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Making Space for Grief

in their own words 2

Last week I wrote of the death on our little farm. Folks have asked how I helped the children people grieve. Here is my response.

 “That is it isn't it? The rub, the hard bit is communicating this paradox of life and death with those we love. My eldest daughter, 14 years old, was with me when all this was going on. We talked about it. This isn't our first death on our little farm, but it was significant in that we didn't remove the loss. Her way of grief was so bodily. She wanted to dig the hole and she wanted to bury him, in the rain- no less. Later, she told me she gave him back to God and the creation he came from. “

 I am no therapist and most days I’m barely as wise as our basset hound who regularly eats horse poop, but here are few things I’m learning.

  • Talk about what’s happening. I don’t mean lecture. I mean enter into a conversation about what is happening. An easy opener could be “What do you think is happening here?” Stay away from any philosophical or theological answers. Be simple, be honest, be present.
  • Ask questions. What do you think is going on? How do you feel about what is going on? What does your heart say?
  • If you are sad, be sad. Pray aloud. If you are anxious, be anxious. Pray aloud. We parents try to hide these emotions, but we’re fooling no one. The children know and probably feel the same. Together go to the Spirit whose great gift is comfort.
  • Make a space for grief. Children are so very bodily. (Adults are too; we’ve just grown old and forgotten.) They will need to grieve with their bodies. They may need to kiss the departed. When our cat died our youngest daughter held his dead little body wrapped in a towel and rocked him for over an hour. They may need to lie on the floor and cry. They may need to create a picture of the one gone, or paint a memorial stone. They may want to do this alone or they may want you with them. Ask, they will tell you.

Let's learn together, how have you helped children to grieve?

Lewis, de Cassade and a Goat

Calypso

This morning as I was making breakfast and preparing my daughter’s lunch for horse camp, I was informed that our elderly goat was kidding. (Not cracking wise, but having babies.) We had hoped that she might have one more batch of kids, but her due date was two weeks past. The next hour flew by with preparations of one child off to horse camp, trying to calm the horse who was left behind, Lady, preparing for goat birth all the while reminding small humans to eat their breakfast and brush their teeth.

Finally when the camp people and horse were feed and departed, I sat next to our goat, Sally, and held her head in my lap as she labored. I thought of Jean-Pierre de Cassade.

“Every current, every technique, thrusts us onward in our voyage to the Infinite. Everything work to this end and, without exception, helps us towards holiness” (Cutsinger, 35).

How could I be a calming presence to Sally and Lady? “Where is the holy in this?” I wondered. I thought of C.S. Lewis “The objects around me, and my idea of “me”, will deceive if taken at their face value. But they are momentous if taken as the end-products of Divine activities. Thus and not otherwise the creation of matter and the creation of mind meet one another and the circuit is closed.” (164).

Sally was struggling. She had been in labor too long and we both knew it. “How, Lord, does this thrust me onward in my voyage to the Infinite?” I rubbed her belly and under her chin. When the first kid came, we breathed a sigh of relief. Breathing. Bonding. Check.

But the second kid didn’t come for a while, and when he did, I knew. As best as I could, I helped, but he was gone before he got here. I wanted, as I have done in the past when these lifeless ones are born, to hide him away from his mother. This time though I thought of de Cassade, “Our only satisfaction must be to live in the present moment as if there were nothing to expect beyond it.” (35).

I laid his little body before her. She licked him, working to bring him back. She called to him, working to call him to life. But he was gone. This present moment called for both celebration and grief. Two sides of the same coin, it seems one cannot exist without the other. A paradox of presence perhaps, (too much alliteration?) where what “thrusts us onward in our voyage” is the encounter of the Infinite, (what is more infinite than the cycle of life and death?), who is not only in the present, but is Presence.

References are from Not of This World: A Treasury of Christian Mysticism compiled and edited by James S. Cutsinger

Seeking the Speed of Soul

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While Dallas Willard is correct in saying that “reality is what you run into when you’re wrong,”[1] sometimes it feels more like a sneak attack than a running into. In our current season of life, life looks like busyness. I have studied the dangers of busyness, written about the dangers of busyness and professed never to fall into the camp of busyness, but here we are. I confess, we are busy.

