the sound of loss, the sound of grief

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This is the 3rd talk given by The Rev. Alice Cabotaje Roshi at the Holy Week 2022 retreat.

Reading: The Death of Jesus | Luke 23: 44-46 (New International Version)

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[a] When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Talk: Black Saturday, 16 April 2022
The Sound of Loss, The Sound of Grief
The Rev. Alice Cabotaje

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he said this, he breathed his last.

Jesus is dead. It is a great unspeakable loss for his disciples.

In the Christian tradition, today is called Holy Saturday. In my country, the Philippines, today is also called Black Saturday. Black Saturday because black is the color of mourning. Black because it is dark. Black because it represents death.

Over the last two years, many of us have experienced a lot of losses: loss of health; loss of wellbeing; loss of faculties; loss of dreams; loss of relationships; loss of homes; loss of a sense of safety, security, and comfort; loss of trust; loss of a loved one, or loved ones to death.

To many of us, each day has sometimes felt like one Black Saturday after another. Sometimes we could not see the end of darkness, of sorrow, of sadness, of despair, of loneliness, of isolation, of our longing for deep and nourishing connections.

The past two years have also been intense learnings and re-learnings to expect the unexpected… that we can never know how a moment, a day, a week will turn out… that the best made plans at the start of the week may not pan out.

As Zen master Dōgen Zenji said: “A flower falls, even though we love it; and a weed grows, even though we do not love it.”

With loss, with death we have felt the painful stark absence of a loved one, of safety, of security, of comfort, of our homes.

W.S. Merwin captures this vivid absence in his poem Separation, where he says:

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

As we sit with our losses and our grief… as we are disoriented because our lives have been upended…we know that real, hard work lies before us.

In his poem Our Real Work, Wendell Berry says:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

In our grief, in our sorrow, we find ourselves seeking, looking, and hoping to find that which can no longer be found. Kobayashi Issa expresses this searing ache in his haiku:

In the night’s blind darkness
fruitlessly searching for
the baby she loves,
the mother crow continued
to cry until sunrise

It takes courage to grieve, to fully grieve. Grief is a wound that needs our attention so we can heal.

To work through our grief means

…to face our feelings openly and honestly;

…to be intimate with our pain, our anger, our fears, our despair, our loneliness, our longings, our exhaustion, our tears, and yes, even our sense of humor.

To work through our grief means

…to express or release our feelings fully;

…and to hold and accept them for however long it

takes for our wounds to heal.

I recall this poem written by Elizabeth Cunningham entitled Heart Prayer that encourages us to truly feel and honor where we’re at. She says:

You can only pray what’s in your heart
so if your heart is being ripped from your chest
pray the tearing

if your heart is full of bitterness
pray it to the last dreg

if your heart is a river gone wild
pray the torrent

or a lava flow scorching the mountain
pray the fire

pray the scream in your heart
the fanning bellows

pray the rage, the murder
and the mourning

pray your heart into the great quiet hands
that can hold it
like the small bird it is. 

Honoring our losses and grief also entails being willing to stop from running away when a situation hurts; to stop from sweetening it up; to stop from trying to smooth it over; to stop from wanting something different than what is happening here, right now.

It entails being willing to challenge our assumptions about ourselves and about others.

It entails being willing to engage our grief with gentleness and kindness as a process of growing down, of looking within to see what is essential, and ask ourselves – did we love? did we truly listen? did we truly hear?

It entails being willing to travel light, which involves leaving behind everything that we can possibly leave such as our attachments to comfort and being comfortable.

As Rumi says: “Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live.”

Honoring our losses and grief also entails being willing to embrace the central paradox of desert experience, which is only that which dies can live again. And it is our ego that has to die again and again and again.

Haiku poet Mizuta Masahide writes:

Barn’s burnt down –
I can see the moon.

In Buddhism, the moon is an enduring symbol of truth and awakening

It represents wisdom, intuition, spiritual connection, birth, and death. Moon cycles are similar to the cycle of a seed: the seed grows into a flower, then blooms, and then dies.

We have a full moon today. Full moons signify ripeness, a completion, and the beginning of release.

Loss and grief – if we allow them – can help us release things, stories, events in our lives that no longer serve us and others. Loss and grief can stretch our souls; they open us up to different possibilities; and they keep our egos in check.

It does not matter how long the path is and how long healing takes because there is no timetable to our process of grieving.

What matters is we keep walking, gently… we keep walking on, gently… we keep practicing, gently and with kindness to ourselves…

We keep on listening, only listening with our whole being until it is ONLY SOUND… NO HEARER, NO HEARING…ONLY SOUND.

Through that, we experience true intimacy with God… with life…with death that leads us to freedom, that opens us to our true nature.

Barn’s burnt down —
I can see the moon.