Monday, December 20, 2010


Every year my church in Chicago has a Longest Night service, a "gathering for healing and remembrance", a time of marking and honoring losses during the year, held on an evening close to the winter solstice. I was never able to go, but I often think of what that service would be like, what I would want that service to be.

In my experience of church life there's always been lots of ritual space for joy and worship and a little bit for repentance and even every now and then the implication that it was okay to be angry at God (for a little while). But no space for grief, no space for people to gather with their accumulation of painful stories and sit with them together.

I noticed this absence first when family members of a high school friend were murdered, and felt it again the following year as I watched the violence in my hometown and across Kenya from cold, distant, Wheaton. I came back from Cambodia with sadness that I could never quite separate from my physical sickness. Accordingly, I found that the only prayer that made sense involved my body, in yoga. All of these sadnesses had their private place, but I longed - and long - for something shared.

On the longest night this year, my mind wanders among the stories I've heard from my clients in the last few months. There are a few that shocked me enough that I can remember specifics, but perhaps even worse are the painful situations so common I can assume them of everyone who sits down by my desk. I've found a lot of comfort in the past couple of weeks reading Breathing Space, the spiritual memoir of a Lutheran minister named Heidi Neumark in the South Bronx. She describes a women's Bible study saying:
I told them about the mother who stopped traffic to wash her son's blood off the street. The Bible study itself is a time to stop the traffic rushing through our days and honor what is sacred to our hearts...two hours that say, "Our grief is not just something to get over. Our grief is holy ground."
I long to hear that and see that in church more often.

Our grief is not just something to get over. Our grief is holy ground.

1 comment: