'DWELLING PLACES BEYOND FORM'
Week One : Heart
I thought of you with love today
but that is nothing new
I thought about you yesterday
and days before that too,
I think of you in silence
I often speak your name
All I have are memories
and your picture in a frame.
Your memory is my keepsake
with which I’ll never part
God has you in His keeping
I have you in my heart.
This short poem, written after bereavement, gives us some sense of the very delicate interaction between silence, thought and memory.
After losing a most precious member of our family or a most important friend or acquaintance, our thoughts are often extremely intense and all consuming. They can race fast through our minds as we replay stages and scenes from the life of our nearest and our dearest and adjust to the reality of their physical absence.
The person we mourn is the person who shaped us within.
The person we mourn is the person we shared both time and space with here.
The person we mourn is the person who brought us into deeper levels of understanding around family, friendship, joy and truth.
In time, memory crystallizes those precious moments and gives us an emotional and a mental 'sphere' to store the significant and loving impact the individual has made upon us.
And the silence allows that 'sphere' to expand and to grow stronger in such a way as to truly 'have', or to 'hold', a lasting bond with the deceased in our tender 'hearts'.
Week Two : Season
Just gather some flowers
And remember the place where I lay
And come in the shade of the evening
When the sun paints
The sky in the west
Stand for a few moments beside me
And remember only my best'
Nigel was born in the North West of England on August 10th 1969. He attended 'St Anselm's RC Collège' and went on to Sheffield University graduating with a degree in 'Estate Management'. He was an extremely gifted sportsman, playing cricket at county level as a teenager and rugby for 'New Brighton Rugby AFC' just after leaving school.
He moved from the UK to the US in 1993, aged 24. Once settled in the city of Houston he kept his love of football alive playing for 'Houston United FC' and watching his beloved 'Everton FC' on the TV networks.
Nigel was a loving family man, father to three beautiful children and husband to Sandra. He was a successful businessman and enjoyed cooking and entertaining his wide circle of friends and family.
Nigel passed away on 2nd May 2017 at the age of 48 years old.
At the onset of each season those who knew and loved Nigel pause to reflect on his many gifts and attributes.
They 'remember the places' and 'stand for a few moments'. They cook. They laugh. They play sport. They look on nature. They pray. In the shade of the evening they are near to him once again. They are 'beside him' as his 'best' shines bright.
A dwelling place beyond form
Week Three : Discovery
'With an unshakeable confidence
I waited for the Beloved
To manifest His will'
In the year 1887, at the age of just seven years old, Elisabeth Catez lost the two most important male figures in her young life. Her grandfather, Raymond, died in January of that year and her father, Joseph died in October, reportedly in the arms of his daughter. 'I tried to hold back, that last, so very long sigh', wrote Elisabeth ten years after.
Elisabeth was brought face to face with death, with the 'split second of the mystery itself....the departure of a soul from this life to the next' (Joanne Mosley)
These events would go on to influence Elisabeth's entire outlook on family and on faith.
When her mother fell ill in the winter of 1898 she struggled again with the challenges of caring for her nearest and dearest and with her own course of spiritual travel at that time within the Carmelite Tradition.
She explained her approach in simple reference to the model of Jesus Christ:
'This is what I have always done in my life, at each trial, large or small, I look at what similar things our Lord has endured, in order to lose my suffering in his and myself in him'.
She was also inclined to pour out her thoughts and her feelings - her fears, frustrations, guilt and anger - into the notebooks that today makes up her diary. She ventured within herself to locate a strength in the sharing of her deepest self with Christ.
Week Four : Awareness
'After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said
(in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”
A jar full of sour wine was standing there.
So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.”
Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.' (John 19:28-30)
Those final few tender and touching moments we share with those we deeply love before their passing make for an indelible mark upon our future lives and on our self-understanding. We respond, there and then, out of a profound genuine connection enshrined in one instance of human time. Perhaps in sacred time. Perhaps it is as if we are caught between the two.
Jesus' last hours, crucified at the hands of powerful and cynical men, are witnessed by his mother and his mother's sister, by Mary Magdalene and 'the disciple whom he loved' (thought to be John). His many other followers are not there to witness his death. They are not able to convey their deepest sense of friendship and affection for Jesus, as they too fear persecution and punishment.
How many over recent months have felt their personal loss and bereavement so much more with 'Covid 19' restrictions upon hospital and care home visits as they seek only to be 'in the presence' of a loved one in their final moments.
In the very same chapter where we read how Jesus 'gave up his spirit', we read also of how key figures such as Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and the disciple John began to do something decisively, grasping their individual role in this whole transformational episode.
We, the bereaved, who may have been present or not at the moment of passing, are deeply aware of our responsibility to celebrate and to maintain something of the essence of those we dearly love. We are aware that kindness and tenderness needs to be carried forth ..... to keep truth and goodness alive.
