holy week 2023: black saturday


Note: this is the third Holy Week retreat talk given by The Rev. Alice Cabotaje Roshi.

Good morning. Thank you for being here today; for continuing to practice and support one another in silence, in spirit, and with your presence.

Over the past two days, I have spoken about surrender, about death and the dying of self. And reflecting on that… sitting with that can bring up our experience of losses.

Hence, my talk today will not be the usual format because I would like to invite us to do a ritual that will honor our losses… a ritual that will provide some space and time to remember, to grieve, and to mourn.

Our losses have come in many and different forms:

  • a death of a loved one – a son, a daughter, a father, a mother, a husband, a wife, a partner, a beloved friend, a brother, a sister, a cousin, an aunt, an uncle, a teacher, a pet…
  • a separation from a loved one
  • a broken relationship
  • loss of career, status, a job, a position
  • loss of trust in people or institutions that we thought were solid and reliable
  • loss of physical function
  • loss of abilities
  • loss of home
  • loss of comfort and the familiar
  • loss of an object that has meant a lot to us
  • loss of an emotionally important image of oneself
  • loss of the possibilities of what might have been
  • loss of a dream
  • loss of courage,
  • loss of faith

There, too, is loss when we have reached a goal, completed a degree or training, or advanced to the next step.

The intensity of our losses also depends on whether it was avoidable or unavoidable; temporary or permanent; actual or imagined; anticipated or unanticipated; and if the loss resulted in our leaving or being left behind.

As we experience our losses, different feelings arise: sorrow, anguish, disbelief, shock, despair, anxiety, loneliness, guilt, regret, resentment, emptiness, numbness, yearning, love, and appreciation

Erich Lindemann, a psychiatrist specializing in bereavement, suggests that each feeling in grief must be “pained through.”

In order to mourn completely, we must realize our needs. We need to take the time to grieve. We need to talk and to cry as much as we can. We need an environment, and/or people around us, that support our grieving.

We need to be free from major decisions if we feel unsure or unready for them. It is important that we honor our needs and know that we are not being self-indulgent but instead being self-supporting.

At this very moment, many of us face life’s difficulties and challenges. We have suffered losses. While not all of us know one another, it is still good to be together. More than anything else we need one another right now. Each of us grieves. And when we grieve together, the healing begins. Just by being here each of us gives comfort to everyone else.

I would now like to invite us to pause to feel the many and varied ways our losses have meant to us, and how our losses have touched our lives. We also will pause to affirm the cycles of birth and of death, for we know that we are all part of an endless and mysterious cycle of coming and going.

As we do so, I would like to ask Nona to read a poem by Margaret Mead.

Remember Me
by Margaret Mead

To the living, I am gone.
To the sorrowful, I will never return.
To the angry, I was cheated,
But to the happy, I am at peace,
And to the faithful, I have never left.
I cannot be seen, but I can be heard.
So as you stand upon a shore, gazing at a beautiful sea – remember me.
As you look in awe at a mighty forest and its grand majesty – remember me.
As you look upon a flower and admire its simplicity – remember me.
Remember me in your heart, your thoughts, your memories of the times we loved, the times we cried, the times we fought, the times we laughed.
For if you always think of me, I will never be gone.

Those words of Margaret Mead remind me of Kahlil Gibran who said:

When you are sorrowful look again in
your heart, and you shall see that in truth
you are weeping for that which has been
your delight.

At this time, I would like to invite us to honor a loss  — whether this be a person,  a thing, a situation, a dream —  through a ritual  based on Dr. Ira Byock’s  The Four Things that Matter Most. This involves four simple phrases— “Thank you,” “Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” and “I love you.”

I would like to close with a poem entitled “Heavy” Mary Oliver.

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had his hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel,
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled –
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

May we continue to honor our deep pain and loss with gentleness and kindness. May we also connect our hearts to all who grieve in this world.

May all of us be lifted on wings of love and hope and receive a balm of healing. Where there lingers any misunderstanding, alienation, or regret, we ask for the healing of forgiveness; and where there has been warmth and love, we call for the healing power of gratitude.