Remember, sister, tears too, are the water of life.
I stepped into the huge and empty marble hallway yesterday. My eyes traveled up the stairwell with gorgeously carved rails. The tall hall echoed with my greeting to a woman I'd never met before. I immediately excused myself to the bathroom, because I needed to change into the appropriate clothing for the occasion.
Just being able to attend was a daunting task. I had to find a sitter for my children on a day and time most folks are at church, and I made some elaborate plans with a friend to overcome the interruption this exchange would cause. Handing over four children prepared for church and swimming, and lunch is enough. However, my daughter was going to a BOY'S house, and desperately needed to drag a suitcase full of GIRL toys making matters more complicated. The cookout that evening required a dessert, so I needed to make and bring that detail along too. I blew kisses once my children were situated in the sitter's van, and drove to my destination.
Beth had organized the event, and I mostly trusted all would be well. Beth has a way of preserving the sacred in a difficult situation. There was gamble in all the unfamiliar faces which surrounded me. The task I'd assigned myself was weighing on me. I was flat out nervous, but struggled to push that out of my mind. I was there for Tara, and my insecurities would taint her time.
You see, Tara and her husband have separated. The legal papers for divorce were signed recently, leaving Tara and her beautiful daughters to make a new way for their family. Beth and she wrote a life blessing to celebrate Tara's new beginnings, and I was amazed to be invited to participate.
Beth handed me a script she and Tara had worked out ahead of time. She pointed to the words and actions, she'd planned for me to do in the ceremony. I realized immediately she was risking too, because she had composed words which she longed would comfort, affirm, bless her friend in a time of tumultuous transition. Beth knows the power of words, and bravely puts them together in an untraditional fashion, tailored for healing. She had the slightest hint of apology in her voice as she explained, "We are using feminine imagery, and I hope you are comfortable with the use of these particular symbols and use of words." She leans in and says in a more intimate, knowing me voice, "You have a special job, because you are a catechist. It's a little more complicated, but I knew you could do it." She led me to a large sea shell full of salt water on a stand, and we worked out my role a bit.
I chat with a few acquaintances, some people I know and like a lot. I'd like to know them better, but so far, I haven't shared much of my life with them. I look to connect with Beth, but she is busy preparing. I keep fighting my mind about the gift I've brought for Tara which has me in knots on the inside. Is anyone else presenting a window to her soul like me?
In walked Magic Meredith Lee bringing her usual peace. Meredith Lee has shared in my secrets and tears, my life. I don't see her often anymore, because our work together came to a halt when I moved two years ago. I hope the future will weave us back together one day. I make myself walk to her, because dashing wouldn't be polite. I don't jump into her arms, because that too, would be impolite. She wraps her arms around me, and I breathe deeply. It felt like I'd been holding my breath before her arrival. "I hoped you could come" I whispered. She answered, "I wasn't sure I could make it, but I'm glad to be here." We go and get water together then create two spaces from one on the couch. Beth sat on the other side of me, and I was hemmed in and cozy.
Beth calls us to order and we begin the ceremony. Here are some of the words:
God calls us to right relationships based on love, compassion, mutuality and justice. Whenever any of these elements is absent from a martial relationship, then the partnership no longer reflects the intentionality of God. No one marries with the intention that her marriage will end. No one claims divorce is a wonderful thing. However, the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are forgiven our sins and our failures, we are raised from the dead and restored to new life. The death of a marriage, like the death of a the grave, has no power to rob us of the life that is intended for the people of God.
Each woman decorated the liturgy with images of light, bread, wine, milk and honey, cloth, flowers. On my turn, I dipped my finger in the shell and read about the waters of life. I had resolved that my presentation would be clear and untarnished by a wavering voice. I scooped a bowl of water from the shell and took it to Tara. As I looked into her eyes, I needed to pause to collect myself from welling tears. I dipped more water on my pointer finger to trace a tear on Tara's cheek and carefully spoke, "Remember sister, tears, too, are the water of life." She turned to the person beside her and did the same. The bowl circled the room. I remembered the quote framed in another friends home, "In your marriage, may you be so close that when you cry your partner tastes the salt of your tears." Doesn't every marriage begin this way? How can this feeling disintegrate and fall away over time? I allowed myself to spill my own tears.
More healing words and symbols, and soon it was time to present our gifts to Tara. We'd been asked ahead of time to bring something inspirational to us and a token for Tara to sum up our gift. Beth knew my plans ahead of time, so she thoughtfully asked me in the transition time, if it would be to helpful for me to go towards the beginning or the end. I was relieved to " go as early as possible, so I won't be distracted with my thoughts as the others give their gifts."