It is as if 'a thirst', an inner determination to preserve the best qualities of the person, of the human family, takes hold. An openness to the Trinity, to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, can help provide, in the words of St Teresa of Avila, the 'divine liqueur .. for our sustenance'.
Week Five : Truth
"When you were bereaved of your loved ones years ago,
none of you imagined that the night of sorrow was to last so long.
None of you anticipated the frustration that would obstruct
the natural and the just desire to get to the truth.'' (Bishop James John,
former Anglican Bishop of Liverpool)
Today, as we continue to reel from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic across nations and across communities, there are unquestionably many people who feel deep levels of frustration and of loss, many who are coming to terms with a loved one absent from their lives and perhaps seeking answers as to what exactly happened to them and why.
Truth has a very powerful way of speaking to us after death. There are many who testify to a change in their personal direction, in their priorities and their outlook after a friend or a family member has passed. Truth can be obscured by many factors, by institution and by deceit, even sometimes by our own making, yet it cannot be suppressed to the point of anonymity or impassivity. It is integral to our connection with past and present, to our self-understanding.
The ways of the Trinity - of divine-human relationship - are constantly at work within us. There is, in the words of Elisabeth Catez, an 'exceeding Love ... evident in the struggles that you must undergo'.
The words by Bishop James were spoken some nine years ago (in the year 2012) in relation to the 'Hillsborough' tragedy of 1989 and as the findings of the 'Independent Panel' into the disaster, chaired by Bishop James, were unveiled. A verdict of 'unlawful killings' was subsequently recorded in April 2017.
As we move through the weeks and the months ahead and we reflect on the traumatic events of the last 16 months, we hope and we pray that that those currently in positions of political influence are mindful not to prolong 'the night of sorrow' of those seeking answers and openness in response to the loss of their loved ones.
We can emerge stronger together, valuing and remembering those who have died, listening to those affected, and with a sense of justice and of truth intact.
Week Six : Courage
'I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers,
nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord'
(Romans 8: 38-39)
St Paul writes with a deep personal conviction. A conviction that death does not equate to separation, to despair or to rejection.
In his moment of conversion he is blinded by 'a heavenly light', but more significantly comes to see himself as an 'instrument' of God's unfolding plan rather than any 'obstacle' to the ways of love and truth.
We read in the New Testament that prior to his Damascus trip he was 'breathing threats and murder' against the disciples of the Lord. He revelled in the power he held over the fate of men and women, over the earliest followers of Jesus.
Something beyond this worldly sense of power struck him. Something beyond religious, emotional, mental or physical form liberated him from his hateful and his harmful behaviours. Other 'dwelling places' were opened up to him.
Living more fully in God's kingdom, St Paul was enabled to comprehend something without barriers or without limits or 'folds'. The scope of God's love, in Christ Jesus - the light of the inner and outer world - had brought him to his true self. He allowed that moment to renew his entire approach to existence.
Courage can open 'dwelling places' beyond form. The moments we experience it, when we 'unfold' before the eternal can be transformative.
Week Seven : Rest
‘Each incident, each event, each suffering, as well as each joy,
is a sacrament which gives God to it;
so it no longer makes a distinction between these things;
it surmounts them, goes beyond them
to rest in its Master, above all things’ (Elizabeth of the Trinity)
The turbulence and turmoil of losing a close relative or friend is comparable with little else. The key features of that sacred life that you once embraced so deep swirl around our hearts and our heads. We cling to something of that person - be it physical or intangible - because we are afraid we might forget, be in some way 'untrue' towards them or lose sight of the reality of the one we so dearly loved. After bereavement each day can seem such a battle.
Chris and his loving Mum, Jean, spent lots of wonderful holidays together. They forged many a memory through their shared love of travelling and of encounter. In the many photographs and images of them abroad together there is a profound joy and sense of celebration as they shared real quality time and space. That joy remains after Jean's passing and 'goes beyond' the context of the original photographs (the form) to give out such a picture of warmth, truth and sincerity. In the present.
To 'rest' - in our physical, mental and emotional turbulence and confusion- we do need a 'resting place'. Yes, the physical space or room where we can feel safe and come to terms with our circumstances is vital. However, the 'spiritual rest' we seek is perhaps so much greater and perhaps takes longer to locate. In the quotation above Elizabeth of the Trinity is assuring us that we can indeed find that 'rest' in the omniscience and the sovereignty of the divine. The 'spiritual rest' and a real 'nourishing of our true identity' can filter through, as we place our given situation into the hands of that which is 'above all things' - an eternal love imbued in those less obvious places, in those 'dwelling places' beyond form.