Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I have been learning about the Jewish prayer of mourner’s kaddish. This prayer is said by those who have lost a loved one and must be said in the presence of a minyan, or quorum of ten people. It is said daily anywhere from thirty days to eleven months. The theme of the text is the exaltation and eternal nature of God. Here is a translated excerpt:
May His great Name be blessed forever and to all eternity. Blessed and praised, glorified, exalted and extolled, honored, adored and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, blessed be He; and say, Amen.

Beyond all the blessings, hymns, praises and consolations that are uttered in the world; and say, Amen.
There are so many things I can learn from this about grieving. First, it is a healing ritual to repeat prayers in the presence of others. While so much of grief takes place privately, in tears cried in the dark night, the presence of others who care for the mourner is a way to honor and give voice to that grief, to reassure the person that not only are they not crazy for feeling it, but there are others who are willing to stand beside them and listen. The length of time given to these prayers also says that grief is not rushed, cannot be swept away as quickly as our western tradition seems to desire. There is length and space and community to give the mourner what The Message version of the psalms calls “wide open spaces for healing.”

Finally, the mourner’s kaddish focuses on exalting God. Beyond any consolation uttered in the world, beyond the searing pain of suffering and the impossibility of knowing how to go on, there is a God whose name and whose love goes on forever, who is to be praised and adored forever and all eternity. And say, Amen. Amen.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Breathing Holes

Walking in our neighborhood park, I see again the signs of spring: there are plugs of dirt all over, aftereffects of aerating the soil. You have to loosen the dirt, to poke holes through the layers of thatch in order to keep the grass healthy and growing. Soil that is not properly aerated will not absorb water because it becomes too compacted. The thick dead grass weaves together over the surface and keeps the nourishing rain from reaching the roots.

In the fabric of our life together, we can become like compacted soil. We grow rigid with the passage of too much time and too settled habits, crushing underneath like cement the path of our routine. Our work is to make space for the water of life, to cut away all that has grown shallow and dead, and get beyond the choked-off surface of things.

It’s much easier to keep things as they are, to smile and float along on the surface of relationships without daring to go deeper. And yet without a conscious choice to do something about it, our church services and our interactions never get beyond that tight, shallow surface of dead grass. It takes honesty and authenticity to cut away the pretension and get deeper to the heart of things. Without this work, we will eventually die off, with no room to receive.

The work of Pentecost is the work of God’s Spirit coming to us, like wind, fire, or the sharp metal blades of an aerator, to move away what is killing us, to help us grow and somehow in the process of change, once again to let us breathe.