Navigating Death by Living

“We lost a great soul yesterday.” How often have I heard that? How many times each and every day do you think these words are spoken around the world? As I ponder this question a smile spreads across my face because I imagine the millions who have spoken these words have had the great joy of living their life with a “great one” in it. How bright life must have been with this beloved. And how very dark it can be with their physical presence gone.

In Unity, we lost a great one yesterday, Rev. Sky St. John. With every utterance of “we lost a great one,” I believe they are words that point to one of many steps we take on our grief journey. They are words that lie gently on top of a deeper practice of reconciling the death of a loved one. We are acknowledging that while he was here, life seemed endless. Yet in our grief, we feel their presence even more powerfully now that they are gone.

Oftentimes our deceased loved ones are most alive, and we may feel the loss more intensely, around holidays, family gatherings and sacred occasions because we are traversing a new landscape without our loved one. We are learning to connect their physical absence here on the earthly plane, with a more ephemeral presence. We are unwittingly being invited to integrate these two things, their absence and presence, into creating a new relationship in this new landscape of life without our loved one.

So every holiday, no matter what your faith tradition, is really a “holy day.” What makes it holy is that it is an invitation into the deep, sacred waters of the practice of being human while in the unlikely territory of grief and loss. The most quiet courage there is though, is to be fully present to all the rhythms of human life, even the most unexpected, even the rhythms that rearrange our lives so deeply we think we may never open our hearts again for fear of losing what we love.

Yet it is only in staying open and deeply connected to our heart, can we continue to restore our trust and faith over and over again everyday. We may ask ourselves, “Why?!” “Why him?” “Why she did have to die?” “Why would God take her?” “Why did this happen?” The logic of the brain asks the question “why,” but the heart asks the question, “how.” How do I live my life with this overwhelming loss? How do I keep my heart open when I feel so hurt and vulnerable? How do I make peace with what may seem like the end of my world?

The question “how” lets us live our life again with faith and trust. The question “how” reminds us that every crack in our heart is an opening, and whatever opened us is never as important as what has been opened. We can get stuck in the “why” of our grief. We get focused on the event that cracked us open and miss the gift of what got opened inside us.

Rev. Sky St. John and many other beloved great ones I have known were intent on living life in a way where they would reach deep into their woundness and bring out the fire that breathed in their souls, thereby lighting everything around them. Every great one you have known and now mourn was intent on making things better here on earth. And so they reached deep into themselves and pulled out the fire of truth, thereby raining their love over all to soothe the sufferings of others.

So this holiday season, if you find yourself missing someone who has been gone for decades or days, remember this: embrace what is, take the risk to give your full presence and care to whatever is most alive for you. When you miss your loved one the most, hold fast to the notion that our time here is about living fully human with each other, turning toward the physical world, embracing that which may be most chaotic, most frightening and most uncertain. It’s OK to grieve in your own way, at your own pace. It’s about humbly bowing down and loving the messiness just as it is.

Live your life abiding in each other, finding your greatest blocks, your judgments, and conforming your hearts to love because love is a journey of descent, which ironically lifts each of us up in joy. Live your life in this manner and you will find your greatest resistance to love and being loved. Live your life in this manner and you will see yourself in the stranger standing before you, which ultimately is the greatest expression of being spirit here on earth.

Live your life in this manner and you too will bring forth that same fire shared by the great ones who no longer physically walk this earth, and their love that you cherish will be alive as you. Live your life in this manner and you will see the glory of God as you continue to create a new relationship, and navigate a new landscape of life.