Tag Archives: community

grief-community-ritual

Healing and hope

Recently, I went to San Francisco for a workshop called Entering the Healing Ground: The Sacred Work of Grief. The workshop combined several things I love: poetry, writing, dancing and singing.

It also involved something I don’t particularly like: sharing my personal story with a group.

I am okay with talking about my public self, and I have gotten better at sharing some of my personal story, but there is a whole other layer buried deep inside that I rarely touch and even more rarely share. Dipping into my shadow, admitting my weaknesses and revealing my secrets—ugh.grief-community-ritualThis workshop invited me to dig deep and root around in the darkness where I hide my most private self. It invited me to touch my pain and to allow others to see the real me—not just the strong, independent me, but also the vulnerable me who has been hurt and experienced loss.grief-community-ritualThe facilitator talked about self-compassion, which was exactly the message I needed to hear. I know I need to be tender with my brokenness in order to coax my hidden self into the light.­­­­­

The workshop sessions began with drumming, dancing, singing and poetry. The facilitator talked about community, ritual and grief.

And then we wrote.

Each writing exercise began with a prompt. Over the course of three days, these prompts help me go deep within:

  • I remember
  • It is true
  • It hurt me
  • I survived
  • It is not okay with me
  • I miss

After each ten-minute writing session, we read what we had written to two other participants, and then we were given the opportunity to share with the larger group of twenty-four.grief-community-ritualI usually don’t speak in group settings; I listen and learn from others but rarely take the risk of speaking.

However, I am trying to move against my resistance.

At this workshop, I waited until the last opportunity on Saturday to share with the large group. Then I took a deep breath and read what I had just written prompted by I survived.

My writing was about something from my childhood, something I have only shared with a few close friends. I felt exposed and incredibly vulnerable—ugh.

That evening, I spent some time alone. I knitted, prayed and took a walk around the retreat center grounds. That is my pattern—to withdraw and isolate when I feel vulnerable.

There I was at a workshop focused on accepting our brokenness and grief, forming community, trusting—and when I most needed to be with others, I withdrew.

The next morning, I returned to the group a bit more self-aware, open and ready to dig a bit deeper. Writing on Sunday morning to the prompt I miss revealed an unhealed grief, and it was cathartic to release my sadness through tears.

grief-community-ritualThe weekend was a rare opportunity and I felt incredibly blessed to have participated. As we were leaving, another participant said, “A great gift brings great responsibility.”

What will I do with this great gift?

 

 

vulnerability-courage

Moving from safe spaces to brave spaces

Last week, I facilitated a retreat session for eleven young adults who are spending a year of volunteer service in Detroit. They live in community and work at a variety of nonprofit organizations.

Their orientation in August introduced them to the concept of brave spaces as opposed to safe spaces.

I think most people commit to a year of service because they want to be a catalyst for change. They believe they can help people who are marginalized or change systems that have become corrupt.

It can be daunting to speak of our convictions on behalf of people who have no voice, especially when we are speaking to those who claim to have the same vision as we do. This often happens in large institutions where upholding rules and regulations can take precedence over individual needs, but it can happen anywhere.

People tend to habituate to their environment; a new person with a fresh perspective can shake things up—which can be seen as a threat to people who are comfortable in their certainty that they are already doing a good job.

Courage is needed to step into these situations, and these volunteers will be called upon to step out of their comfort zones to speak truth to power.

Unlike the nonprofits which are already established, however, living in community is different because they are creating it as they go. By its very nature, community living can be intense, and being able to state our own needs while being sensitive to the needs of others can be a challenge.

I invited the volunteers to recall one of those challenging moments in community as a starting place for their reflection.

Living in community offers many opportunities for self-reflection. Other community members are wonderful mirrors, offering insights we may not have seen before.

vulnerability-courage

When I lived in l’Arche, I would say that I met myself every day—and it was ugly. What I saw reflected back to me was my worst self. I saw my fears and insecurities, my need to control and my need to be right. I saw how petty and judgmental I could be.

And when I saw these things, I became defensive, because this safe space was all I knew.

But God was inviting me to let go of my false self and discover who I was meant to be.

I needed to step out of my safe space where I had convinced myself that I had control and could manage my life on my own, and into that brave space where I faced my fears and insecurities. It was painful to truly see myself and to accept that reality. I had to be open and vulnerable every day so God could heal me.

I invited these volunteers to look at their interior safe spaces to see where they need courage to step up and speak truth to themselves, because standing in that brave space is perhaps the change that will make the biggest difference in their lives.

vulnerability-courage

Vulnerability Part II

I wondered what it takes to get people to admit that they have been hurt or frightened or felt vulnerable. I wondered what fear prevents us from speaking these deep truths.

 Another blogger reposted these statements from my previous post, and when I read them, I realized they were really rhetorical questions for me. I know what fears keep me from showing my vulnerability—fears of disappointing someone, of looking weak, of seeming needy and incapable of taking care of myself, fears of being rejected.

I have learned, though, that those fears are unfounded and that, in reality, when I show my vulnerability, instead of being rejected, I am much more likely to be embraced, a lesson I learned most clearly after I left l’Arche.