“However,” I argue with myself, “these things we are doing are good.” Soccer-good. Orchestra- good. Seminary-good. School-good. Track- good. Piano- good. Violin- good. Worship team- good. Community-good. Spiritual direction- good. Goats- good.

All- good.

The sneak attack came one Tuesday evening as I sat to center down and engage in Ignatian Examen of my soul.

“For what was I most grateful today?” Like looking for lost keys, I began rummaging around my memory for the events of the day. I had a hard time coming up with concrete details for a solid something. Sure I was grateful for my kids, but what specifically for today? What did we do today?

Perhaps a different question, “For what was I least grateful today?” I could always go for the finitude of the human person, but maybe there was something deeper going on?

Next question, “When did I most connect with God and others, or myself?”

And there it was. Busyness, good or bad aside, lacks the power to connect. I couldn’t answer any of the questions; because although I was there physically my other bits were absent- in fact we might say I wasn’t even aware that my body was having a Tuesday.

The parts of us are interconnected, influencing each other and guided by our spirit connected to the Spirit. In the state of busyness, these parts disconnect and go on autopilot. While we can be thankful that breathing is on autopilot, we can easily slip from present to absent. My body can show up, but the rest is out to lunch or more accurately on to the next task or managing my To Do list.

In the past I’ve had a great desire to find hard and fast rules of simplicity. I’ve had trouble nailing down those that don’t lead me into legalism when it comes to time, until the sneak attack.

Perhaps presence is a good thermostat for busyness.

Today, the number of items on my list is determined by my capacity to show up to them. Really show up with all my parts.

I am present at my daughter’s soccer game in body, feeling the grass under my feet the sun on my face and using my voice to cheer her on. I am present in mind and heart as I listen when a parent tells of their struggle with the school system. I am present to the Spirit as she whispers in the wind her great love for every child on the field.

Perhaps this is the speed of the soul.

May the peace and pace of Christ guide us.

[1] http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=66

God Lives on a Disney Cruise Ship in the Caribbean

Being present to God is portable! Thank you for reminding us Weyel Family. "I know the God who helps me with my children and joins me while doing laundry. I know the God who exists in San Luis Obispo and that He loves the people here. But it is so easy to forget that “my god” is the very same God who loves rich people on Disney cruises. And He is the same God who loves people barely scraping by with servant jobs on Caribbean islands. "

Good Dirt Sunday

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An excerpt from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide Till: Lord, help us! We are so quick to try to do life on our own, to think we know everything, and to miss what you are doing because we are focused on what we are doing. Please clear out our pride and help us rely on you!

Plant: Mark 8:11-21

Water: Create it: Today Jesus warns the disciples against the “contaminating yeast” of the Pharisees. To help kids understand this point, fill a clear glass with water, then put in just a drop or two of food coloring. Allow it to stand for a day, and observe what happens—all the water changes color!

Apply it: The disciples don’t seem to understand that they can rely on Jesus for every need! They are in the boat, squabbling about bread, when he’s just miraculously divided bread for thousands of people! Are there times when you tend to forget to rely on God, and focus only on what you can do without him?

Live it: Today, take “pause” moments to invite God to provide for you throughout the day. A “pause” might be every time you take a drink. Say a short “Thank you” to God.

Weed:When did you rely on God today? How did that feel? When did you try to do it on your own? How did that feel?

Good Dirt Sunday

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An excerpt from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and EastertideTill: Jesus, you are powerful! You can defeat any evil, and drive away any enemy that would harm us. We are amazed by you!

Plant:Mark 5:1-20

Water: Draw it: Make a drawing of part of this story that captures your imagination. Share your drawing and tell why you chose this part of the story.

Apply it: Jesus shows that he has power even over a rioting mob of evil spirits. Where do you need to see that Jesus is powerful today?

Weed: Did you see the power of Jesus today? Where? Describe what you saw. Invite Jesus’ power to stay with you and protect you tonight.

Good Dirt Sunday

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An excerpt from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide  Till: Jesus, we are all ears. We are listening to you! Help us to listen with our ears and our hearts. Help us obey, so we can be students who learn to be just like our teacher. Help us to be like you.

Plant:Mark 3:31–4:9

Water:

Draw it: Create a picture of the plants in each of the four soils: the hard road, the gravel, the weeds, and the good earth. Which of these plants is most like you?

