The Practice of Doing Nothing: Sitting with my Suffering (Part 1)

AngryDo all funeral directors believe death takes precedence over life? Or just the ones I have to work with? I got “the call” from our local funeral director informing me that there had been a death in our community. The family (whom I did not know and do not serve as pastor) had requested that I do the service…that Saturday at 2:00pm. I was not available that Saturday at 2:00pm. When I told the funeral director this, he balked. Clearly I was not here “to serve the people” like he was. Clearly I did not understand that it was my duty as a pastor to drop everything in my life to serve the dead.

His attempt to shame me was infuriating. After I hung up the phone, the conversation clung to me like a wet spider web. I couldn’t get rid of his voice in my head, the words he used against me, and the anger roiling my insides. I hopped hyperactively around our house, unable to focus on my work and the looming deadline of my next writing project. This man had powerfully leapt into my day and threatened to monopolize my mind if I didn’t do something quick.

So I took the funeral director to the mat and meditated with my suffering. I breathed in, feeling my lungs expand, and breathed out, feeling my lungs contract. My shoulders rose and fell. My anger burned in my chest like a hot piece of coal as I sat for ten minutes, feeling the burn. In doing so, the funeral director’s hold on me began to break into tiny little pieces. When I finished, he wasn’t entirely gone, but my anger was diffused and I was able to get back to my work.

Typically, when I get this hot, I pass my emotions on to my husband in an angry, spiteful rant. My husband loves me so he receives my rant and oftentimes shoulders my anger in solidarity. This, I realize, isn’t particularly fair to my husband. Why should he bear the anger I can’t rid myself of? Also, sharing my anger with my husband just seems to make it grow and expand in the universe. We don’t need any more anger in the world. So before I rant or vent or allow any emotion to distract me from the present moment, I’m going to try to take it to the mat. I’m going to practice sitting with my suffering.


about Marie Howe

tumblr_m11rrgvwUL1r13ilso1_500I was introduced to the poetry of Marie Howe this summer.  Last week, on a whim, I ordered all three of her books.  When they arrived in the mail I stayed up late to read each book cover to cover.  I highly recommend each to you:  The Good Thief, What the Living Do, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time.  I don’t usually read poetry three books at a time.  But reading Howe’s poetry was like reading her autobiography.  She has known horrific suffering—a terribly abusive father, a younger brother who died of AIDS, and sexual violence no human being should ever know, let alone a child.  Sometimes I read her poetry in horror.  She is fearless in her writing.  (I cannot begin to tell you how I admire her for that.)  The horror would have been too much for me, I couldn’t have kept reading, had it not been for her faith.  It amazed me that a person who had known such tragedy and violence also knew that she was loved by an ultimate and abiding Love.

Sometimes we preachers wonder if what we have given our lives to makes any difference at all.  Sometimes we wonder if God is real or has any power to heal the horrific suffering of this world.  If we are honest, we wonder these things out loud.  Marie Howe’s poetry brutally unveils the trauma this world can inflict.  Her writing also unveils faith as a saving grace in the midst of trauma, a faith that heals when nothing else can.  For this message and for this extraordinary poetry, I am deeply grateful to Marie Howe.

From her book The Kingdom of Ordinary Time here is a Marie Howe poem:


Even if I don’t see it again—nor ever feel it

I know it is—and that if once it hailed me

it ever does—

And so it is myself I want to turn in that direction

not as towards a place, but it was a tilting

within myself,

As one turns a mirror to flash the light to where

it isn’t—I was blinded like that—and swam

in what shone at me

only able to endure it by being no one and so

specifically myself I thought I’d die

from being loved like that.