Grief message – our loved ones are still with us

Our loved ones remain absent from us for as long as we mourn. Their spirit cannot intersect with ours while we grieve. They are afraid to plunge us further into the pit of despair, so they do not approach. Plus our “certainty” that they are lost to us forever in this realm creates that reality. We see what we expect to see.

Bodies are not permanent. Death is inevitable. However, we are more than our bodies. Once we open up and remember that the soul (the part that matters most) is immortal we will once again be able to interact with those who have passed.

It will be in a different way, of necessity. We will see with our hearts instead of our eyes, and we will feel with our souls instead of our bodies.

This is not a skill that Western society teaches because it isn’t even seen as possible. Western society speaks only of the afterlife – of meeting souls again only after we die. However, this connection is still possible during life. It takes practice – but more importantly, it takes knowing that it is possible. Take some time soon to “call up” your loved ones who have passed from this dimension and invite them for a chat. You’ll both be glad you did.

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Who you gonna call?

When my father died there wasn’t a list of all his friends. He was very proud of the fact that he was able to memorize everybody’s address and phone number. But that didn’t do me any good when it was time to call them after he died. I had to go by the Christmas card list that my mom had. From that, I was able to look up some people’s phone numbers by calling directory assistance. This was 20 years ago.

Now of course you can look people up online. But sometimes that comes with a charge. It’ll get you near where you want to go but it won’t get you all the information. Perhaps there are privacy issues. Perhaps it is greed. Either way, it is annoying.

Now that my mother-in-law has died we have a list of all of their friends and relations to contact. But it turns out their list is not up to date. We can’t ask my father-in-law what the numbers are because he has dementia.

We don’t have some of the correct numbers because people have dropped their home phone line and gone to using a cell phone. And those you can’t look up online. We’ve even thought of using the cell phones of my parents in law to see if they had the new numbers saved there. No luck.

I’m starting to think that if they didn’t have the right phone number then maybe that person wasn’t that close.

Perhaps it is a good idea for me to start writing down my list of all the people I would like to come to my funeral, or at least to know that I have died.

It may seem strange, but sometimes the only way I have found out that someone has died is through Facebook. It’s the modern way of telling people what’s going on. Nobody reads the obituaries anymore. Nobody subscribes to the newspaper.

We have constructed our lives with emails and texts, and our computers and phones are password protected. How is anyone going to know who to call? Bills are sent electronically to email inboxes, and paid online with passwords and log-ins. How are our survivors going to know how to take care of our estate?

A difficult situation has become even harder because of modern conveniences.

It is hard enough to grieve. It is almost impossible to grieve and handle an estate at the same time. Nothing is normal, and then there is something really hard to do on top of that. Unraveling someone’s life is weird, and strange. It is like you are erasing a life, account number by account number.

Animal logic

How do animals know how to do everything that they do? Cats know how to give birth and take care of their kittens without another cat present to tell them how. On their own, they know how to do what needs to be done. This is important for us to think about as human beings.

We think that we have become more civilized than animals because of our language and our culture. And in some ways we have been, but in some ways we have lost quite a bit.

It is important for us to think about how animals are able to know what to do without the tools that we use to know what to do. Termites are able to build huge mounds. Each one knows what to do. They know to go outside and get dirt and bring it inside and build up walls. Each termite has its own particular task, and together they build an amazing structure. They are more coordinated and more organized than we humans. We disagree and argue all the time about how to take care of ourselves and each other and we get into wars because of it.

We should study the animals so that we learn their secret. I don’t mean put them in a lab and study them. I mean leave them exactly where they are and watch and think about them. Ants and bees and wasps do it – they all know how to work together to build something amazing. How come we have to have an architect and a blueprint and staff meetings? How come we have to have a vision statement?

We are not all on the same page. Perhaps that is the problem. Perhaps the fact that we have put our knowledge and our power into books instead of tapping into the source of all knowledge and all power is the problem.

All knowledge and power comes from God. It comes down to us and we put into books but then we think that all knowledge comes from books. Now don’t get me wrong, I like books. I think books are important. But I think that we humans have forgotten that there is a source beyond books. There’s the source of knowledge that we are able to access beyond books.

We have shortchanged ourselves.

We do it when we have students and teachers. We do it when we have parents and children. We do it when we have ministers and congregants. We do it when we have bosses and employees. We do it every single time we have a hierarchy of who is in charge and who is lesser. We do it every single time we say that somebody has all the knowledge and somebody else is lesser. It is time for all of us to take back our own power and her own knowledge and tap into the source of all power and knowledge.

