By Bernadette Gibson
Sunday, November 4, 2018
“It is beyond a doubt that the loved ones we have lost live on in us.”
I always look up and take notice of the trees this time of year. The poet, Mary Oliver, tells us, “they are a good place to look, to put the heart at rest.” Some trees hold onto some of their autumn glory, those leaves of crimson, amber and gold, “all those leaves breathing the air” says the poet, “so peaceful and diligent, and certainly ready to be the resting place of angels, strange, winged creatures that we, in this world, have loved.”
All of us, in this life, will lose someone we love. None of us can live free of grief and loss. Both to love and then, when a beloved dies, to grieve, are part of what it means to be human. We are in the season of All Souls, that time when we, like generations of humankind gone before us, remember and honor those who have died. The longer we live the more times life asks us to say good-bye to someone who has died. Like so many of you, I have said goodbye to loved ones more than a few times in my life. I have known both the depths of grief and the lingering sense of loss that can last a lifetime. I have also learned that although their bodies live no more, in a very real way, these loved ones are with me still.
Author Frederick Buechner writes , “It is beyond a doubt that the loved ones we have lost live on in us.” Through decades of living with loss, I have learned that Frederick Buechner is right. Remembering our loved ones is not all sadness and tears. My grandmother died 14 years ago. Sometimes my grandmother makes me laugh, still. I can be out listening to someone tell a funny story or hear the high pitched laugh of another and I find myself giggling recalling a moment laughing with my grandmother as she sat in her rocking chair. So often it is the words of the poets that give voice to what we struggle to put into words but know in our bones. I have known for years now that my grandmother remains with me still, not in some “make-believe,” supernatural sort of way, and not only in my memories, as important as my memories are, but in a way that is both spiritual and real. I have sensed her presence while smelling lily of the valley, or as I take a trip to the grocery store and buy the ingredients for one of her recipes, or tell a funny story about a moment that has past. My grandmother was a wonderful storyteller. When we build on such memories and share them with others, especially children and young people, we are part of passing on a heritage.
Some of you, too, have shared with me that you have sensed the presence of someone who walks among us no longer. Hebrews talks about being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. We carry the essence of our ancestors in the marrow of our bones, and that is no small thing. “Do this,” Jesus tells us, “In remembrance of me.” Down through the centuries, and continuing today, the friends of Jesus Christ have obeyed Jesus command to do this in his memory. So the church designated November 2nd as All Souls Day. The second day of each November was to be a day on which we are called to remember in prayer all those who have passed before. The great German Lutheran pastor, theologian and martyr, Dietrick Bonhoeffer, offered these words about the loss of someone that we love:
“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love. And it would be wrong to try to find a substitute. We must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time, it is a great consolation. For the gap – as long as it remains unfilled – preserves the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap. God does not fill it. But on the contrary, keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other – even at the cost of pain.”
“Thin places” is a term used by Celtic Christians to describe deep and sacred sites, places where holiness is palpable and the other world, the sequel world, is almost tangible. Places where you can feel the saints walking beside you and the breath of God blowing on your soul. Where the veil that separates this world and its sequel feels especially thin, where dreams and visions come naturally and heaven feels like it might just be breaking through. Today of all days, I hope you will take time to remember the communion of saints who have gone before you, to pray their names in Thanksgiving and Joy. To remember who and what they were in this life, to light a candle, say a prayer or tell the stories of their lives, and so create a thin place in this day, one in which you might know as surely as you know anything that we are all connected in communion and love.
Bernadette Gibson is the Director of Pastoral Care at Old St. Patrick’s Church