about their loved-ones. They should be encouraged. No one should feel coerced or forced. Gentle invitations to share can be given, and accepted, even if some get tongue-tied, tearful or use words that we might feel inappropriate. The bereaved person needs to be heard – this is their time – and all are accepted.

‘I’d like the memory of me
to be a happy one.
I’d like to leave an afterglow
of smiles when [the] day is done.’

[Helen Lowrie Marshall]

At some point early on some might like to display photograph copies of their loved-ones on an altar or table for the duration of the service. They would need some advanced noticed to bring copied photographs, and copies are best for fear of original, old, memorable photographs getting damaged or lost.

Also, if pebbles and chalk is available, some might like to write their loved-ones name on a pebble at some time during the event, and place it on the altar or table. The memorial stones or pebbles are a wonderfully profound idea. Or messages or loved-ones names could be written on post-it notes and displayed.

Honesty

Getting the balance just right is important. Feelings with be raw in some people, and need to be expressed – and yet the event should not be without hope.

Several things spring to mind. Interspersed throughout the event comforting readings can be made, and read out by pre-arrangement, so ensuring that you have a few people who can assist you is important. Such readings could be from sacred text or uplifting poems, the kind used throughout this article.

Silences will abound, and these can be cathartic, so never be in a hurry to fill them with words or music. Yet, be sensitive, and do move the event on if it feels right.

Comforting

By prearrangement it might be best, to have several people primed and able to sit alongside, or move to those who become tearful.

Comforting words, could be used:

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.’ John 14:1-3

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ Matthew 11:28-30

One of my favourite uplifting poems (and it can be adapted) is by Henry Van Dyke, entitled ‘I am standing by the seashore’.

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white
sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length
she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come
to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says;
“There, she is gone!”

“Gone where?”
Gone from my sight. That is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull
and spar as she was when she left my side
and she is just as able to bear her
load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone
at my side says, “There, she is gone!”
There are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout;
“Here she comes!”

Other comforting words can be found in the writings of Seneca, ‘In the presence of death’; ‘No man is an island’ by John Donne; ‘The unknown shore’ by Elizabeth Clarke Hardy etc

Conclusion

Ofcourse, the abovementioned is but an outline, and will need adapting for a larger group or for yourself, if you want to celebrate the life of a loved-one at this time, in a solitary manner. Adaption and sensitivity is important.

Perhaps the final corporate act would be closing music, as mentioned earlier, proceeded by an announcement to those that wish to stay, to stay for refreshments and conversation, are encouraged to do so. As regards the latter it would be good to have several mature and sensitive people on hand to draw alongside those taking up the offer of refreshments, and to engage in polite conversation. For some attending, even that, may be too much. But some may welcome it. Additionally, it might be good to have other people available that could go deeper still, only if requested, and then comforting words and prayer can be offered.

Even then, it is imperative for those on hand to know their role is to hold space, to draw alongside the bereaved person, and that listening is absolutely necessary. Many of those who are bereaved will appreciate you and others listening to them. Our role is not to ‘fix’ people, but to be there for them.

‘Grieve for me, for I would grieve for you.
Then brush away the sorrows and the tears.
Life is not over, but begins anew,
with courage you must greet the coming years…’

[Navaho prayer]

 

In Memoriam: Thoughts On Death And Life

20190330 IM MEMORIUM THOUGHTS ON DEATH AND LIFE

As a Druidic- Christian or Christo-Druid, I love to honour the ancestors, and make it a joy to do so. This Sunday it’s Mother’s Day in the UK, and I’ll be buying a huge bunch of flowers.

It’s now been over five years – time flies – since the sweetest and most wonderful lady ‘went home’. A few days later and it will be two years since the gentlest and ‘toughest’ man I ever knew also ‘passed on’. Oh, what child doesn’t miss their parents, following a bereavement?

‘Honour your father and mother…’ Ephesians 6.2a. The Book

It is something many, especially in our culture, don’t like to talk about: death. It can seem such an ugly word. And yet, in balance, I do believe it is healthy to dwell upon it for an appropriate amount of time. Talking about it can be cathartic. However, this article is my opinion and belief (and I accept the following may not be appropriate for the recently bereaved, and won’t be offended should such people stop reading now. If this applies to you, rest assured, you are still in my thoughts and prayers, and even more so).

Death can seem such an ugly word. And regrets? Regret is seemingly just as bad. From ‘our side’, I am sure there will always be a few stray thoughts that ‘bounce’ about. Should I have said this? Should I have done that? Those thoughts are natural, but in many ways they are mentally and emotionally tortuous, and draining, but, once worked through the healing process begins, and death and our ‘departed’ loved-one can be seen in a different way. Healing begins.

‘A deathbed is not a dead place; it can be a place of intense energy’. John O’Donohue

It was a privileged to be there, at the bedside of my mother when she died, and then a few years later at my dad’s beside when he died. There was no ‘additional’ atmospheric phenomena, no rush of wind in the room, no ethereal light seen bathing them, no angelic music that I could detect – such is the substance of tv programs like the Ghost Whisperer, (though perhaps shallow of me, it would have been comforting – but upon reflection who knows what was happening invisibly and inaudibly to me? I now have wonderful thoughts now of just that: light, love, music, angels at every persons ‘departure’. Now, that’s comforting, and the seeming lack of it is only a limitation of current perception).

Then, someone at my side says;
“There, she is gone!”
“Gone where?”
Gone from my sight. That is all.

