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We Cross in Safety Holding Hands

Posted by Eliza, September 13th, 2013

What kinds of healing are needed to help us midwife our beloved into a good death? Once physical pain has been relieved, emotional and social suffering can be perceived more clearly and helped more successfully. Then, finally, spiritual suffering – which includes the need to make meaning of pain and loss – can be addressed. This is the guiding principle of hospice care for humans as well as other animals.

Recently I was invited to the orientation of new staff members of the New England Pet Hospice and Home Care, to share with new staffers what my role as the spiritual advisor/chaplain may involve. I told them that I was there for them as well as for patients and clients, since the nursing they do in such tough situations can take a spiritual toll. I offered them the following blessing, which offers compassion and gratitude for the work of caring. I share it with all who need it today.

Praise the Work of Our Hands

Simple things get lost.
Look, for instance, at hands,
tools of great beauty, strength and courage.
Let us praise the work of our hands,
their holding and cleaning,
their mending and calming,
their patient waiting in birth
and grace in ushering death.

Praise the quiet hands
holding all time in their palms,
and the busy hands,
knitting up wounds.
Praise the jazz hands,
keeping time with our joy,
and the cradling hands, soothing as sleep.

Praise the work of our hands,
And may they realize the highest
intentions of our hearts and minds.
Paw– May it be so. Blessed be. Amen.

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Swinging on Time’s Gate

Posted by Eliza, January 2nd, 2013

In northerly Scotland, the first person over the doorway on New Year’s Day is warmly welcomed with cake and drink and coal. In Cherryville, North Carolina, the tradition is of a “the great shooting,” involving the Shooters in twelve hours of explosive firing and chanting to welcome in the new year. Noise and bonfire are common hinge time rituals, ostensibly to chase or burn demons and trolls of the past that prevent us from immersing ourselves in the now.

Yes, the old year dies- with a bang or a whimper. And, ready or not, we move on to the next – stuttering when we write the new year’s date the first time. Something in us may sense unfinished business. But the gate swings wide and on we go…

Some of what we aren’t ready to let go of is the savoring of a joy from the recent past– a swim in a new and lovely pond, mastering the snowboard, or finally making that long-dreamed of trip. December can also be a time when our losses drift in from the cold. Familiar as aches, beloved faces hover in the imagination, along with conversations we wish we’d had, and things we wish we hadn’t done. This is a complex time.
Those of us who’ve suffered a recent loss of a loved one, or who anticipate a loss, have an especially hard time during the holidays. New England poet Maxine Kumin writes of the death of her dog, in the poem “Five Small Deaths in May”:

I will not sing the death of Dog
Who lived a fool to please his king.
I will put him under the milkweed bloom
Where in July the monarchs come
As spotted as he, as rampant, as enduring.

In spring it’s so much easier to believe in the potential for rebirth, for transformation.
If we give ourselves the gift of the present, thought, we can feel our way into the future- even in the heart of winter. If we look carefully we can see the reddening buds start to swell on the twigs; peek between the rolls of bark on forest trees and you’ll find the fireflies, just waiting to light their fires again; and there’s the surprising red breast of a robin on warmer days. Light, warmth and familiar promises remind us that life continues, alongside our grieving.

We can learn how to hold, at one time, both our joy and our sadness from the rituals ringing in the new year. The ageless gestures, songs, and sharing can recall us to our inner strength and resilience.

This version of the Metta Sutta, from the Buddhist tradition, offers hope for the year to come:

May all beings be happy.
May all beings be free from misery.
May all beings be freed from attachment and fear,
And may there be peace in all the worlds.

May you enjoy a blessed new year.

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