28 November 2011

My Sorrowful Mysteries :: Tales of a Spiritual Life After Death (Part 2)

Read Part 1

I know it feels like He's gone. You feel alone, abandoned, ignored. You feel like you inhabit the blind spot that goes unchecked: that He doesn't see you and doesn't care to see you. You feel punished. But that's not what's real. It feels like He's gone, but He actually is here. I know you want to fall apart in the safety and boundary of His arms. I know that it feels like you are dissolving, falling to pieces without anything to catch the fragments as you are pulled apart. I know it feels nothing like it, but He actually is here. I know you're afraid, that you feel like you're falling and dying, but you are safe. 

a time to mourn

Much of the time over this period of a year or more was spent with a relentless internal dialogue attempting to keep a lid on my emotional blender. Though I knew my feelings of abandonment and anger were valid enough and permitted those emotions to churn and stir as they may, I also kept reminding myself they weren't the final arbiters of reality. In other words, just because I felt like God had abandoned me to my sorrow did not mean that He had. And so I lived in that exquisite tension between the opposites of what I knew by faith and what I felt, reason and emotion each pulling against each other in a tug-of-war that had me at the middle, threatening to pull my limbs from their sockets, and send my mind well beyond the bounds of sanity. It was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting.

I knew there was only one place I could go. 

I turned to the One who all my feelings protested had left me behind -- an irony not lost on me. I felt a bit like Peter in John's gospel. Offended at His teaching that if they do not eat His flesh and drink His blood they have no life in them, a large contingent of Jesus' followers leave His side. Jesus asks Peter if he is going to leave as well, and Peter says, "To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." There is a sense of resignation and acceptance in what he says; a sense of "I don't understand this eating Your flesh and drinking Your blood thing. Frankly, it sounds more than a little crazy. But I know too much now. I've seen too much now. I believe too much to leave now. I know who You are."

And so it was with me. This feeling of Christ being absent had heaped the pain of abandonment and neglect upon the still raw pain of my loss, but honestly -- where else could I go? He was the only one who had what I needed. 


So every day, I went to Him in the sorrowful mysteries

I had taken up the practice of the rosary shortly before becoming Catholic, having found there what many Catholic faithful had found before me: among other things, an experience of deepened intimacy and union with Christ. But in this season, time spent in the sorrowful mysteries did not mitigate the intense feelings of aloneness. They did not serve to lift the heavy fog in which I was mired, nor did they bring to me the God-hands that I hoped would keep me from separating like newsprint left in water too long. But I did find in them someone who knew what it was to feel abandoned and alone, someone who in a moment of intensest agony cried out loud, asking why God had forsaken Him -- and even in proclaiming that, did not sin. 

And so I prayed through those mysteries just as one might sit down and direct the most intimate concerns of her heart out loud to an unoccupied chair in an empty room. It always felt as though I was talking to no one, that my words boomeranged off the wall and came back to me, falling into a jumbled heap at my feet every time. I related to Jesus in His passion as you might relate to an historical figure in a textbook, finding commonalities in our feelings about what we suffered, but unable to forge a real relational connection.

empty chair

No matter how many times I picked up my piles of words again, I never got a response from the One to whom they were directed. I heard only the words themselves and the sound they made as they echoed back at me from the emptiness of that room, clattering against each other and falling to the floor in front of me with a loud metallic clang. But continuing to offer them was all I could do. I found no comfort in offering them, but I did find what I presumed to be comfort's distant cousin: an allowance to grieve and a permission to feel abandoned -- and to say so. It was knowing that the Christ who felt so absent to me -- who seemed no more present to me than George Washington -- felt the same thing at one time, too.

