in times of grief, and death, and sorrow

Jan Richardson reflects on the death of her husband Gary:
One of the things I quickly learned after Gary died was that death has a way of tearing open our hearts toward eternity. We are no longer residents of this world only; we no longer move only in this time. It is one of the strange and beautiful effects of intense loss. Even as I continue to make a new life in this world, I am keenly aware that my heart is held by one who lives beyond this world. And that means my heart lives both within and beyond the borders of what I can see and know in this world.
We live in these two worlds. Except that it’s not really two worlds. Somehow, now and eternity are bound together in a deep mystery. This is a day to remember that even in the pain of sharpest loss, somehow we all live in one world, and death does not release us from being in relationship with one another.
This is a blessing about that. As we both grieve and celebrate our beloved dead, may we know how they endure with us, holding our hearts and encompassing us with a fierce and stubborn love that persists across time and distance.

ENDURING BLESSING
What I really want to tell you
is to just lay this blessing
on your forehead,
on your heart;
let it rest
in the palm of your hand,
because there is hardly anything
this blessing could say,
any word it could offer
to fill the hollow.
Let this blessing
work its way
into you
with its lines
that hold nearly
unspeakable lament.
Let this blessing
settle into you
with its hope
more ancient
than knowing.
Hear how this blessing
has not come alone –
how it echoes with
the voices of those
who accompany you,
who attend you in every moment,
who continually whisper
this blessing to you.
Hear how they
do not cease
to walk with you,
even when the dark
is deepest.
Hear how they
encompass you always –
breathing this blessing to you,
bearing this blessing to you
still.
(Source: Jan Richardson, from The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief)

Luka Bloom wrote this in March 2012, after 28 people from Belgium, including 22 children, died in a bus crash in Switzerland – ‘You should always come home’… Achingly beautiful, and so appropriate for so many suffering loss and grief, especially after tragedy. Thank you for your music, Luka Bloom.

Lyrics: Closer to the Light, Bruce Cockburn
There you go
Swimming deeper into mystery
Here I remain
Only seeing where you used to be
Stared at the ceiling
‘Til my ears filled up with tears
Never got to know you
And suddenly you’re out of here

Gone from mystery into mystery
Gone from daylight into light
Another step deeper
Into darkness
Closer to the light

Walked outside
Summer moon was nearly down
Mist on the fields
Holy stillness all around
Death’s no stranger
No stranger than the life I’ve seen
Still I cried
Still I begged to get you back again

Gone from mystery into mystery
Gone from daylight into light
Another step deeper
Into darkness
Closer to the light

For the grieving
God who grieves,
Christ of compassion,
Spirit of comfort and hope,
We grieve for the grieving.
Those for whom the ache of memory taints the present and colours any vision for the future.
Those for whom there is a hole in their life which cannot be filled or covered up, but simply borne.
Those for whom memories are both sweet and sad and when daily encounters may unpredictably evoke tears and sadness anew.
Those who can’t and shouldn’t have to get over the chasm of their loss, but who seek to move forward carrying this emptiness.
We grieve and pray for those who have lost a sense of normal with the void in their routine living carved out by who or what has been lost.
May a new normal evolve, and may it bring some sense of comfort and healing.
We pray for those haunted by the ghosts of “what if?” and “if only…”.
May they find and focus on that which is positive and hope-filled and which dissolves regrets and unrealised dreams.
Resource them so that they may find the way to forgive anything that needs forgiving and to receive and accept forgiveness which they need.
Grant them wisdom and courage to know when and how to ask for help and support from those who care.
Insulate them from the inevitable well-meaning tritisms and platitudes which might be offered, but which are too often unhelpful and come from an ignorance of the struggles of deep grief.
Bring alongside them people of care and compassion who are equipped with the resilience and wisdom for the long journey of the grieving.
Be with them so that they might know your presence, comfort and love and find in you the way forward to healing and life.
Bring us the knowledge and will to be your hands of help if and when we can.
This we ask.
Amen.
(Source: Jon Humphries)

Linda Ellis and the ‘Dash Poem – on a headstone the line between the birth and death is what really matters, about how you lived.