Part of a poem regarding a ‘heavenly’ sailing boat: carrying a loved-one, entitled ‘I am standing upon the seashore’ by Henry Van Dyke

In each case, however, there was a body with breath one minute, and a body without breath the next. They were present one minute and gone the next, and it was that that was comforting. An absence. A real Presence that was there in each case one moment, but had then gone, had ‘moved on’, and that ‘inner’ feeling of soulish movement and Presence departing was almost palpable.

To see death as loss is to look at it in only one way. There is another way. There is more or ‘Mae mwy’ as my grandmother would say. Something more profound is happening beyond the veil. In essence, many of the events surrounding the journey of death, from our viewpoint, take place in the imagination, but that makes it no less real and no less comforting.

Regardless of the physical circumstances of anyone’s death, they close their eyes one moment and open them, immediately, as a being of Light that they already were. I do believe that no one dies alone. If we were not physically present (or even if we were) those in that invisible-to-us realm are present leading them to Bliss. There is told an old story, a parable, of a poor man who suffered much during his earthly life. When he died, the Master said, ‘the angels carried him to Abraham’s side (a poetic way of describing Bliss. (Luke 16:22b The Book). Whatever our ‘theology’ companions, ‘lights’ will guide us ‘home’.

And, who is to say that the distance between us and a ‘departing’ loved one is a hindrance to them, anyway? I don’t believe it is. Geo-physics doesn’t apply now. [And, additionally, there is a view that the soul remains close until the third day, anyway]. We can feel so guilty, so regretful, and in most (if not all) there is no need – and no desire from our loved ones for us to heap ‘coals of fire’ upon ourselves.

Annihilation? No, I don’t believe that. As a Druidic-Christian I take to heart innumerable promises of the continuance of life and the personality in ancient text, and see the continuing life-death-life cycle in nature around me.

Isn’t it pleasant, at this time of year to witness trees that have been dormant for months coming to life (oh, they were never dead, just sleeping). And in Fulham, London the local council, here, ‘secretly’ buried thousands of daffodil bulbs some months ago that are now busting through their earthly vault, and local parks and commons are wonderfully awash with green and yellow flowers, and much more.

Life goes on. Not just ‘down here’, though it should: those who have ‘gone ahead’ would certainly want us to do our best and enjoy ourselves here. But, it does go on ‘up there’.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

Part of the poem: ‘I am standing upon the seashore’ by Henry Van Dyke

It is only my opinion, but life ‘there’ will be totally different to life ‘here’. No more ailments, no more aging, no more death, everything is new and perfect, and peace abounds. All will be light and love. And our loved-ones, our ancestors, the ‘ascended ones’ those inhabitants of Bliss, now beings of Light will prosper in all ways, having come into their ‘fullness’ (though I have a feeling that that change is already happening in each of us, unawares. In that respect it is us who have a perception ‘challenge).

And so, tomorrow, I’ll be putting flowers on the grave that marks the physical resting place of my dear mum and dad, and my feelings will be mixed. Yes, I’m only human and I do miss them; but there’s more! And so, as I honour my mother and father, the ancestors, I know in my heart of hearts that life goes on in a myriad of ways,  much of which we cannot possibly comprehend (yet), and I will give thanks, and look forward to each day in a welcoming and positive way.

Your body is away from me
But there is a window open
from my heart to yours.
From this window, like the moon
I keep sending news secretly.

Rumi

 

Header photo: Photo taken by me in October 2017 having lit a candle in memory of my parents and the ancestors at St Oran’s Chapel (built during the 12th century), Isle of Iona, Scotland. Do click here for that journal/article entry.

 

 

Tadhg’s Journal: Dayenu. For Now!

20170407 FOR NOW DAYENU TADHGS JOURNALSome of you will know that my dear, 91yo Dad, Robert – a brave, loving, clever, gentle giant of a man – passed on last Monday evening.

Caer Wydyr

As you can imagine emotions seem to be a roller-coaster ride for me and close family. In all of this I want to thank my friends here, Celts, Christian, Druid, Pagan and others – too numerous to mention – for your kind words, thoughts, energy-sending, prayers, ritual, caim-casting etc, and for those that sat with me in the silence. It means a lot.

My heart is filled with gratitude for all those well-wishers.

It is all too easy to rush through life’s ‘judders’, upsets, disappointments and traumas, as if to try to escape them, or at least speed them up to return to normality, whatever that is. I’ve realised that ‘going through it’ is necessary, and though I don’t want to prolong the pain and heartache, neither do I want to artificially steer a course through it to quell the pain. The journey is necessary.

The journey, at this time, (just) is.

It has its own time. I’m learning something each day. It will end. But, perhaps, not just yet. Life is a mystery, and sometimes there are no easy answers. It’s then that I take comfort, and have done so, in those who send words of comfort, who verbally and in word form via FaceBook or email  sit with me, metaphorically or in actuality, for a while.

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvellous
to be understood…

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have all the answers.

Let me keep company, always, with those who say
‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

Mary Oliver

The ancients had a word, hupomone, which means to ‘stay with whatever is happening’, and that is what I am doing. Not speeding through this part of the journey, nor purposely slowing it down. Just staying with it.

‘…the call is not to run away when things become challenging. Stability demands that we stay with difficult experiences and stay present to the discomfort they create in us’.

Christine Valters Paintner

In some instances, like the current event it is impossible to run away from it. But, even so, I get though each day, I grow, somethings are shaken loose, I enjoy good company, I am lifted up by others, I realise more of what it essential in life and what isn’t, I move through this experience slowly, thoughtfully, and not alone.

Dayenu.

Today, was but one day on this journey. Tomorrow, another. The Unseen Guide guides, consoles, empowers me (and you) one day at a time, and visits us in the myriad of people and events that we encounter each day. One day…it is enough.