Apply it: Jesus tells us that the people who are his students are as close to him as family. How does it make you feel to know you’re in God’s family? What is one way you could act like Jesus’ family today?

Weed: Tell about a happy or sad thing that happened today. When did you have an opportunity to act like Jesus’ family today? Remember that you are a precious child of God and nothing can change that.

Making Space for Questions

Mother and Daughter

Kids question, too. Last night when I was putting one of my people to bed she said, "Mom, are you afraid of death?" and then she jumped right into, "How do we know, I mean really know, there is the one, true, God."

I know these answers like the back of my hand. I have spent the better part of four decades asking them myself. Seeking the answers my heart longs for in Scripture and nature, through prayer, in the lives and writings of many who have gone before me.

My knee jerk, mothering reaction is to step in- fill the space as quickly as possible. But this is her relationship with God, these are her questions. I am reminded of Jesus' parables, "they're like truth burritos," one child told me. The truth of God and the Kingdom wrapped in a story that opens when we seek it out; we have to want it. Questions can be the doorway.

Questions, even from children, come from longing and can lead to seeking and finding. Jiffy quick answers shut down longing. I don't want that. I want her to hunger and thirst for the truth. The Spirit who loves her so much, prompts me, "Listen to her. Show her how to look for me. I will give her the answers."

So I make a space for her to think about her questions...

1. Tell me about a time when you have felt God near. (She tells about being afraid and the comfort she felt after asking God for help.)

2. Tell me about a time when you saw something so beautiful you had to stop and look at it. (She tells about watching horses run through a field playing together.)

3. Tell me about a time when someone was so kind you couldn't believe it. (She tells about her Grandfather teaching her to drive the tractor. Which was news to me! Grandparents!)

Then I gave her a few pointers... ways to connect.

We talk about reading the stories of Jesus and listening for God to speak. I encourage her to ask God about death. We agree to both ask and see what he has to say about it.

After an hour of laying in bed with her and listening, I realize this will be an ongoing conversation we have. The Blessed Trinity, her and myself listening, questioning and learning together.

 

The Formational Power of Nature, Part 2

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Wonder Children come hardwired for wonder. “Children are born with certain values intact—namely their sense of wonder and their affinity for nature.”[1] One reason is that the abstract difference between ordinary and profound is not a distinction a child can usually make. Therefore all experiences can be loaded with wonder. Rachel Carson noticed this in her walks with her nephew: “Many children delight in the small and inconspicuous.”[2] Nature is loaded with sensory experiences. Through nature God becomes present to touch, smell, sight, sound, and sometimes taste. John Calvin called nature “the theater of God’s glory.” Further, children will respond to wonder with their own bodies. They will jump or scream, run and play.[4] Through nature children are invited into a full body conversation with God.

Union

When adults are giving the opportunity to talk about their childhood experiences they will often recall an instance in which they felt “at one” with the “ebb and flow” that surrounded them.[5] Far from the typical view of children as self focused, these experiences bring children well beyond the boundaries of self and into the relational space of creation and Creator. Rather than leaving the self behind and forcing an either/or choice, nature brings along the self and expands it to a sense of larger belonging.[6] Human beings are beings of place. Rooting in Earth as place helps to widen human focus, to extend beyond themselves.[7] The Genesis account of creation reminds us that human beings are created from earth and will return to earth (Gen. 3:19).

Mystery

Experiences of nature make the space for mystery.[8] Mystery acknowledges the end of the human range of knowing and is essential. Children find great mystery in the process of birth, growth, and death.[9] Children find all three of these processes fascinating and completely out of range of their power to control or influence. While children have not reached Piaget’s stage of formal operations, they possess the humility necessary to understand their limitations. The great sorrow children often express at the death of a pet is a notion of the unity they feel with the animal, and also an expression of their powerlessness to change the outcome. Children are able to embrace the mystery in death. Humility and endless curiosity enables them to be comfortable pondering the depths of what they do not know. The mystery children find in nature contains both wonder and union, all of which can give them an experience of the Creator who longs to connect with them.

What Now?

These aspects of spiritual formation cannot be directly taught. They must be experienced. However adults can aid by modeling awareness. Asking open ended questions and processing experiences aloud are formative tools; as is making the space and time for children to simply be in creation, communing with the Creator, without adult involvement. For some, these experiences will stand alone as anchors to Someone larger than themselves in whom they can trust, but do not know. In Christian spiritual formation these gifts from nature provide a pool of experiential knowledge that can be drawn upon in later stages of religious education.