Beth announced she'd go first to break the ice. She read a piece she had written on the "toad people" who live inside her head- the ones who live deep down, criticize her and demean her. The ones who tell her she's less than who she is. She refers to them as the FCC-the expletive critical committee who want to scare her into less of a life. She tells Tara the ways she shuts the toad people up and how she deals with them. She hands Tara a genu-wine handmade brown, yellow, squatty toad person with wide staring eyes, and a jar with a tight lid to seal it into silence.
Beth's talk took the edge of the "toad people" at work inside my head at that moment. After she finished, she turned to me, and I rose from my chair feeling like I was about to jump off a cliff.
"First I'm going to tell you a story. Then I'm going to do something for Tara" I begin.
About 15 years ago, I knocked on a friend's door. She was sweaty and breathing hard, but she had a pleasant cat grin on her face. I wondered what on earth she'd been doing, so I asked. I halfway expected a peek of a partially dressed man to be behind her apartment door, so I definitely did not comprehend her answer.
"I just had the most....Incredible.......Prayer time" she paused between sighs.
I hadn't ever come from a prayer time looking like that. I came away from prayer wondering if I'd said all the right things and if I was really finished. She looked downright satisfied. She opened the possibility to me, that prayer could be much more than I had ever experience. She had passion and even romance in her prayers. Was that possible?
I began to study and practice prayer. I tried different prayer positions and styles. I read prayer. I wrote prayer. I found new ways to connect with God. Then I found one that leaves me breathless, sweaty and satisfied, and I'm going to do that now for you. Mostly, I do this in my secret place, but this is something that truly inspires me, so I will share it with you."
I sit on the floor with my knees under me. Man, it hurts as I've had knee reconstructive surgery a few years ago, and my knee doesn't quite bend like that anymore. Also, I have a torn muscle up my calf from an exercise injury last week. Beth takes my cue and turns on the CD player.
The music starts- Matt Redman "Breathing the Breath". I see my hands slightly shaking as I begin to move them with the soft piano sounds. I rise and build my dance as the song progresses. It's hard to get up with that bum knee, and I'm self conscious because I am no slender ballerina by any stretch of the imagination. I'm concentrating on the words of the song and my body's interpretation of it. The space is small, but I want to cover it all. Now and then I remember where I am and notice people's eyes are on me. I refocus my attention to the lyrics "I'm breathing the breath that You have given to me" and my arms move up the front of me to outline the invisible life coming from my chest. I am breathing hard and sweaty when song concludes. I am satisfied. I hear clapping, but I don't associate it with myself.
"I've just prayed for you Tara." I hand her the CD with a hug and sit down.
The room is silent for longer than I am comfortable with. Meredith Lee breaks in something like, "Can I move to another seat? I can't possibly follow THAT." I think I hear someone else say, "Noone can." I drink until I drain the last of the water in my glass. I am at rest again.
Meredith then finds her feet and offers her gift. A quote she hesitates to give but is compelled to give none the less. She explains that it's crass, but profoundly true. "The truth shall set you free, but first, it will piss you off." She applies it beautifully to Tara's situation. For a good southern girl, Meredith has got guts.
The next woman I do not know shares a passage from a book. What I remember most was something along the lines of what life might be like if we had a group of older, wiser women gather around us, affirm and support us from one transition in life from one stage to another. She mentioned planning a gathering like that for her daughter after her first menstrual cycle. The passage ended with something about dancing and the woman gave Tara a silver dancer pin. Someone mentioned "synchronicity" and Anne Lamontt looking over to me.
One woman read a poem she had written about a huge tree that had fallen in her back yard during a terrible storm. I'll print it here when I get a copy. She associated it to losing a good friend, but now having sun in a spot in her yard she'd never had before. She pondered what might grow there now. My mind went to Tara in that she had lost a dear friend. Doesn't everyone marry their friend? He and the shade of his friendship are gone, but now she has sun in a place she hadn't before.
Many others shared their gifts and words with Tara, but I'll mention details of the last two.
One recited the PERFECT poem by T.S. Eliott expressing the wanting to know what the future holds, but having to wait until it unfolds.
The last was Laurel. She told a story about losing her mother to suicide at a young age. She remembered storing that pain inside till one day alone deep in the woods, she let it all out. In it's place, she was overcome with a sense that she was never alone and very loved. She carries that feeling always today. Honestly, it shows in her smile, and I just didn't know it till she put words to it. She also drew a simple picture of Tara inside a glowing huge hand. A wonderful concluding gift.
We gathered around Tara and read the final prayer together. We ate and drank lovely things together.
As I departed, I thought of the pain Tara might feel when her home emptied of all her guests, and she went back to an afternoon alone. I knew she would join her sister later, but there would be time in between. Remember that marble hallway? It echoes. I prayed Tara would find the forest in her own mind- the same place Laurel realized she was never alone and so very loved.
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