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Thanksgiving and Grief

My thanksgiving present to all of you is this video… but read the article first, the video will then make more sense.

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It has been an amazing few years, since I began the path toward the Unitarian Universalist Ministry. It has been full, with many changes… putting on a uniform again for the first time in ten years; friendships that deepen and then radically alter because of time and distance; being a part of institutions undergoing radical change. As I think about how much I have to be thankful for, I also think about how much I have to grieve.

I’m not trying to be maudlin here… not at all. One of the lessons I have learned from these past few years is that there is always gain, and there is always loss in our lives. We have cause not only to be thankful for that which we have gained, but to give ourselves space to grieve the things we have lost. We must recognize not only how we are blessed, but also come to terms and accept the changes all around us.

One of my deepest personal struggles is how I deal with grief. If I come out of seminary with a deeper ability to understand and connect with my own grief and grieving process, then it will have been time and money well spent, regardless of anything else. For someone who aspires to the military chaplaincy, how I deal with grief and loss becomes more than a personal issue… it is a foundation of my ministry. Having to intentionally struggle with it, to keep the need to grieve in my awareness is, I believe, giving me the gift of being able to see the same kind of process in others.

Over the last few months, I found myself without my usual dedication. I have found myself falling behind on the work that I take on. I have found myself spending days sitting aimlessly in front of the television, or with a fiction novel, while class assignments and projects piled up.

Now, those of you who have gotten the flurry of emails and completed projects from me in the last few weeks might wonder why they all came at once. The reason is about two weeks ago I came to a few realizations in my grieving process that helped me past my “hump”. Once I was able to see what was going on in my heart, it did not hold me in the same way.

I have been grieving the loss of my internship church.

I think some friends saw it before I did… they kept recommending to me or handing me copies of Roy Oswald’s book “Running Through the Thistles”. It was a good read, and it had me in tears. After reading it, I went back and read my final sermon at my internship church, and it was clear as day…

I was (and still am) grieving the loss of that church, and I was attempting to ignore that grief so I would not have to deal with it. The result… I did not want to deal with anything. I began to see it about two months ago, and to feel myself moving through it about two weeks ago. One of the steps in allowing me to re-engage has been sitting down with my somewhat perplexed wife and having a deep discussion about what I felt was going on with me. When I said “I think I’m grieving no longer being at UCE,” she responded with a very sage and profound “Duh…” She always makes me smile.

Since the initial realization, I have been experiencing what it means for me to grieve… and it has only been in the last few weeks that I have begun to accept it and move back into the rest of the work and projects that make up such an important part of my life. How this last few months have gone is probably a sign for me in how I need to take time for grief in the future, especially around the ending of a ministry.

I have a long history with grief. When my father died in 1994, I threw myself into my work, into a relationship, into my plans for the future so I did not have to deal with his death. I pretended in my mind that it never happened, so much so that I did not visit my father’s grave until 12 years after he passed away… at the strong urging of my CPE supervisor. Thanks Sheryl.

Since CPE, I have begun to encounter my grief in whole new ways, and to begin to honor it as one of the most important parts of who I am. Grief has a lot to teach me. In grieving I see deeply what I care most about. In grieving I am required to re-vision who I am and what I am called to do and to be. In grieving I am given the gift of reflection upon what it is that has been lost. To paraphrase my favorite science fiction author, grieving is how the sleeper is awakened.

When I woke up this Thanksgiving morning, I asked myself what it was I was thankful for. Beyond all the more commonly thought of blessings in my life, I found myself being thankful for my grief… something I could never have said just a few years before.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Yours in faith,


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