 

Wonder, union and mystery are a part of adult formation as well. If we want to continue to grow into Christlikeness, these three will be a regular part of our lives. In what ways do you engage wonder, union and mystery?

 

A few resources that informed my thinking. I hope they are helpful for you too.

 [1]. Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow, “Values,” in Ecological Literacy, Kindle Electronic Edition: Introduction to Values, Location 993.

[2]. Rachel Carson and Nick Kelsh, The Sense of Wonder (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1998), 52.

 [3]. Brunner, Butler, and Swoboda, Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology, 88.

[4]. Rebecca M. Nye, “Convergence with Children’s Theory of the Mind?,” in Being Human: The Case of Religion, Vol. 2. Psychological Studies on Spiritual and Religious Development, ed. K. Helmut Reich, Fritz K. Oser, W. George Scarlett (Lengerich, Germany: Pabst Science Publishers, 1999), 67.

[5]. David Hay and Rebecca Nye, Spirit of the Child. (London: Fount, 2006) Kindle Electronic Edition: Chapter 3, Location 1122.

 [6]. Ibid., Chapter 7, Location 2090.

[7]. David W. Orr, “Place and Pedagogy”, in Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World, ed. Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2005) Kindle Electronic Edition: Part 2: Tradition/Place, Location 1724.

[8]. Malcolm Margolin, “Indian Pedagogy: A Look at Traditional California Indian Teaching Techniques”, in Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World, ed. Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2005) Kindle Electronic Edition: Part 2: Tradition/Place, Location 1433.

[9]. David Hay and Rebecca Nye, Spirit of the Child. (London: Fount, 2006) Kindle Electronic Edition: Chapter 7, Location 2177.

[10]. Ibid., Chapter 6, Location 1963.

The Formational Power of Nature, Part 1

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 I could not have been more than five years old. My family was cutting firewood in the LaSalle Mountains for the coming winter. As the adults were working, I wandered off and into a grove of Aspen trees. The leaves of the trees were golden and they sparkled in the sun. I lay down on my back so I could get a better look. The earth was wet, spongy, and sweet smelling. I fixed my gaze on the glittery leaves, and I knew Someone more than myself was with me. I knew I was safe and would never be alone. This is a pivotal moment in my life. This one childhood moment has often been an anchor for my faith.  I am not alone in this, when I teach conferences on spiritual formation, I invite adults to use their non-dominant hand to draw their first memory of God. More times than not, they draw a picture that includes some aspect of nature. How does God use nature in the lives of children to invite them into a life with him? 

The Trinity is both intimately within creation and extraordinarily beyond it. The Scripture is loaded with examples. Paul makes the case for the Cosmic Christ who is above all and in all (Col. 1:15-20). In Ezekiel 37:9-14, John 20:22, and Acts 2:2 the Holy Spirit is understood as wind. The Psalmist references the power of nature to form and inform humanity in the ways and grandeur of God throughout one hundred and fifty chapters. God is present in nature, and nature is present with God.

In Isaiah 55 the trees and mountains dance and clap their hands in praise. Nature is the place where the kingdom of God is most available to the senses. Cognitively speaking the Eastern Orthodox Church has given a vocabulary to Christians to understand immanence and transcendence beginning with the Cappadocian Father, Saint Basil the Great. He helped articulate the immanent God who would make himself available through creation and yet paradoxically be exponentially beyond and other.

Transcendence can be a bridge that brings together the concrete nature of experience with the abstract quality of religious training. Nature experiences have a quality of transcendence, meaning that nature experiences go beyond religious tradition or doctrine. These experiences transcend religious language. They often transcend language in any capacity, especially in children who have a limited command of language. Often when children share about their experiences, adults judge them as undefined and vague, however, they wield tremendous power.

Authentic transcendent nature experiences include the body and all its sense-gathering capacity. Authentic experiences produce concrete knowledge. Developmental theory is a linear formational system as opposed to nature experience which is a living system based on interconnected elements. Those interconnected elements include all the parts of the person, including those parts which researchers do not have direct access to, namely the spirit.

