People respond to grief in all sorts of healthy and unhealthy ways. The latter, I think, happens when we are afraid of grief’s pain and so we do everything we can to avoid it. We try to escape emotional/spiritual pain by burying or drowning it while simultaneously feeling so numb that we also do crazy things just so we might feel something, anything.
In Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, both a book and a movie, she starts out running away from her grief over her mother’s death in a myriad of unhealthy and self-destructive ways and then takes a physical, spiritual journey hiking 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.
The hike is about working through her grief and discovering who she is and what she is capable of. We might call it a rebirthing journey. She hikes alone knowing it’s a journey no one else can make for her.
In some ways the physical part of the journey (the way-too-heavy pack, her blistered-falling-off-toenails feet, the changes in altitude, the fear of animals and no water) is just enough to balance the concomitant spiritual work she has to do. And her time alone is balanced just enough with other hikers to help her know she’s not alone on her journey. In Biblical words we might say God sends angels to minister to her along the way.
Near the end of the book when some of the trekkers she has gotten to know over the months of hiking meet up with her again, the one man gives her the nickname, “Queen of the PCT because people always want to give you things and do things for you.”
She reflects on that and realizes that it’s true: “I had nothing but generosity to report. The world and its people had opened their arms to me at every turn.”
We all need experiences like that, don’t we? We all need to experience such grace and welcome – the experience of being carried by the kindnesses of strangers that helps us to trust and live anew. Sounds like a good definition of church, doesn’t it – a place to come and be carried by the kindness of strangers, fed and nourished and sent back out to trust and live anew.
Read the book; see the movie; tell me what you think.
- Pastor Dianne