Faith, Grief, Love

STUFF

Last week I dropped off another load of stuff. Made a donation of sorts to an organization assisting people in need. My stuff helps make their programs happen. I’ve been doing this kind off-loading a lot lately as I forage through item after item in our home looking to toss, keep, or give away.

Of course each item is infused with memories. As I throw out a broken Tonka truck I hear the traffic sounds my young sons once made years ago. As I load up a box with books I remember my beloved career in early care and education. As I sort through old picture frames I remember life as it once was and is no longer. Our stuff holds memories just as the walls of our homes and churches seem to do. As if these inanimate objects and structures infuse our lives with living breath. Memories however are not alive. Yet they are within us functioning as internal containers of the past, ones full of emotions. Some memories, wonderful and loving. Others reminding us of past tragedies, regrets, and unfulfilled dreams.

In December of 1995 I said goodbye to a room full of three, four, and five year old children and their parents and guardians. Most of these families were immigrants. Some from Palestine and more from Mexico. Many families were in Chicago illegally having fled war, hunger, and disease. Even the three year old children showed visible signs of where they came from: Large crusted scars from untreated pinworm, PTSD from witnessing violence, and visceral memories of being hungry. Saying goodbye to these children was painful. I loved them and they me.

Through tears during one last circle time I reached my hands and arms out wide as if holding them all. Then I gathered the air in bringing unseen molecules toward me. My hands resting on my heart as my words spoke my truth: “I will always be in your hearts and you will always be in mine.”

And I have. Held them in my heart for almost twenty-seven years. Their faces, laughs, smiles, and tears rest within me. Surrounded by circles of hope. Well wishes for them and our shared world as prayer for something greater than we can imagine.

My heart, your heart, all hearts expand, make room, welcome. So that when the mementos break, disintegrate, take up too much space, or our beloved church decides to change, combine, or close, then we have what lives on in our hearts, souls, and minds. And we can remember that’s where God lives as well. In us, wherever we go and whatever we do. Always finding new life when what lives in us meets what lives in others. Reminding us that it is not the stuff stored in our closets or the beloved physical places holding our lives. It’s the relationships we grow with God, ourselves, and others.

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Grief, Healing meditation, Trauma recovery

OUT

Psalm 130

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
    Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my supplications!

 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
    so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in God’s word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with the Lord is great power to redeem.

It is the Lord  who will redeem Israel
    from all its iniquities.” ( NRSV)

Reflection

Psalm 130 belongs to a group of psalms called “the ascent psalms.” Psalms sung as pilgrims made long journeys to the temple in ancient Jerusalem. Once at the temple, weary  after walking so far, pilgrims may have chanted these words while climbing the many steps leading into the temple. Bodies moving with lament and hope. Arms reaching for God and God’s redemption.

Ascent. A word associated with goodness. We think and speak of going up or moving forward as the best way. Moving downward, not as acceptable or desirable. As in God is up not down. Up in heaven not down here on earth. Not deeper down in the pits of our despair and pain.

Up, down, ascent, or descent are neither good nor bad movements. All movements depend on context. In the context of pain and despair we often move away from God. We turn away from all goodness because we are unable to fathom God moving with us in any direction. 

Yet God always promises to accompany us. God goes with us into every place, including life’s pits. Maybe a better directional word is out. Easing pain moves us out of despair into the experience of joy. Healing uncovers God’s ongoing presence with and in us.

Spiritual Practice: Moving

Read aloud the first two verses of Psalm 130. As you read, reach your arms out in all directions. Reach out and down. Reach out and up. Reach out and to the side.

 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
    Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my supplications!

Read aloud verses three and four standing or sitting still.

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
    so that you may be revered.

Read aloud verses five and six while breathing the words in and out. As you breathe listen for God within you and all around you.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in God’s word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning.

As you read aloud verses seven and eight, move as if you are moving toward God’s hope living within you.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with the Lord is great power to redeem.

 It is the Lord  who will redeem Israel
    from all its iniquities.

Prayer

Ascending and descending God, move your Spirit within and around me. Move me with your energy. Create healing as we dance. Amen.

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Healing meditation, Revised Common Lectionary Text, Trauma, Trauma recovery

BR O KEN

“Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;  my eye wastes away from grief,
 my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery,  and my bones waste away. I am the scorn of all my adversaries,  a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me;  I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.”
Psalm 31:9-12 NRSV

Reflection

Words from my own journey through trauma recovery: I want to lose myself in movie after movie. Curl up in bed, eyes staring at the blank wall. Drink the leftover wine in the fridge until I no longer feel anything. Buy another dress online. Only to send it back again. Move to an island far away from all who know my story. Numb myself in anything taking a layer of pain away. Not even asking for it all to cease. Just shed the top portion of what I endure. Maybe just for an hour. Giving me a break from my broken body. From trauma’s relentless monotony.