I hear
the love of those
who have loved me
echo in me.
All the notes of my song
sing over theirs,
the only kind of beauty.
The song does not die.
May I live
with love and mercy
for it will echo
long after.
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)

O saints, if I am even eligible for this prayer,
though less than worthy of this dear desire,
and if your prayers have influence in Heaven,
let my place there be lower than your own.
I know how you longed, here where you lived
as exiles, for the presence of the essential
Being and Maker and Knower of all things.
But because of my unruliness, or some erring
virtue in me never rightly schooled,
some error clear and dear, my life
has not taught me your desire for flight:
dismattered, pure, and free. I long
instead for the Heaven of creatures, of seasons,
of day and night. Heaven enough for me
would be this world as I know it, but redeemed
of our abuse of it and one another. It would be
the Heaven of knowing again. There is no marrying
in Heaven, and I submit; even so, I would like
to know my wife again, both of us young again,
and I remembering always how I loved her
when she was old. I would like to know
my children again, all my family, all my dear ones,
to see, to hear, to hold, more carefully
than before, to study them lingeringly as one
studies old verses, committing them to heart
forever. I would like again to know my friends,
my old companions, men and women, horses
and dogs, in all the ages of our lives, here
in this place that I have watched over all my life
in all its moods and seasons, never enough.
I will be leaving how many beauties overlooked?
A painful Heaven this would be, for I would know
by it how far I have fallen short. I have not
paid enough attention, I have not been grateful
enough. And yet this pain would be the measure
of my love. In eternity’s once and now, pain would
place me surely in the Heaven of my earthly love.
(Source: Wendell Berry, from ‘Leavings’)

Jan Richardson: Grief is so daily. It finds us in every moment we will never share with our loved one again, every routine we have lost, every pattern and practice and rhythm we have to create anew. Here’s the secret: that’s where the solace lives, too, and the grace. That’s where love still waits for us, every moment, every day.

BLESSING FOR THE DAILINESS OF GRIEF
Sorry I am
to say it,
but it is here,
most likely,
you will know the rending
most deeply.

It will take your breath away,
how the grieving waits for you
in the most ordinary moments.

It will wake
with your waking.

It will
sit itself down
with you at the table,
inhabiting the precise shape
of the emptiness
across from you.

It will walk down the street
with you
in the form of
no hand reaching out
to take yours.

It will stand alongside you
in every conversation,
nearly unbearable
in its silence
that fairly screams.

It will
brush its teeth
with you at night
and climb into bed
with you
when finally
you let go
of this day.

Even as it goes
always with you,
it will still manage
to startle you with
its presence,
causing you to weep
when you enter
the empty kitchen
in the morning,
when you spread fresh sheets
on the bed you shared,
when you walk out
through the door
alone
and pass back through it
likewise.

It is here
you will know it best—
in the moments
that made up the rhythm
of your days,
that fashioned the litany
of your life,
the togethering
you will never know
in the same way again.

But I will tell you
it is here, too,
that your solace lies.
It will wait for you
in those same moments
that stun you
with their sorrow.

I cannot tell you how,
but it will not cease
to carry you
in the cadence that has
forever altered
but whose echo will persist
with a stubbornness
that will surprise you,
bearing you along,
breathing with you still
through the terrible
and exquisite
ordinary days.
(Source: Jan Richardson, from a book of blessings, The Cure for Sorrow, to be released Nov  2016)
jan-richardson-a-cure-for-sorrow

Blessing when the world is ending

Look, the world
is always ending
somewhere.

Somewhere
the sun has come
crashing down.

Somewhere
it has gone
completely dark.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the gun
the knife
the fist.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the slammed door
the shattered hope.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone
the television
the hospital room.

Somewhere
it has ended
with a tenderness
that will break
your heart.

But, listen,
this blessing means
to be anything
but morose.
It has not come
to cause despair.

It is simply here
because there is nothing
a blessing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world
is falling apart.

This blessing
will not fix you
will not mend you
will not give you
false comfort;
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.

