January 7th – Jen Galicinski – Children’s Ministry Director…
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.” Isaiah (60:1-2)
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Change is hard.
Not to mention disorienting, sad and fearful. So often in life we think we some things are unquestionably constant, and certain, and it never even occurs to us that it can be different than they are, and then a piece of news can hit you, seemingly out of nowhere, like a bus, and suddenly, the world seems different and you don’t recognize your life anymore, and so you might as well go dye your hair purple! If you can’t fight it, might as well embrace it with something that makes you inexplicably happy, right?
This is literally what happened to me over the Christmas break. So, I am no stranger to these feelings. About a week before Christmas, a relationship that was very significant to me, and that I was very grateful for, and certain it was heading in a particular direction, suddenly ended. I did not see it coming, and was in shock, and was instantly propelled into a very deep and devastatingly painful place of darkness.
And in that darkness I had a choice to make. I could do what I have done in the past in moments of relational grief, which was stay in bed for a week with a tub of ice cream and a bottle of wine, re-watching Love Actually a million times, or, I could do what I’ve done at other times and become bitter and angry and write very nasty emails to this person and rant to my friends about what a horrible person this is.
Believe me, these are the things that I wanted to do, but I know from experience that those choices for me, only makes things worse. I’ve heard it said that in moments of pain, you can turn bitter or better. And if you turn bitter, you are wasting the pain. So, I decided this time, not to waste the pain. But to face it, and sit in it, and allow Jesus to carry me through it, and give my friends and family the opportunity to love and care for me, in a way that they did and has brought us closer together.
So this time, I followed the path that the Magi took, towards the Light, which always leads to God’s Very Real Presence, to God With Us, otherwise known as the baby Jesus.
So, at the advice of our dear Curate Philip, I went to Saint John the Divine’s convent, for prayer, reflection, and to meet with a Sister, a nun, for spiritual direction and guidance. (OK actually, I spent ONE day in bed with Netflix and icecream, but THEN I got outta bed!)
The convent was a very nourishing and healing experience. The Sister looked into my eyes and said to me gently, “I know this is hard, and you are confused and scared and angry, but you won’t always feel this way. Everything will be ok. God loves you so dearly. And God is closer to you than the tears on your check. Let him carry you now, imagine him holding you in his warm and loving embrace.”
This was very helpful, but in my grief I said, “But I want to know why. I am so confused. Why would he do this? And maybe it’s my fault?”
And she said, “There will come a time when it will be helpful to ask those questions, and see what it is you can learn. But now is not that time. Now is the time to allow Jesus to embrace you, and take comfort in his whisper, “Everything will be ok. I love you.”
And this I did. Every time since then I felt the urge to question, or to analyze, or to rage, I simply returned to the image of Jesus holding me, telling me, “I love you. Everything will be ok. This too, shall pass.”
And then she said to remember the second greatest commandment, which is to continue to get out of yourself, and love thy neighbor as yourself. And so, she said, at this time of year, which so much need and pain, who can you serve and love?
So I called my friend at Romero House, the refugee welcoming community in the West End of Toronto, and asked if they had any practical needs I could meet. They did. And so my parents and I decided to forego the stocking stuffers this year and pool our money into buying 17 pairs of winter boots, snow pants, and mittens for newly arrived refugee children. So we went on a Value Village splurge, which was very fun and awesome especially because I racked up lots of VV points so I got 30% off!
It was absolute elation to shop for these, and to tell the staff at VV who they were for, and then to deliver it to the kids. And scientific studies have confirmed this truth, one secret of those who are happy is they volunteer. They help people who have been hurt in similar ways to them, and by giving, you receive so much more in return.
I decided the next day to make my mother’s birthday the best one that she’s had, so I planned a surprise for her. And the next day I offered to fold bulletins for the church. And on Christmas day we volunteered again with Romero House, for their Service of Peace, hanging out with the refugee kids, and it was awesome.
And I got to tell you, by no means did the pain and grief disappear. It was and it is a times, still difficult. But my focus on the Light, on being purposefully aware of God’s loving embrace of me, and then allowing my community the opportunity to embrace me, and then turning around and embracing those around me, God’s Presence became very real, and it was like wearing a new pair of glasses. Everything seemed just a little bit clearer, my problem was put into a wider perspective.
It didn’t mean that I was suddenly cured of grief, and I continue to grieve and I know in the midst of my confusion, more shall be revealed.
But that’s the thing about Light. So often we are not given a blazing Sun that Illuminates Everything We Want to See. More often, when we are on dark, winding paths, and we do not know where it is taking us, the Light God’s presence provides is more like headlights, illuminating just enough for us to drive around just the next corner.
As Anne Lamott says in her book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair, “we are not served by getting away from the grubbiness of suffering.” She continues, “we have to stand in the middle of the horror, at the foot of the cross [like Mary], and wait out another’s suffering where that person can see us….To be honest, that sucks. It’s the worst, even if you are the mother of God.”
Presence and solidarity with those who are suffering, without any cute platitudes like “God’s plan is perfect” — which only makes things worse — is hard, but it’s so essential and a good place to start.
But then what? Lamott continues:
“Most of us have figured out that we have to do what’s in front of us and keep doing it. We clean up beaches after oil spills. We rebuild towns after hurricanes and tornados. We return calls and library books. We get people water. Some of us even pray. Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, the place of newness, freedom, justice. The equation is: life, death, resurrection, hope. The horror is real, and so you make casseroles for your neighbour, organize an overseas clothing drive, and do your laundry…we live stitch by stitch, when we’re lucky.”
And I’m reminded of the words of the iconic Canadian poet Leonard Cohen, “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
And so, I encourage today friends, if you, or someone you know are in a place of shock, grief, confusion, sadness, or darkness, remember that “The Lord has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.”
Let us take our cue from the Magi, who followed the Light, and found that it led them to the Light of the World, God With Us, the One who can and will bring a sustaining and life-giving embrace of warmth, love, and hope. Amen.