Thursday, December 18, 2008

Surely he has borne our griefs

This Sunday evening, the parish will be holding a Blue Christmas service. This is a first both for this parish and for this priest.

A Blue Christmas service is intended as a ministry to those who have trouble feeling joy at this time of year - indeed, who often feel oppressed by the way the world demands they be joyful in the face of loss, loneliness or despair.

The Church has a particular ministry, a particular responsibility to such as these. After all, God in Christ has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. The God who set aside his own divine nature to share in our human experience, the baby in Bethlehem, the itinerant rabbi in Galilee, the God forsaken God who cries out in agony when he is nailed to the tree, this God reminds us that in ministering to the pain and need of others, we are ministering to him.

The principle tool we have for this ministry is our own experience of suffering and loss. We do not use this to claim the other person's pain. What is less respectful than to tell someone you know just how they feel? Rather, we simply acknowledge that we, too, have felt pain, and would like to walk in solidarity with them in theirs. Surely, after all, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.

Last week, Elizabeth Kaeton posted a story at her blog Telling Secrets. Go read the link, or the rest of this post won't make as much sense.

Here is the response I posted to Elizabeth's blog:

I aspire to cynicism, so it isn't often that something I read on the internet makes me cry. Shed a tear, occasionally. Choke up a little, often. But not cry.

When I was too young to remember, my parents separated and my mother and I went to live with her grandmother, my great-grandmother, Nana. Mother had spent much of her later childhood living with Nana as well, in order to escape a thoroughly unpleasant home life.

This woman was now acting the mother to her great-grandson in the 60s, as she had to her granddaughter in the 50s. Ironically, she hadn't been able to mother her own children through much of the 20s and 30s because there were few social supports for a single mother, and none at all for a single mother whose father had a bit of money. So her children had spent much of their childhood in an orphanage.

Maybe that was why, when I would visit her in the final years of her life, that much of her confusion turned on how we were related. Who was my mother? Was it Nonie? No, Nana. Nonie is my grandmother. Diane is my mother. Only to get the same question again moments later.

The last time I saw her, my mother and grandmother had brought her to Kerrobert, Saskatchewan to meet her great-great-granddaughter, who had the blessing of being a five generation baby on her mother's side as well.

Nana's confusion is apparent in the official portrait. She clearly has no idea who this little baby is, or why we are all gathered for this picture.

That was June. She died in August.

She died in August. She had died years before.

My Nana taught me about the world. She taught me about God. She taught me about politics.

At her funeral, the wife of our former Premier showed me a book she had written about the North Side Ladies CCF Club in Regina. I had never known that Nana had been its president. The book observed that, in those days, she was caring for her young great-grandson, who had since become a party activist in his own right - a fifth-generation CCFer.

I learned, at her funeral, that Nana had been something of a grassroots political leader, and that past and future Premiers had been guests in our home.

Yet what I remember most about her funeral is the guilt.The guilt that I had not visited her in nearly a year before she died.

Her confusion was so painful for me that I couldn't see or couldn't care how painful it was to her.

Elizabeth, thank you for visting this woman.

And thank you for telling the story.


Doorman-Priest said...

I wnt from yours to Elizabeth's: two sad and moving stories which echo my Nan's experience.

So sad.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

How did your service go, Luv? You were in my prayers.