Sometimes It’s Personal

Updated: Mar 31

Biblical Witness The Gospel Of Mark 3:19b – 30

Jesus went home and the crowd came together again, so that he and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” Jesus called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Contemporary Witness Frida Kahlo quote

“I wish I could do whatever I liked behind the curtain of “madness”. Then: I’d arrange flowers, all day long, I’d paint; pain, love and tenderness, I would laugh as much as I feel like at the stupidity of others, and they would all say: “Poor thing, she’s crazy!” (Above all I would laugh at my own stupidity.) I would build my world which while I lived, would be in agreement with all the worlds. The day, or the hour, or the minute that I lived would be mine and everyone else’s – my madness would not be an escape from “reality”.”

Reflection “Sometimes It’s Personal”

Today we’re beginning our Lenten spiritual practice of grief and lament by using a ritual of writing the answer to a question about our grief and lament on a piece of paper and then shredding it. Afterward we will be making new paper out of the old paper. This week’s question is, “What are your personal griefs about the pandemic?”

This question got me thinking about what personal grief does within us. How it changes us and how we are perceived. March is also Womens’ History Month, which we celebrate each year.

Today we heard a quote from Frida Kahlo. She is best known for her art and for her relationship with the artist Diego Rivera. Her personal life, though, had a lot more in it. She had serious medical issues. She had polio at age 6, which she blamed for her right leg’s lifelong problems. Later in life she was diagnosed as having had spina bifida from birth. There was the terrible bus accident. She lived with pain all her life. Her pain and grief were expressed in her paintings, and also in how she told her story about her life. This wasn’t all she expressed. She celebrated life – sometimes wildly, sometimes in the daily beauty that surrounded her. She was as fully complex as any of us.

In the quote we read she says that she wishes she could do whatever she liked behind the curtain of “madness”. She says, “The day, or the hour, or the minute that I lived would be mine and everyone else’s – my madness would not be an escape from “reality”.”

This conjures in my mind how frequently we have to make excuses for our behaviours or our mindset if they don’t jive with the status quo. I remember in one of my jobs as a young person, I was “excused” for my apparently outlandish understanding of the world because I was a theatre major. Once they found out that the undergraduate degree that I was pursuing was theatre, I was given a pass for being eccentric. I wasn’t trying to be particularly eccentric. I’m not exactly sure what they were going on about. But, I was relieved that they gave me a pass for my apparently aberrant behaviour. I was, after all, a theatre major.

Under the cloak of madness, Frida feels she could find that kind of pass to be completely herself, unfiltered. She could fully express her pain, her love, her tenderness, and her a laughter. Everyone would nod their heads knowingly and remind each other that she was to be excused because, “Poor thing, she’s crazy!”

In our reading in Mark we hear the account of Jesus being accused of losing his mind. His family wanted to restrain him. Some people thought he had lost touch with reality. Which people? The ones he was healing and teaching? Probably not them so much. He was extremely sought after by the crowds, so much so in this story that he and his disciples couldn’t even sit down to eat in his house because there were so many people there wanting to hear him speak and to perform wonders. It was the religious elite who wanted others to think he had lost touch with reality. They accused him of all kinds of things to sway the crowds against him. They got to his family with this message, who were probably already concerned.

At the end of this telling, there is the part about the unforgivable sin. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” What this means has been debated and preached about for generations. It seems to me that it has a lot to do with those who were spreading propaganda against him and the good works he was doing; claiming that his works were evil. Here he is, doing all he can to relieve suffering and to draw people to God, and those who feel like their power is going to slip away from them because of it indict him as being evil. They cause others to wonder if he is in his right mind, and those who think he isn’t seek to control him because they care about him.

Was he mad? Had he lost touch? Or, had he gotten so in touch with reality that his form of expression surpassed understanding to those who couldn’t keep up? This is also my wondering about Frida Kahlo. Was she so in touch with a depth of reality through experiences of pain, love, grief, and tenderness that it was only under the guise of madness that she thought she could express herself?

How about us? After communion we’re going to be doing our ritual. I want us all to answer the question, “What are your personal griefs about the pandemic?” This is not an easy spiritual practice – to look at our griefs and to allow ourselves to lament. But, Lent is not the season to take things easy. It is a good time to reflect on what we might normally set aside for another time …for later.

Grief is one of those emotions and experiences that feel like we are losing control. Expressing grief through lament, especially when it’s done through deep self reflection, can feel like living in all the pain at once and might seem unbearable. It might be easy to complain about problems and situations, but to lament means allowing your more vulnerable side to show.

There is a tendency to think that if we grieve we make things worse. And while that might be the case if all we do is meditate on what is negative, active grief helps us to move through the experience rather than bottle it up. Still, it’s hard. It takes work. Internal work. Energy. And in the midst of it, you might feel like you are losing touch with reality. Especially with the personal stuff.

In the coming weeks we will be asking the question about family grief, work grief, and church grief. Those we might be able to hold out a little farther from us. There might be a few more objective standards to consider with family, work, and church. But personal grief is, well, personal.

Maybe it’s okay if we lose touch with reality temporarily so that we can get in touch with a deeper more foundational reality. One that is hard to express because it’s beyond words. Maybe you’ll want to draw a picture on your paper. Or maybe stream of conscious words. Or maybe just colours and shapes. So long as it can be shredded in the paper shredder … you do what expresses you the best you can, knowing that you are touching the edges in trying to distill your personal experience into language or shape or colour. What you put on the paper is representative of what you are reflecting on. It isn’t an exactness of your feelings.

Maybe that’s why it can feel like madness. We know we can’t really demonstrate our feelings. We can uncover what we can with the symbols we have like language, art, dance, story-telling, and such. What we convey we then have to trust to someone to interpret. And no one interprets it exactly the way we feel it. Maybe we wonder if even God can get it. Can our Holy Love hear our story and honour it without diminishing it?

That is my hope and prayer. It is part of the foundation of my faith that our Divine Beloved can do for us what we can only touch the edges of for each other. This might be why they thought Jesus had lost touch with reality – because he was able take in to himself, into his soul, the essence of another’s grief and pain. He could bring it into himself and not be destroyed. What a powerful and unrelatable gift.

This Lent we’re going to see how far we can go in trusting Holy Love with the essence of who we are. Holy Love will tether us to the reality we need to be in. Allow yourself the freedom to build your world in agreement with all the worlds, as Frida talked about. All the worlds being vast and complex and able to handle the essence of you and the truth of your experience. Know that it’s the Holy Spirit which leads you, supports you, and loves you in the midst of this spiritual practice. This same Spirit Of Love will help you and us heal from the fragmenting that happens when grief and pain are left to move around inside of us without direction or guidance. It is holy, good, and loving to ourselves to take stock of what is going on personally with us.

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