It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
will come,
gathering itself
about you
as the world begins
again.
(source: Jan Richardson)

Prayers for Shaky Places – various prayers and reflections

A prayer when facing calamity.
God of love,
When things happen that cause suffering or grief,
when we face injury or loss,
we seek the faith that sustains hope,
and the strength to see beyond despair.
We need a resolve outside ourselves –
not just the instinct to live or survive –
but friendship and love.
Grant me the will to grasp that gift,
to give and receive grace,
and to abide in the light,
with the One who said:
“I am the light”, Amen.
© John Howell

Prayer after an earthquake
Oh God, at times such as this,
when we realize that the ground beneath our feet
is not as solid as we had imagined, we plead for your mercy.
As the things we have built crumble about us,
we know too well how small we truly are
on this ever-changing, ever-moving, fragile planet we call home.
Yet you never forget us.
Oh God, come to our assistance
Today, so many people are afraid.
They wait in fear of the next tremor.
They hear the cries of the injured amid the rubble.
They roam the streets in shock at what they see.
And they fill the dusty air with wails of grief and the names of missing dead.
Comfort them, Oh God, in this disaster.
Be their rock when the earth refuses to stand still,
and shelter them under your wings when homes no longer exist.
Embrace in your arms those who died so suddenly in this tragedy.
Console the hearts of those who mourn,
and ease the pain of bodies on the brink of death.
Fill our hearts with compassion,
we who watch from afar,
as the poorest on this side of the earth
find only misery upon misery.
Move us to act swiftly this day,
to give generously every day, to work for justice always,
and to pray unceasingly for those without hope.
And once the shaking has ceased,
the images of destruction have stopped filling the news,
and our thoughts return to life’s daily rumblings,
let us not forget that we are all your children
and they, our brothers and sisters.
We are all the work of your hands.
For though the mountains leave their place
and the hills be tossed to the ground, your love shall never leave us,
and your promise of peace will never be shaken.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Blessed be the name of the Lord, now and forever. Amen
(Author unknown)

This is not a day for pious prayer or long-winded sermons.
It is not a day for doctrine, dogma or debate.
It is a day simply to gather ourselves together, to be in one another’s presence,
And in that presence to remind ourselves of the enduring power of love.
We acknowledge the intensity and the diversity of the emotions we are feeling.
We bring to this place of togetherness our grief, our anguish, our despair, our unanswerable questions.
We bring also our relief, our gratitude, our awareness that amidst the pain of loss and suffering, we are held, and loved, and in that love we may find hope.
We call to mind loved ones who have died, and loved ones still living.
We pray for those who have worked and are still working so hard in this city to save and preserve life.
We pray for ourselves.
We pray for one another.
We give thanks that in Christ’s spirit of compassion we can support one another,
We can care for one another,
We can love one another through these dark days and beyond.
Amen.
(Source: Geoff King, Minister of Knox Church, Christchurch)

‘The Lord Reigns. Psalm 99
O Lord our God, you reign over this world!
Even when the earth quakes, and fires rage through the forests,
and floods inundate the lowlands,
and your people and their creations are laid low,
you are still Lord and creator of all the earth.

O Lord our God, You reign over this world!
Even when people turn against one another,
and nations are engaged in war,
and violence and injustice are heaped upon your creatures,
You are still our God, and Lord of all the earth.

Loving God, your creatures bear the consequences of their
self-centeredness, and this world is distorted by their activity.
But you are merciful and forgive those who turn to you,
and make them your children and give them your voice of hope,
and through them seek to heal this world’s gaping wounds,
and the hurts that your children inflict upon one another.

Gracious Lord, you hear those who call upon your name,
and who seek to follow the bidding of your Word.
Give us your Word of life, and lead us along your path of light,
that we may share your love and grace with all your creation.