Today I decide instead to bake. Satiate my craving for spice cookies. Or maybe just the sugar as temporary antidepressant. But also need some sort of small movement. Like smashing butter, cracking eggs, measuring vanilla, mixing it all together. Watching the separate parts form a whole. Liquid acting like glue. Bringing it all together.  

Movement grows a young child’s brain. Neurons reaching out into strings of pathways. Maybe movement can grow my brain back? My stuck, middle-aged, traumatized brain. Showing it a path out of this muck. By molding ingredients together. Making sticky cookie dough. Mending what is broken.

Healing Practice: Collecting Ideas

Buy a pack of recipe cards. Or note cards. Any size.

Write down one idea for healthy movement or action per card, thoughts nudging you in some way.

One card may say, “jump rope. Another may say, “go dig in the dirt,” or “remember to sketch the big oak tree in the park,” or “paint the office wall marine blue.” Collect these ideas for times when you want to run away from the broken pain playing havoc in your soul.

When next you want to escape, take a deep breath instead. Let it out slowly while you pick out a card. And then try it. Just try it. For five minutes. Maybe longer. Give yourself permission to only make the dough but not bake the bread. Or dig a hole without planting something in it. The point is to move just a little bit toward healing. Toward reconstructing our broken vessels.

Prayer

Send me ideas, God. For healing me. For healing those I love. For my brokenness to slowly fill in with life again. Amen.

© Jennifer Ohman-RodriguezJennifer Ohman-Rodriguez and Jenniferohmanrodriguez.com, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez and Jenniferohmanrodriguez.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Pandemic, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Sitting Lonely, One Year Later

One year ago I wrote this post. At the beginning. Of the unknown. Now one year later the pandemic continues to impact us. Layered upon what has already occured.

With measured step we attempt move out into the world. Yet as some return to what once was, others cannot not because of the lingering after effects of Covid-19 in their bodies. As some plan gatherings, others mourn the loss of those they once gathered with. As some return to the workplace, some have no workplace to return to. As some receive vaccines, some are denied because of poverty and systemic racism. Others live in self-denial.

As the fear of the virus subsides we discover something unexpected. We still sit in loneliness. A new kind of loneliness. Not the loneliness of the beginning or middle. But one which will take time and ongoing healing to mend. This loneliness is the kind born of having endured. Survived. Which would not seem so lonely if others did not pretend that all is once again well.

Embracing this reality of the loneliness of ending, I share again my post, essay entitled “Sitting Lonely.”

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.

Lamentations 1:1

Walking my normal route. On a Sunday afternoon in early spring. Temperature in the fifties. Slightly overcast with sun flitting in and out. Air smelling of trees swelling into resurrected life. And soil. Soil pining to be planted. So much so I must breathe in its scent as breezes brush against my face.

I see no one. No people. No one out. No children playing on the playground.  No families strolling by pushing baby carriages. No runners. No other walkers.

Cars roll by slowly. No longer in a hurry. But not many cars. Cars resting. Found parked in driveways, garages, and along the streets of my neighborhood. As if it is Thanksgiving or Christmas day. Everyone home on forced holiday.

Back home my son reports the store shelves are bare. He returning from stocking up on a few items—toothbrushes, acetaminophen, milk. Tells me this news as we make a list for my grocery run the next day. Writing down what we really need. What we can do without. Thinking ahead for a future we do not understand and cannot predict.

Like most of my friends, I spend time on the phone with loved ones scattered in other places. Feel a need to connect daily now. Check in. But also to help convince or plan. For my oldest to leave Mexico amidst flight cancellations and possible border closings. For my mother to stay south as long as possible instead of coming home to community spread.

When not on the phone or email or text, check the maps. The ones telling me the latest reports. The ones showing the growing numbers. In between checks trying to study, answer emails, read the latest update from seminary, reschedule my life as meetings, events, and deadlines change hourly. All part of my new job as home manager of crisis’ constant change.

The writer of Lamentations imagines or looks out over an empty Jerusalem. After war’s sieges took lives. Captured prisoners. Enemy conquering, creating new reality. Forcing residents to move far away. Emptying a city. Leaving smoldering bits of a recent past. Only seen by those remaining. A desecrated temple. A destroyed way of life.

The prophet looks out over what once was and is no longer. Allows the scene to enter his body. For woe to fill his heart.With scene in mind, heart, and body, calls it like it is. Words allowing the sharing of sorrow with other mourners. “How lonely sits the city…!”

We live in a new form of exile. Not exile like those escaping war or political persecution or famine. Even a pandemic does not compare to these atrocities. Yet there remains a flavor here of exile now. Of being refugees. Even if our camp is in our own home. We are torn away from loved ones, work, friends, activities, faith communities, and school. Separated from routines, predictability, and calm.

