Monday, July 30, 2007

Shaping Our Pain

Light Pink Lily

I remember reading Freud, ages ago. And he seemed to be saying that humans live by the principle of pain avoidance. To some extent, he was right.

Yet it is ultimately unrealistic to live our lives according to this principle. Pain, unavoidable pain, is sometimes our surprising companion. We cannot escape it.

This past week, I began a journey through such inescapable pain. As did so many of my friends, my church community, who knew and loved the dear brother-father-husband-scientist-elder who passed away.

Around the middle of the week, one of these grieving friends shared a song with me. And I had, without knowing it, shared my poem with her. At the end of the week, another friend told me how she had taken the funeral flowers (with the widow's blessing) and saved the ones that were still fresh, to rearrange them in new designs. She wept and wept as she rearranged them. And so her tears and flowers bedecked our refreshment tables on Sunday. Each of us had begun to touch and mold our pain, through our own particular gifts and loves.

In The Burning Word, Judith Kunst notes that the Jews have long relied on words to shape and reshape their pain. Discussing the book of Lamentations she says, "This painful kneading of words and grief binds the poet to his despair, and at the same time it pushes him through it, toward hope..." (p.55)

I realize that I shape and reshape my pain through writing. In this way, I do not avoid my pain but am bound to it while also experiencing a sense of pushing through it. As I told my friend who shared the song, "I write and the mending begins."

(On a totally different note... today marks one year since Seedlings was born.)

Lilies photo, by L.L. Barkat.

Seedlings Invitation: If you write a post related to this post and Link It Back Here, let me know and I'll link to yours.

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Blogger Llama Momma said...

If there was a shortcut through the wandering wildnerness of grief, surely many would take it.

But there is no shortcut.

Walk on, friend...

2:40 PM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...

The pain of loss is real and doesn't disappear immediately but it is tempered by the hope of a better day... a perfect day when we get to see the Perfect One.

Grace and peace to you.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

happy Seedlings birthday!

I really like the sense of molding pain by writing through it - I've teased you and Marcus for "needing" to write, but I've found myself in this same space so frequently in the past few months - I need, almost, to "write it through" in order to "think it through" - rather an interesting proposal for an introvert who also happens to be a verbal processor!

9:54 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

L.L, Happy, birthday to Seedlings!

I think writing helps me, though reading good material is maybe more important for me at least at first.

I do agree with hm-Susan that it does help me immensely to think something through by writing it down.

Your words here on words and pain are quite interesting and helpful. And remind me of so much material in the Bible like Lamentations.

10:37 PM  
Blogger spaghettipie said...

I am so blessed by your words. You model what it means to be "in community." Know that I am walking alongside you in prayer.

1:42 AM  
Blogger Inihtar said...

LL! Thank you for sharing what you and your loved ones are pushing through. My prayers are with you.

And happy birthday Seedlings! (incidentally, Weds turned two on Sunday. . .your blog and my ex-cat celebrate their birthdays a day apart:))

3:12 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Llama... indeed, I think many do, by anesthetizing themselves in literal or figurative ways. It is interesting to me how Jesus always touched, walked with and through pain--never choosing pain-avoidance as his first condition for a fulfilling life.

Every Square... Yes! And I'm thinking that pain and loss must also be tempered by other things, for not everyone relies on the same hope we speak of.

Halfmom... Funny, I don't think I ever felt a need to write. For a very long time, I lived without this gift. But now, after both engaging in a long-term project and committing to the medium of blogging, I realize that I had been missing out on an amazing blessing. I like your idea of writing through to think through. Writing is a complex thinking process, more complex than any other in how it uses the brain. So it makes sense that it could be an incredible tool for opening and healing the mind and heart.

Ted... Reading! Oh yes. I'm so glad you brought up what heals you. I'm interested in hearing how others work through the pain and even the struggles and challenges of life. The fact that my one friend does so by arranging things (in this case the flowers) was intriguing to me.

Spaghetti... and I realize that this too is part of community. I hesitated to share these thoughts and the previous post as well, but it occurred to me that if this small place is to be a real community then it must share both joys and sorrows together. I suppose not every blog aspires to community life. But I find that to be a central piece of what goes on here. Thank you for your encouragements and prayers.

Inihtar... Happy Birthday Weds. (Now, you must tell us how that cat got his name.)

7:46 AM  
Blogger Mark Goodyear said...

Happy one year!

I would have never guessed that you were relatively new to writing. I'm a little flabbergasted, to be quite honest.

And I love Ted's idea about reading through pain. That is a really interesting idea.

11:21 AM  
Blogger Katrina @ Callapidder Days said...

I really appreciate these thoughts, though I'm sorry that you are having to deal with such heart-breaking grief. I lost three friends / family members this past spring. All different ages, all different causes of death, but it really had me thinking about how I process grief. Journal writing plays a large part, as does reading and "disconnecting" from the real world a bit. And prayer, often that kind of prayer that is wordless, where the Holy Spirit intervenes for me...

Oh, and Happy Blog Anniversary! I'm so glad to have found you!

1:23 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Mark... are surprised? Well, I can't say I never wrote a grocery list before this (or a jingle for baby wipes and so forth). I just never had a writing life to speak of. Not like those people who say they simply must write or they shrivel up. It's been surprising to discover how much spiritual life I find in writing, both personal and communal.