Each one of us has the ability to connect to our Maker and our Source and be stronger. Each one of us is strong enough to know what needs to be done and do our own part. We just have to learn how to trust that inner voice.

But of course part of it is learning how to seek that voice and then when we do hear it to actually act upon it.

It rubs me the wrong way.

I know a guy who constantly will say “How are you doing?” but he doesn’t really mean it. It is said in passing, and it is said all day long. I hate it. I hate it because it is meaningless and mindless. I hate it because it is a false way to connect. It is empty.

It rubs me the wrong way.

I had a boyfriend who would pet on my arm in a thoughtless manner. If he was distracted by something – say, the television, he would pet on my arm in a way to connect with me, but there was no connection. When he would pet on my arm in a thoughtless and mindless manner, it would actually hurt. It was scratchy. It was grating.

Like the zest coming off a lemon kind of grating.

It is right up there with people who say “How are you?” and they don’t wait for an answer. And if you answer, they don’t hear. There is a lot of that in working in customer service.

It is really bad in retail. When I worked at a fabric store, I would always ask the customer how they were doing, and sometimes they would answer. Rarely would they ask me. Once, after a long day, I started telling people how I was doing anyway. That really messed with their minds. I’d chime up “And I’m fine too, thanks!” and they’d look at me like I was crazy. I’d gotten the script wrong, as far as they could tell. They hadn’t asked me how I was doing, and I was telling them anyway. As far as I could tell, they were the ones who had gotten the script wrong. If someone asks you how you are doing, you are supposed to reply and then ask them how they are doing.

Part of it isn’t just the asking, it is actually waiting for an answer. It is looking the other person in the eyes and actually caring.

Now, maybe that is a bit intense. Maybe people don’t do that because they don’t really want to hear the answer. Maybe they don’t really care. Then they need to stop going through the motions.

If you don’t mean it, don’t do it. If you do it, do it like you mean it. Whatever it is.

I think our world has become less connected these days. Cell phones and email and instant messaging and Facebook and Twitter and texting don’t seem to be doing what they were intended to do. We can communicate faster, but not better. We are interacting with our devices and not with people. We seem to be actually retreating further into ourselves the more information that keeps coming in.

How to pray – it isn’t the words or the ritual. It is a feeling.

Prayer is communicating with God. God wants to hear from us, and for us to hear from him. But how do we do this?

Communicating with God is real. Everyone can do it. It isn’t for the chosen few. Not everybody can do it easily, but everybody can learn how. Hearing from God isn’t as easy as picking up the phone. It isn’t the same as turning on the television. But it is a skill that you can learn.

Consider a marathon runner. She doesn’t wake up one day and start running 26 miles. She may not even like to run to start off with. But she hears about a marathon and she thinks about it. She finally decides to start. She trains. She gets better. She may walk more than run at first. First it is a mile run around the block. Then two. Then five. It can take a long time and many setbacks and blisters to get up to 26 miles, but then one day she is there.

This is also true of hearing from God. It requires practice and effort and persistence.

First, it is important for you to know that God loves you. God made you. You are needed and part of God’s plan. This is why you were made. The fact that you are alive is proof that God needs and loves you. Right now. As you are. Warts and all. You may not feel worthy of God, but God thinks otherwise. So God wants to hear from you. God wants to connect with you. This is true communion, or union-with.

The book “The Isaiah Effect” by Gregg Braden says something very interesting about prayer. It says that prayer isn’t something you do, it is something you feel inside your body. This is very important. This totally turns our Western idea of prayer upside down.

It isn’t the vehicle that is the focus. It isn’t the how-to. It is the destination that is important. You have to get to that feeling in your body that indicates you are in the right spot. Prayer is a feeling, not a ritual.

Prayer isn’t the candle or the words or the gestures. It is the connection with God that is produced when you use those things, or anything else that helps you get there. The candle or the words or the gestures are like a car that you get in to go visit a friend. Getting to your friend is the most important part, not how you get there. Perhaps the car breaks down and you have to walk. That is fine. You got there. Don’t focus on the car.

But because we are physical beings, we often need props to help us. Just remember that the prayer isn’t the props.

C.S. Lewis says “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Our bodies need reminders of our souls. I’ve written before about how I use prayer bracelets, tattoos, painted toenails, and going barefoot as reminders. There are many different ways to remind you to pray and nourish your soul with a connection with God.

Prayer does not have to be passive. It doesn’t have to be sitting in a chair with your hands in front of you saying a prayer that somebody else wrote. It can be active. There are probably as many different ways of praying as there are people. Painting, walking, singing, doodling, meditation, yoga practice can all be used as forms of prayer, for instance. Compassion in action is also good. Volunteering is a form of prayer.