Living in l’Arche was the most difficult thing I had ever done, and when I left, I was broken—emotionally and spiritually. I had failed at living in l’Arche, failed miserably, and was too embarrassed and too proud to return to Pennsylvania, despite friends’ encouragement to come back. My shame was overwhelming and paralyzing; I was in a deep funk.

Then a friend invited me to live in her community and made arrangements for me to live in a house down the street from her. I was welcomed into this home and given a second-floor bedroom in the front of the house. My room had a big window that let in lots of sunlight and I remember being deeply aware of the contrast between the light streaming in from outside and the darkness I felt inside.

My energy level was very low and I did not have much to give to this new community. Mostly, I moped around during the days, and in the evenings I watched the community members enjoying their time together. Because my sense of self-worth is closely connected to what I am contributing—and I was not contributing anything of value—I had no expectations that these people would accept me.

But they did not seem to mind if I needed to sit at the kitchen table and look out the window for hours on end or if I sat in my room feeling the warmth of the sun pouring in. They kept extending invitations to join in their community activities, but without pressure. Eventually, I started to join in, and their welcome and acceptance started to heal me.

My image of my life at that time was that I was drowning when I left l’Arche and my friend had tossed out a life-preserver. For a while I clung to that preserver, and it kept me from going under. In time, I started to float, and then bit by bit, the community members pulled the rope ever so gently and I came closer and closer to them.

I recall that time whenever I am feeling vulnerable and fears start to surface. I remind myself that fear is useless, and what is needed is trust.

It only matters when it’s you

“…I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and that I am confident lives also in you.” 1 Tim 1:4

When I was very young, my grandmother still lived in the house where my dad had grown up, and we usually visited her on Sunday afternoons. During many of those visits, my mother would take me across the street with her to see a neighbor, another grandmother, whose sons had played with my dad and his brothers when they were children.

The neighbor had a grown son who lived with her, a man who had cerebral palsy.

Our visits across the street usually included some time with this man. My memory is that he was always sitting in a chair in his bedroom, and my mother would sit in a chair next to his, while I stood nearby.

No one in my family had such a disability and therefore I was unfamiliar with his jerky movements and indecipherable speech patterns. My mother, though, seemed quite comfortable spending time with him. She seemed not to notice his twisted body and she seemed to understand what he was saying. She conversed with him as she did with everyone else. It was a mystery to me and I was fascinated by it.

As time went by, I grew more comfortable visiting this man, although I was always just a bit hesitant in his presence.

By the time I was eight years old, my grandmother had moved to the suburbs. Our visits to the old neighborhood became less frequent and eventually stopped.

I recently had dinner with a women who grew up across the street from my grandmother, a woman I had not seen in more than forty years. It was her grandmother that lived across the street from mine and her uncle who had cerebral palsy.

As I shared my memory of visiting her grandmother and uncle, I had an “aha” moment.

Early on in my career working with people who had disabilities, a co-worker used the phrase, “It only matters when it’s you.” I thought it a bit harsh, and I also understood it. Something in our human nature seems to cause us to care more about what directly affects us. My co-worker was talking about the challenge of connecting people who have disabilities with community members who have no prior experience.

Most of the people I worked with were the parents or siblings of people who had disabilities. That was not my story, and yet I was passionate about my work.

Talking with the niece of this man my mother and I used to visit opened my eyes; he was my connection. My mother had been teaching me by her example. He mattered to her; I had watched and learned.

There are Trees

“There are trees,” exclaimed a cousin from Poland on her first visit to Detroit forty years ago. “Of course, there are trees,” my aunt responded. It seems, at that time, people in Poland were being told that all the trees in the U.S. had been cut down. This cousin had expected a wasteland. Throughout her visit, she kept up a running commentary on all the trees, flowers and animals she saw, trying to reconcile her pre-trip expectations with what she was actually seeing.

I was reminded of that incident when a friend and I drove into Detroit the other day. “There are buildings,” she exclaimed as downtown Detroit came into view. “Of course, there are buildings,” I responded. It seems that the message about Detroit these days is some kind of post- apocalyptical shell of a city.

In reality, downtown Detroit is thriving—buildings, culture and entertainment. (My first assignment for my new job was attending the annual dinner of the Michigan Women’s Foundation—700 people at a downtown convention center.)

I won’t claim that Detroit has no issues. Like many older U.S. cities, some neighborhoods are deeply troubled, with abandoned houses dotting the landscape and residents struggling to retain a sense of community.

As with most places, though, Detroit has strengths and weaknesses, assets and deficits. I tend to focus on the assets of a place. Knowing that no place is perfect, I accept the imperfections as part of the package. I seek out the good things a city has to offer. This has been true for me wherever I have lived, and I think it has helped me get to know cities, to appreciate what they have to offer and to enjoy what is available.

I am looking forward to getting reacquainted with Detroit, the city where I grew up, the first city I loved. I am grateful for this opportunity to fall in love with Detroit for a second time.

Yes, there are buildings in downtown Detroit and there are still trees—and now this is the place I call home.