The Way It Is ~ William Stafford
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
from The Way It Is, 1998
During our "fast write" period I used one of the lines as a writing prompt - "you have to explain about the thread." In my writing I came to the understanding that I have found - after years of trying - that it is really hard to "explain" about the thread. The thread which is the spirit, the presence of God, the flow. We glimpse the thread, we experience the thread and in some way we hold on to the thread. At least I hope so. Anyway, I found this poem to be helpful to explain something to me that I understand but have a lot of trouble explaining to others. Hmmm
My beginning is getting into the groove of working at the funeral home. Yesterday I spent four hours being an ambassador before, during and after a memorial service. What is clear to me is that this is a time of everybody seeking to serve the grieving family. There is an attention to detail that is part of caring for them - making sure the flowers are here, the coffee is made, the arrangements go without a stumble. There is also a fair amount of waiting - for the family to congregate and the service to begin. I greeted everyone as they entered and showed them the rest rooms and was generally just a - hopefully - friendly and welcoming presence. And although no one knows it, I am in prayer for them during this time.
I have been reading and listening to books by Pema Chodren and found myself practicing "tonglen" while I stood there. She writes this
"The practice of tonglen - sending and receiving - .......i is a practice of taking in pain and sending out pleasure and therefore completely turns around our well-established habit of doing just the opposite."
Another writer, Joan Halifax wrote this
"The practice of giving and receiving develops our ability to be present for suffering and offers us a way to cultivate natural mercy. It trains us to use the energy of loving-kindness to open our hearts to suffering and transform it into wellbeing. It asks us to invite suffering into our being and let it break open the armor of our heart. The tender spaciousness that arises awakens selfless warmth and compassion. We cannot help but send our love and kindness to the one who is suffering, be it others or ourselves."
As I stand apart from the grieving family and watch everything, I find myself praying for them that in the midst of this deep sadness, they might see some light and love. Usually I am the pastor at the service and in many ways in the center of the grief. Now as I stand at the periphery I still find that God wants to use me.
After everyone leaves, then it was my task to bring the room back to order. Moving flowers, taking chairs down, emptying wastebaskets, etc. This is servant work that gives me a surprising amount of satisfaction. It is a different kind of experience for me and I trust that as I continue on my journey that I am holding on to the thread still.