How often should you pray? If you are Muslim, you are to pray five times a day. Some people pray before every meal. If you are Jewish, you are to give thanks to God at least 100 times a day. All of these practices are ways to remind you to pray. Constantly praying is constantly being in communion with God. The more you pray, the better the connection gets between you and God.

In order to hear from God, you have to put yourself in a place where you can hear from God. It is kind of like you want to get a phone call from a friend, but you don’t realize that your phone is turned off because you didn’t pay the bill. You’ll never hear from your friend with that kind of connection.

This is attributed to Saint Francis – “Pray constantly, and if you must, use words.” Prayer doesn’t have to be words, but it can. Part of my goal here is to open your mind up about what prayer is. It doesn’t have to be what you think it is. Trying other ways can be helpful.

Do you use a prayer book, or not? Do you find it helpful or stiff and canned? Jesus tells us that we are not to mutter the same words over and over again, but to pray from our hearts. We learn this in Matthew 6:7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” (New American Standard Bible) But sometimes that is hard because we don’t know what to say. Then there is this helpful verse from Romans 8:26 “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” (New Living Translation)

So you don’t have to use a prayer book. God knows what you want to say. But if you feel you need a prayer book, be sure to read every word carefully and feel them, so that the prayer becomes your own. It isn’t the words that get you there, but the feeling that happens when you read the words. A friend told me a Jewish story about a little boy who didn’t know what how to pray so he just recited the alphabet and let God pick out all the right letters. That works too – but again, it isn’t the letters. It is the feeling you get when you are there, talking to God.

Many different faiths use prayer beads. You can study how they use them, or you can make up your own ritual. They can be used to center you and focus you. Just handling beads can be very calming and centering.

When you pray, remember the feeling you get if you ask for something. Then see if your prayer is answered. Compare the feeling with the result. Journaling can help you keep track of the results. This is a way to learn how God is talking to you. God always answers prayers, but they aren’t always “yes”. With practice, you can learn to “hear” the “yes” from the “no” from the “not right now”. I often “hear” the reply as a feeling, rather than a word. This is often the first way that we hear from God, as feeling.

When I pray for a specific intention, I get a feeling of ease when the prayer is going to be answered as a “yes”. I get a feeling of resistance when it is a “no”. It took a while to learn the subtle difference of feeling between the two. It isn’t as easy as “this is hot” and “this is cold” – it was far more subtle. But it is there. It just takes practice to sort out where and how the feeling feels to you.

I think it is essential to always be ok with the idea that you aren’t in charge. Sometimes it is best you don’t get what you prayed for. God is not your waiter. You don’t always get to have it your way.

God can use anything as a way to answer. You can “hear” God all around you. Nothing is a coincidence. We are like fish who are unaware of water. We are surrounded by God, as everything is from God.

It is perfectly ok to pray for the ability to pray. It is OK to ask God for help in how to pray. Just like in the story of the prodigal son, when the son started back towards his Dad, his Dad saw him and went running to meet him. God wants us to pray, to connect with him. He’ll make up the difference in distance between us.

You’ll get stronger the more you do it. So pray constantly. Be patient with yourself if you slack off and get out of your routine. That is normal. Just start doing it again. Nobody is consistent at their prayers. But the more you pray, the better you’ll get at it, and the more you will connect with God.

Read the Bible, and pray beforehand for the Holy Spirit to help you understand. The Bible is the Word of God. If you want to hear from God, it is a good idea to start off with a known good. This way when you get to the point that God is talking to you in words, you’ll be able to measure up and know if it is God talking and not just your imagination.

Read the prayers of other faiths. There might be something that helps. Like buying a one-size fits all suit, sometimes prayer life needs to be altered and adjusted. I’ve found a lot of comfort in reading about other faith systems. There is a lot in Buddhism for instance that helps to inform my Christianity. I’m enjoying a podcast that is all Torah study as well.

Remember to make time for prayer. Turn off the television. Turn off the iPod. We fill our heads with a lot of noise. How can God get a word in edgewise if we are so noisy all the time?

Consider getting a spiritual director. A spiritual director can be a priest or minister, but doesn’t necessarily have to be one. She or he is trained to help you achieve intimacy with God. I consider such a person to be like a guru, but for Western faiths. I’ve learned more from my spiritual director than I’ve ever learned from any minister.

I’ll leave you with a little poem.

Make your life into a prayer,
and everything you do will be a love letter to God.
And God will answer back, I love you, I love you, I love you
from every rock and rainbow,
from every smile from every stranger.