So I sit at my kitchen table. Stare out the window. Watch a dog and its person walk across the field. Track their progress. Become aware of my held breath.

Begin to breathe. First in, then out. Again. Again. Deeper. Fuller. Breath reaching behind tired eyes. Loosening jaws. Unfurling forehead. Finding shoulders through collar bones. Down arms into fingers. Belly filling up. Hips letting go. Breath running down silent legs. Into ankles, toes. Eyes closing. Mind blanking. Body breathing into prayer spilling out.

Be present, God. Here. Everywhere. Make your presence known to all. Heal us with holy breath for this day. And tomorrow. And the days already on their way. Strengthen us. For the work to be done. The decisions to be made. The sacrifices we must make for neighbor and stranger and self. Fuel and refuel us with your Spirit each hour, day, week, month. Grow Spirit’s compassion in us. For each other. Amen.

~~~

Scripture quotation from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

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Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Goodness

“The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good…God saw everything that [God] had made, and indeed, it was very good…” Genesis 1:12; 31 NRSV

Reflection

Healing, a form of creation. Re-covering of our torn parts. Re-solving our mysteries, maladies, aches, behaviors related to trauma’s initial wounding. Re-generating our minds, bodies. Freeing us from cyclical thoughts, emotional triggers, felt sensations, and ongoing replays. Re-newing our hopes and dreams. Re-viving our souls. Re-storing us into life itself through re-juvenation of our inner human fullness. God’s creation re-creating us. Moment by moment. Minute by minute. Healing action by healing action. Re-storing us with goodness.

Healing Practice

List what is good. Name six like the six days God created. Name more if you get on a roll. Or use the ones written here. Speak these small goodness’s aloud.

Today I cried and felt that it is good.

Today I watched the sunrise and saw that it is good.

Today I baked bread and tasted that it is good.

Today I opened the window and smelled that it is good.

Today I called a friend and heard that it is good.

Today I smiled and felt that it is good.

Prayer

God of creative goodness, help me see goodness through my eyes. Help me feel goodness through my skin. Help me hear goodness through my ears. Help me taste goodness through my food. Help me smell goodness through my nose. Amen. 

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Trauma, Trauma recovery

Crying Joy

Tears flow as December sky melts into dusky greys, pinks, and Advent blue. Illuminated within window’s frame. Accompanied by bubbling pots. Air filling with dinner’s smells as soft white lights twinkle on tree, in star, from candles.

I stand in the middle of our kitchen. Stopped by resonating sounds of Pachelbel’s Canon in G Major. Since seventeen knowing every single note of this piece. Phrases allowing my thoughts and sensations space. To fall into shaking, trembling tears. Today, tears filled with joy.

This day at dusk,

~Four years and four months since we lost Tony,

~Four years and four months from when my body filled with cyclical, raging chemicals,

~Four years and four months since I vowed to Tony, God, and myself that we could and would heal,

~Four years and a few months since I began documenting our experience,

~Four years and a few months from my decision to be transparent about the pain of healing grief with trauma,

~Ten months since the last of these life or death bodily chemicals transformed fully into living,

~And in the last ten months of my seminary studies,

My dream of a sharing our story and in doing so continuing Tony’s healing work reaches fruition.

I humbly announce our journey through grief and trauma recovery becomes a forthcoming book to be published by Chalice Press.

And in celebration of healing and dreams, my literary agent Kate Sheehan Roach and I smiled and giggled our way through the contract signing! Knowing this moment, while brief, overflows with days, months, and years. Contract signing.

Advent, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Advent Mirror

And excerpt from my recent blog post for Faith + Lead.

A young woman hurries. Looks ahead, behind. Scans the surrounding hills. Startles as birds squawk overhead. Tightens her cloak. Covers herself with her arms. 

Something in her body propels her forward. Away from the unknown. Away from the incomprehensible. Away from what feels like possible death. 

In a town she finds the door. She knocks but cannot wait. She enters. Calls out to make sure. Latches the door behind her. Breathes. Someone within the house stirs. Calls out. Approaches. Greeting her with warm words like a loving mother. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” Elizabeth exclaims (Luke 1:42 NRSV).

See the full post by clicking the title below.

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Grief, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Impatient

“What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end that I should be patient? Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze? In truth I have no help in me, and any resource is driven from me.” Job 6: 11-13 NRSV

Reflection

Eyes stare. Mouth droops. Limbs sit in supposed silence. Only sores speak. Erupting into puss pools.

Life evaporating like tiny raindrops on desert wind. Leftovers buried with each child. Leaving Job with no vision of future.