O Lord our God, you reign over this world!
You are Lord and Creator of all the earth!
Amen.
(Source: Don Hall – Leslie Brandt)

A Psalm for Christchurch
Stronger than the mountains
Deeper than the deepest faultline
Is your abiding love

Though the mountains depart
Though familiar landmarks crumble
Though exhaustion and fear encompass me
Still your kingdom comes

In rubble and dust, in pain and death
In blood and tears
As anxiety feeds anxiety
Still your kingdom comes

As the past is lost and discovered
As neighbours are lost and found
As God is lost, or missing
Still your kingdom comes.

Into your hands I commend my Spirit
(author unknown)

Listening to the shaking foundations
It’s possible I’m moving through the hard veins
of heavy mountains, like the ore does, alone; Rilke
But the Lord was not in the earthquake. 1 Kings 19:12.

The mountain’s eyelids are closed with cloud;
snow etching its face with a moko;
a chiseling winter mirrored in the lake’s lips;
layers of landscape stacked on the horizon.

The earth cracks and fissures,
like teeth grating in its jaw’s vice,
squeezing the rim of a broken plate
while the land shivers with grief.

Treating nature as a commodity is folly;
Richter scales a different mountain.
A shaking foundation is a fragile dwelling place –
travel light through the place we call home.

Go and stand on the mountain.
It is time to dance to a different tune
to listen to the sound of sheer silence,
and songs of the suffering servant.

Creator God,
Tune my ears to the voice within,
that sings your evolving power.
Place my feet in the cosmic dust,
grounding your regal design.
Fill my heart with humility
to find my place in a community of wonder,
kneeling beside the Holy One, Amen.
(Source: John Howell)

Communion (for All Saints Day)
Invitation to Communion
Siblings in Christ, join me today at this table to a feast belonging to Jesus the Christ.  Siblings in Christ, join me today for a feast which will comfort our souls.  Siblings in Christ, join me in this sacrament knowing that we will grow close to God, neighbor, and self at this table.
Prayer of Communion
Friends, we come to this bittersweet ritual today filled with a bundle of emotions.  While our gratitude for this family of faith is plentiful, our spiritual pain still may be suffocating us at five weeks or four months or three years or even two decades after the death of our beloved.

Our pews are a little lighter.  Our homes are a quieter.  And our hearts know well of the gaping hole resulting from our loss.

Even as this void still consumes this day-to-day living, we come here looking for hope that we can find only in you.  Through this meal, we connect the past and present together, knowing that generation after generation has come to this table in their joy and grief.

God, we pray that this feast be one that fills our souls with comfort.  May this meal kindle warmth and light inside our spirits.

May your Holy Spirit bless this bread and cup.  May the Spirit bless us as we celebrate at the peaks of life and as we abide in the shadow-filled valleys.  May the Spirit bring us the peace that will permeate our grief-coated hearts.  And may the Spirit use this time and space to remind us that we are never alone in our difficult spaces.

With his friends, Jesus shared his last communion before death.  The group recognized the sacred in their gathering and celebrated their friendship and their community of faith.

One more time, Jesus took the bread and blessed it.  In his breaking of the bread, Jesus yearned for them to remember his teachings and their times together.  “Whenever you eat this bread, remember me.”

One more time, after supper, Jesus took the cup and blessed it as well.  In his grasping of the cup, Jesus yearned for his followers to recall their times together.  “Whenever you drink of this cup, remember me.”

As we join together for this meal, let us remember with gratitude our loved ones who once ate at this table and many other tables with us.  While they no longer abide with us here today, help us to recognize that they are a part of the great cloud of witnesses, celebrating eternity with our Creator.

May this meal be a gift to each of our souls today.

Unison prayer of Thanksgiving

We express our gratitude for this meal, Divine Host.  We give thanks for the times we spent with our loved ones here at this table, and we thank you that this table is a reminder of our love for you, God.  Accompany us into the world with peace in our hearts and strength in the days to come.  Amen.
(Source: Michelle L. Torigian’s website)

About admin

Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon) in placement at Pilgrim Uniting Church, in Adelaide CBD (12 Flinders St). This blog is mainly to resource worship planners for our services, but of course may be useful for others. We have some great writers of music, words for hymns and liturgy at Pilgrim, so this blog also includes their words.
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