Katrina... I'm glad you found me too. Sometimes I wonder how we all find each other. It's fun to trace back. In most cases, though, I cannot see the paths. (There's a spiritual application in there somewhere, yes?)

1:43 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

LL...I'm glad you're sharing with us. I am so encouraged to hear the stories of grief in community and how those around you are "molding their pain" and in doing so, sharing the burden of grief - were it that we experienced this in the Body more often!
And your poem...well, thanks for sharing something so raw & personal. It pulled me back to my own times of grief, even as it told me of your own.
You and your friend are in my thoughts and prayers.

2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LL -- I so appreciate the way your words mold your pain into ways we can connect with and understand. I think this must certainly help us all in different ways. When I am in pain and avoid writing and the molding, I feel the disconnect and isolation that comes from keeping my grief to myself.

Happy Birthday to Seedlings, by the way. Not sure what I would have done without this little haven this year!

4:55 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

"out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" and the hand writes....Peace, LL

5:34 PM  
Blogger kirsten said...

I am so glad you shared this: both the poem (both raw & beautiful) and now this post.

I still marvel that in emptying Himself & becoming human (Phil. 2), He did in effect choose to take on our pain, to embrace it. All of it.

I like the concept you share of shaping & reshaping the pain. Maybe our pain starts out as something misshapen and undefinable, a confusion of grief, shock, agony, tears, & loss. But as we push through it, as we take it on & make it our own ... something gets made of it, much like when a lump of clay becomes a bowl or a vase. Just maybe it will become a conduit through which the grace of God can flow. We have to get our hands dirty in the process, but I think that sometimes this is where God works best.

Beautiful post, LL. Thank you so much for sharing so openly & for using this space as a part of your shaping & reshaping process. My heart goes out to you & all those treading through this loss.

10:39 PM  
Blogger Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

actually, it's more digging in the dirt than farming that I love - it was therapeutic when I was growing up - I'd just go outside and make a new flower bed or weed something in the yard. In fact, some of my very best blogs (you'd have to go to the xanga to see those - it's been going for over 2 years) have come from things that "sorted themselves in order" while I was working in the yard. It's rather like my mind works better when my hands are busy - and the parallels between growing things and scripture are often quite profound for me.

I understand your friend's rearranging of the flowers - it salvages something, holds on to the good even as part of the whole has died - left the whole - to think of something beautiful and useful remaining - something left to hand on to - rather like memories I would think

12:41 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

A Musing... thank you for your encouragements. And as for your own griefs, I hope you find a little healing even as you read.

Charity... yes. So, perhaps when you stop writing, it is a red flag to pay attention to? I'm so glad you find this to be a haven, and I have loved having you here this past year. Who knew, when we sat next to one another at that conference that we'd come to this?

Kim... and, how abundant grief can feel. Thanks for listening to what is pouring forth.

Kirsten... good to hear from you. And I agree that at first our grief is this shapeless, chaotic assault. To think of grace as a process of shaping is an interesting perspective.

Halfmom... how I would love to see your yard! These lilies are currently blooming in mine. Rather timely in their appearance, as it happens.

10:17 AM  
Blogger 23 degrees said...

Beautiful thoughts here, Laura. Thanks for this intimate look into your life and allowing us, in our small way, to walk with you.

Nouwen says the word “care” finds its roots in the Gothic “Kara” which means lament. The basic meaning of care is: to grieve, to experience sorrow, to cry out with.

The image of your friend sobbing while she re-arranged the flowers into a new creation spoke to my soul. When you say re-shape your pain through your writing, I can relate. To articulate the feelings, to express the anger, grief, despair in words or creating does help in mending, in forgiving, in trusting.

Kirsten's comment about taking on this grief, this pain, and making it out own—and that something gets made out of it, echos this imagery...and to "be a conduit to which the grace of God can flow" is the ultimate gift from God of growth and Christlikeness. Ulrich Schaffer in Growing into the Blue says that all growth has as it's heart-flower, pain, and it's petals are the man colors of suffering.

Jesus, a man of sorrows and aquainted with grief...a servant abandoned by his closest friends, mocked by those who should have seen him as messiah, and unjustly tortured and horribly executed. Our savior has intimate understanding of pain, of grief. This amazes me, comforts me. I know he cries out with me, with you.

But...he also conquered death. He is the final word on death.

Standing with you my friend.

3:27 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

23 Degrees... I love that background on the word care. that perhaps caring is to lament with another, in listening to their pain or giving it voice and shape in our words and actions.

I also find richness in that image of the heart-flower. Pain being the center of growth. Not all growth takes great pain, I imagine, but perhaps the deepest most significant growth does? I'm trying to think of a time when it was otherwise.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

I'm afraid it is sadly lacking for care due to work - but there was a time, and a farm - before the days of grad school and fulltime work and the mac truck when it was a peaceful and beautiful place - full of growing things and lots of compost - you think the playdoh factory was an interesting post, well there's this one about manure......

10:03 PM  
Blogger eph2810 said...

I am so sorry about the loss in your church community. It sometimes takes months to feel no more pain of the lost life. I can attest to that - it took me years after my dad passed away. You are right though - if we talk/write about it, the mending starts.
Blessings to you and yours...

1:34 AM  

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