Sorrow and Love
There’s a beautiful verse from the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” that describes Jesus’ blood leaving his body as “sorrow and love flow mingled down.” There are moments of grief, loss, and sorrow in our lives that exist because of the presence of love and joy. Grief becomes a portal through which we can feel the depth of joys that we have known, or joys that we imagine. At our farm we believe that the grief of our reality as omnivores is intertwined with the joy of shared meals and the joy of caring for animals as they live into the fullness of their incarnation. When harvest day for animals comes it is always a cutting mix of both sorrow and love. This past week when we harvested our 55 Cornish Cross birds, our hearts were heavy with the loss and full of praise for the lives they lived and the nourishment we could bring to our community.
As we worked with our neighboring farmers to finish the task before us, the conversation turned, as it tends to do on these days, to death. Death, while it is uncomfortable in modern western culture, is a central and almost familiar presence within the Christian tradition. So imagining my own death, or talking about death is something that comes naturally. I shared my joking wish with another farmer to be gathered together with all of my animals on the hillside - nestled in among them - and to go peacefully. What I did not expect was her response. She said, “Even if they aren’t there physically, I believe they will be there.”
The soil itself seems to cry out with the truth that the communion of saints is physically present, feeding us, holding us, walking with us. On harvest days we are in a thin space; we are close to the veil that separates us from the communion of saints. We are close to death. The trees, the grasses, the grazing chickens, horses, pigs, goats, and even us people all live as a cosmic inhale of the exhale of our ancestors. Even the sunlight is a borrowed breath that we hold for a moment until we release that energy back to the earth, so that it in turn can be reflected out into the universe. In this day of releasing and dying, my role is that of the death doula. My hands are the ones that hold and comfort each chicken in their last moments in this incarnation. As they transition I stay present to their bodies, as they sway left, I sway left, as they sway right, I sway right. It has become clear to me after years of this practice, that each body walks from this life to the next, physically. I was sharing about this with Jonathan at the end of the day, and in this context he said to me these words, which so beautifully summed up the multiplicity of layers that exist on harvest days. They also speak so tenderly about the communion of saints that walks every step along with us:
“There is no path to the road you are walking; you just have to walk it, and the good news is that you aren’t walking it alone.”
Meditation on Your Death
This practice comes from Teresa of Avila and is a meditation to prepare oneself for the type of letting go of the small self (now called the ego) that happens at the end of this life. This meditation is powerful and should not be undertaken without the support of a spiritual community to process what might surface. I worked with this practice for a series of months in the evenings, and found it ultimately to be a source of deep comfort and joy. There were also moments that became quite scary, and so I encourage you, if you choose to work with this practice, to remember that you can stop at any point and reach out to a spiritual director or guide. If you are looking for a companion, the many members of the spiritual director community at the Retreat House are available for your support and companioning. To read more about spiritual companioning please visit this link: https://retreathousehillsboro.org/meditation-and-reflection/
Begin by lying down. Take a few deep breaths with your eyes closed. Begin to feel your body and let your awareness travel slowly from your head to your feet. Rest in this awareness for a few breaths. Then, begin to imagine your body shutting down and releasing. The heart changing pace, the lungs slowing, all things releasing to the earth. Imagine your spirit hovering over your body - looking at the physical presence that is you, and is not you. Imagine releasing from it.
In this space of release now notice that you are in a garden. Notice that you are in a garden with Jesus, who is on his knees and praying to God “Not as I will, but as you will.” Let your spirit and imagination dwell on these words as you focus through your mind’s eye on Jesus as he prays about his own death. Stay in this place of prayer and imagination until it feels complete for your practice (about 10 minutes).
Begin to come back to your body. Slowly allow your attention to scan from your head through your feet. Resting gently on your heart and taking three deep breaths.