Job needs others to hold future for him. To be strength for him. But Job learns people’s consistency and appropriateness in tragedy and trauma varies. Many are unreliable, questionable, hurtful, and harmful. Job says,

“Those who withhold kindness from a friend forsake the fear of the Almighty. My companions are treacherous like a torrent-bed…in time of heat they disappear: when it is hot, they vanish from their place.” Job 6:14, 17

Job’s friends posture in trauma’s heat. Find quick answers to suffering’s sorrow. Offer support in limp gestures. Cover their cluelessness with words worn as thin cloaks.

In his pit, Job sees truth. Recognizes their moralism as yet another lathering of pain. Adding putrid frosting on top of bitter cake. Each taste full of shaming shapes. Requiring sufferer’s scarce amount of patience to be used on help’s imposters claiming compassion.

“Compassion means ministry.” writes theologian Andrew Purves. Ministry “for healing or wholeness.”

Compassion does not say, “your head should not feel heavy.” Because compassion does not expand pain’s cutting edge. With knives of judgement and misconstrued power.Compassion sees face-to-face. Hears truth. Believes. Feels. Provides. Compassion says, “My head feels your heaviness. Here are some soft pillows.”

Healing Practice: Do No-Thing

Today we offer ourselves compassion. Not judgement.

Self-compassion allows us to do nothing. Only asks us to sit. Stare.

Until sitting leads to noticing. Noticing the sounds around us. Naming them one by one.  

Noticing more sounds. Coming from within. Breath breathing. Fast, slow, deep, shallow, labored, stilted, heavy.

Breath bringing us inside our bodies. Awakening realizations of sensations. Feelings living in muscles, organs, limbs. Some achy, hard, tingly. Some heavy or warm. Forming shapes. Circle, oval, brick, or plane.

Breath leading us back. To what surrounds us. The drawing on the wall. Ceiling fan above. Lamp across the room. Breathing in silence. Breathing out stillness. Breathing in staring. Breathing out seeing.

Prayer

Insistent God, persist in loving me. Persist in caring for me. Persist in healing me. Sprinkle silent kindnesses on my ashes. Infuse quiet kindnesses into my soul. Fill me with just enough determination to persevere another minute, another hour, another day. Send people courageous enough to sit with me in my pit as it echoes with nothing but muffled torment. Amen.


[i] Purves, Andrew. (1989) The Search for Compassion: Spirituality and Ministry. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. Page 17.

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Grief, Healing, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

One Small Seed

“It (the kingdom of God) is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”  Mark 4:30-32 NRSV

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Reflection

A card stock square. Maybe an inch and half in width. Cream colored. A shaded black square drawn within. Containing an open space in the middle. Open space not empty. One mustard seed, centered and hot-glued on. Just one. With words surrounding the seed. Making a phrase. Corny, like so many faith sayings.

Found in bathroom drawer. Leftover from some worship service. Somewhere. Tossed away. Hiding under makeup, face cream, dental floss. Until now. Finding new life wedged between bathroom wall and electrical outlet.

“Faith as a grain of mustard seed!”

Small card with tiny seed. Just a seed. Not a plant. Not a condiment. Just an increment of something possible. Like faith. Like hope. Like love. Like healing.

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Healing Practice

Comb the cupboard for mustard seeds. Or borrow a few. Buy some. Allowing your eyes to feast on the varied shades of red, brown, and gold.

Drop a mustard seed, just one, into an empty glass jar. Place the jar on the counter where you will see it several times a day.

That’s it. That’s the practice. The rest is up to your mustard seed. To remind you daily that this speck is all you need of hope or faith or both.

Prayer

God of what can be,

Send us a seed a hope,

Plant in us this one, small seed,

Tend this seed with water, light, and food,

Watch as seed sprouts into seedling,

Grows into young stem, shoots off branches,

Becomes strong,

Until birds build nests in its arms,

Creating new life out of tiny hope.

Amen.

Grief, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Clinging

“My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to your word…My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” Psalm 119: 25; 28

Reflection

Dust. Tiny particles streak air. On sunny, still afternoons. Light reflecting off silvery wisps of nothingness.

Dust. Swirls on dry, windy days. Masking sight. Adding brown to blue sky. Causing itchy eyes, parched throats, and protesting noses.

Dust. Accumulating. Blanketing surfaces. Scattered if moved. Slipping through grasping hands. Landing again. Only gathered in on soft cloths.

Soul unable to cling.

Healing Practice: Dusting

Open your arms wide and to your sides.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in gathering seen and unseen dust particles floating around you.

Breathe out into a hug.

Repeat gathering dust. As long as needed.

Prayer

God,

I cling to the ground. Lift me up.

I cling to the ground. Revive me.

I cling to the ground. Strengthen me.

I cling melted to the ground. Re-form me.

I cling for safety to the ground. Be my security.

I cling frozen to the ground. Move me.

I cling to the ground in pain. Show me healing’s way.

Amen.

Biblical Text: NRSV

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