By Lisa Irish
My eyes open to the early morning sun blazing across our little lake. “A new day,” my mind registers, “and what will this day bring?” Then, the thought returns, as it does every morning, “Oh, I remember … all of it.” COVID-19 – the unimaginable losses and the ongoing heartache. Our country’s systemic racism and the decades of denial, broken open. The respite of sleep is over, and my personal (and our collective) experience of loss and grief returns.
This morning ritual reminds me of the grief after a loved one dies. Memories are met with sadness; the empty chair is an icon of absence. Our return to consciousness includes a return to loss and the long, arduous journey of grieving. Morning after morning, as we let the painful truth seep in, we assent to a process of acceptance – but ultimately, a process of transformation.
I was fortunate to offer an online grief program recently for Mercy by the Sea in Madison, CT. “Conscious Grieving: Cultivating Hope in the Land of Loss” sought to offer healing for the many individuals that joined us. But my stories and explanations of grief could not be shared outside of our real-time collective experience of loss and grief from the pandemic and racial injustice.
This was a unique form of ministry, but ministry it was nonetheless. I brought my whole self to the moment, as we chaplains hope to do. I stayed attentive to the lessons of my story while I offered material to support healing. And our guests, some of whom I never really met, jumped in! They carried their broken hearts into a safe space that said, “You can be sad here.” Following our time together, participants spoke of the hope and presence they experienced.
This is all we can ask for in ministry – that we might facilitate, or just be present to, another’s interior movements. The grace of that moment becomes our blessing, our healing, as well. Let us bring our whole hearts to ministry these days, and with conscious self-compassionate choices, let God’s loving arms include us, too.
That is my prayer, now, in the early morning hours. As my eyes squint in the light, may I receive the warmth of God’s love that holds all of it.
Lisa Irish, BCC, offers ministry through spiritual direction, writing, and retreat leadership. Her newest book is Grieving – the Sacred Art: Hope in the Land of Loss.