Children have not yet learned to hide inside their bodies and as a result they have a natural propensity for awareness. They are able to engage with nature with their whole selves. Children are fully present to their current surroundings. Maturing human beings must learn to shift their awareness to past and future, but this is a learned skill. This may be why children report more spiritual experiences than adults. Nature invites the whole self of the child into an experience with the immanent and transcendent God. The characteristics of these experiences are wonder, union and mystery.

 

Tomorrow we will explore wonder, union and mystery and how they draw children to God.

How has nature drawn you to God? Do you have a childhood experience in nature?

 

In addition, here are a few resources that helped form my thinking.

David Hay and Rebecca Nye, Spirit of the Child (London: Fount, 2006).

Fritjiof Capra, “How Nature Sustains the Web of Life”, in Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World, ed. Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2005).

 Fritjiof Capra, “Speaking Nature’s Language Principles for Sustainability,” in Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World, ed. Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2005).

Hay and Nye, Spirit of the Child.

 Daniel L. Brunner, Jennifer L Butler, and A.J. Swoboda, Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: 2014).

 

We'd Love to Hear from Your Child

Anwen's heaven

I can't tell you how many times I have asked children, "Are your listening ears on?"  (As if they had a second set that weren't exactly for listening... oh the stupid things adults say to children-- I digress.) This year at Good Dirt we are introducing a series of blog posts called "In Their Own Words... or Pictures." We have our listening ears on and we want to hear what children have to say about God.

We'd love to see their picture, sculptures, poems, and narratives. Whatever they want to use to carry their voice, we'd love to see.

These can be emailed to lacygooddirt@gmail.com

Our listening ears are on!

Balancing Advent

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 This is what I found this morning as I entered the kitchen. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. It's been that kind of Advent. Rather than lay out my laundry list of gripes, let me just say, we've been busy and stressed. Our whole family feels it... as evidenced by the circus Nativity.

Two days ago I had my own stint with acrobatics, when I fell down the stairs in our house. If someone had been recording my fall, I'm sure it would qualify for a least a small frame on AFV. While I am pretty certain there are no broken bones, I am sore. My back is sore, my neck is sore, my shoulder is sore; and don't ask me how, but even my hair hurts.

My "bounce back" time at over 40 is certainly less than it was 20 years ago. At 3am this morning, my not-so-bouncy-body woke me up. Pain is hard to sleep through so I got up, lit the Advent candles and had a little solitude and silence.

The three Advent candles put off such a glow, I could read these words,

"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have light of life." -John 8:12

Our house has large windows that circle the perimeter to let in the light, but this morning at 3am there was no light from outside, no light from inside except the Advent light.

Advent light was more than enough to see by. It was more than enough to bring comfort and calm. It was more than enough to offer healing both to body and soul.

Take a moment to focus your gaze on the circus Nativity, which person stands out to you? Ask the Spirit to show you why this person draws your attention. Reflect upon your life and responsibilities, ask the Spirit to show you some areas in your life that are well balanced. Give thanks. Reflect again, and ask the Spirit to show you some areas that are unbalanced. Tell these to the Father, ask for guidance.

Blessed Trinity, thank you for reminding me that Advent is your open invitation to peace.

In Their Own Words... or Pictures

Anwen's heaven

There's a lot of talk these days about children. How to raise children... how to educate children.... how to discipline children... how children develop their values and beliefs... how to get children to eat their peas... Lots of talk about children. Over the last decade years, spiritual formation has become the buzz phrase in Christianity. It has found it's home in material for children as well. Books and curriculum carry this label, whether they are formational or not. There are conferences for pastors, parents and children with this label.

Heck, I write the some of the books and teach at some of the conferences! It's a hot topic.

There's some good research out there; we've got loads to say and loads to learn. Though I think, we're missing a voice? The voice of our children.

It's time for us (adults) to do a bit more listening and less talking.

One of the most rewarding things I do is spiritual direction with children. I have the great honor of listening to children talk about their thoughts and feelings concerning God. They teach me so much.

For the next year on this blog we'd like to give voice and space to children. Their words. Their pictures. Since often images are more meaningful for them.

So we're asking for your help. Do you have a child, or know a child, who would be willing to share their thoughts about God, through word or picture?

Whether it's one time or once a month, we'd love to hear from children. Respond to this blog, or contact us over on our FB page.

https://www.facebook.com/gooddirtfamilies

Tomorrow's blog post will be about how to invite children to express their thoughts about God.