I didn't like this reality at all, and often let my God of the empty chair know exactly what I thought of it. I expressed anger and frustration. I told Him I felt neglected and forgotten. And like a small child, I just as often said nothing at all, but stretched out my arms, expressing my desire to be held and comforted, to experience the promises of solace and healing that seemed to leap from the pages of Sacred Scripture. But just as with my grief, I didn't see what choice I had. I decided to lean into the reality I had rather than the one I wished for, knowing I could no more make God show up in the way I desired Him than I could will the earth to stop spinning or make the sun move around the earth. There were no secret magical incantations or prayers I could offer, no list of bullet points I could follow that would change any of it. He is not anyone's puppet. I knew it wasn't anything I had said or done that caused His seeming disappearance and in the same way, there was not anything I could say or do that would bring Him back to me.

But I still needed Him, and it still hurt.

jesus on the cross

And so I set up camp in the sorrowful mysteries. I was utterly alone and in the cold there, but it was the only place I seemed to belong. As I held each moment of His passion in my mind, I wept and prayed with Him, felt the rending and tearing of flesh from bone with Him, and felt with him the mockery of the gawkers. With Him, I carried my cross and cried out in agony as we both hung there, our arms pinned down wide, wondering out loud where was God now.

To Be Continued


  1. Beautiful.

    I do have a question that I've been meaning to ask you. It has to with Catholicism. I mean no harm or disrespect by it, and if you don't feel comfortable answering, I'd understand.
    You're the only person I can think of that is a practicing Catholic, and I'm just a curious Christian.

    My question is what that thing you see the priest swing around? It looks like incense coming out from it. Also, what's the meaning behind that? Sorry, I know, pretty dumb question, but I've always wanted to know.

    Mandie Hamrick

  2. Kirsten, I just finished reading these two blogs and honestly, they bring tears to my eyes. I am very careful at what I say here. I feel as though I have just stepped into a very sacred and holy place. There is a sense of reverence and a holy hush that these words inspire.

    I want you to know that I honor this place in your heart. Thank you for the courage to pour out this part of yourself.

  3. So lovely and honest. I'm with Tammy. There is something very holy here. Bless you as you tell this story. And the photographs are unbelievable.

  4. Mandie
    Of course I don't mind answering your question! Please feel free to ask me anything you're curious about.

    The thing the priest is swinging around is called a thurible (I had to look that up), a type of censer which, as you suspected, contains incense. The Church uses incense as part of tradition dating back to the Old Testament where incense was used in worship. In the Catholic church, it has two meanings. First, it's symbolic of purification (e.g., the priest may symbolically purify the altar before a Mass). The second meaning has to do as a symbol of our prayers rising up to God like bowls of incense, an image we see in Scripture. When incense is used at a funeral (the casket containing the deceased is often blessed with incense, like you see here at Ewan's funeral), it symbolizes our prayers for the departed soul, that it may rise up to God like our prayers.

    Thanks again for asking.

    Thank you, sister. There is something very sacred-feeling about writing about this journey -- it's so hard to go back there and yet even now, I see the loving hand of God in it.

    Thanks, and love to you.


  5. I pray that I never go through such a loss, but I know that if I ever do, I could come here and just virtually "sit" with you and your honesty.

    Because I'm 44, I'll probably never experience having a child...which means there isn't the fear of losing a child. I'm losing a dream, but not losing a life, if that makes sense. And I'm perfectly happy being married without kids--but what I fear is my husband dying. He's healthy but you just never know.

    There's not much I can do to protect my husband or myself from tragedy. I've yet to find a way to love without the risk of loss (and oh how my mind wants to find this loophole! but it's not there).

    Death of a spouse or child must be such a test of faith. You're holding on to God while clawing at the empty air where a person used to be. To read about you doing both things at the same time helps my own faith. I wish you didn't have to go through it, but I'm glad you can write about it.

  6. I don't really have words, Kirsten, just thanks. Thank you for so openly sharing your story. Thank you for sharing your experience of praying the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. (I have a rosary purchased some years ago at the Vatican, and I clung to it, using it for prayer during a particularly hard season, so your words resonated.

    Thank you for sharing this journey with those of us who read here.