by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
In the last few months, three people with whom I had shared my working life have died: two of them considerably younger than I. I have mourned their passing. Then the only child of Stuart, a dear friend over our lifetimes, died last week when her car slid on black ice into the side of a mountain. She was 26. We have found their loss to strike our own hearts and minds deeply. I have drawn some comfort from the parents’ wisdom in wanting to share what they have called ‘this journey’ with friends.
Who Can Be Prepared?
Stuart and his wife have, in recent years, made a practice of acknowledging that one of them, when death strikes, will be alone. They have decided that they can share a way of approaching that future reality together. A book they shared with many friends, Ten Thousand Joys, Ten Thousand Sorrows, tells of a couple who are practicing Buddhists and how they journeyed together, prayerfully and with humour, through several years of one having Alzheimer’s. The book provides a model of hope, reducing fear of the unknown.
But of course, my friends – like most of us – were not prepared for the loss of a child. Many good and wise friends stand with them at this time and I believe they will continue to build lives that bring light to others. I pray for peace for them, and the return of their capacity for joy. Seeing their capacity for generousity not diminished in their present grief, I have to think about what I know of their lives that I might learn from, in facing the unpredictability of our existence.
Practicing, the Foundation
In my periodic return to Henri Nouwen’s writing, I find an attitude that resembles what Buddhism demonstrates: practice as the path to deeper life. Deeper life implies getting somewhere! The important “somewhere” is a place where God fills more of one’s soul, arrived at through of deeper knowledge of oneself, and actions that forge natural connections to other people. For adherents of all historical religions, and for people of a loving orientation, I posit that the relevant practices are turning toward where need becomes visible, acknowledging life-giving moments through dedicated activities with others (what Christians may term ‘sacraments’ but which may not require a religious leader), and keeping up a personal conversation with the Divine (‘prayer’, quiet time, meditation). Getting to know the holy books is further goodness for the soul.
Discipline – Can it Be Detached from Fear of Negative Judgment?
The idea of practice is different from simply discipline. It may take discipline to carve out the time for ‘practice’. But I’ve found that discipline for its own sake can encourage a self-congratulatory and sterile attitude rather than the inner warmth of activity drawing me closer to God and to my neighbour. If I do it because I should, that puts judgment in the driver’s seat, not personal volition. For me, judgment – whether from someone else or from one of my inner bossy voices – becomes too attached to measuring up. That’s where the self-congratulation comes in – a warning signal that I’ve been trying to please someone in my head. Forget that, I’m inclined to say. God loves me and if I keep listening, will lead me to a place of natural connection to her/himself, and thus to others.
I hope, in this way, I can move toward being able to continue to love others when my own heart has been broken, as I see my friends doing.
Any of your own love-enhancing practices, please share.
(And please see a response to the Comments last week, if wanting to follow the discussion of Theocon ambitions for Christian dominance).