Grief, An Evolutionary Driver


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by Bruce Sanguin

This posting originally appeared on Bruce Sanguin’s blog Visit his blog for more postings, webinars, and podcasts on Evolutionary Christianity.

I had the pleasure this week of watching a documentary featuring Stephen Jenkinson, aka, Grief Walker. He is a story-teller, village-builder, grief worker, and pretty wise soul it seems to me. He’s taken on an indigenous identity, because he felt a big hole in the center of his being as a white man of European descent.

Essentially his message is that we don’t know how to live right until we’ve figured out how to die well. Grief is not a feeling for him, it’s a skill, even a spiritual practice. It includes what we think of as grief over lost loved ones, but goes beyond this to encompass every single moment of this transient existence.

Walking by the Rideau River, in Ottawa Canada, this afternoon, the sun was warm, and the breeze felt soft, as it sifted through the leaves. Ducks, geese, gulls, and herons call this river home. As I sat there, I realized that this moment would never come again. The more gratitude I felt, the more it revealed its beauty to me. But it wouldn’t last and I knew it. I needed to let the moment pass like the flow of the current.

The more we allow ourselves to love the endings, (not just “accept” them), says Jenkinson, the more we’ll be able to savour life’s riches. At the end of the documentary he imagines grief and the ability to love life at the head table, raising a toast to each of us! They are inseparable. They want us to enjoy the banquet. But we can only do that if we allow them to enjoy each other’s company.

This isn’t an easy practice. We have a tendency to want to identify with a particular image of ourself; with a particular form of a relationship; with the way life is supposed to be, not as it is, constantly in the flux and flow. Process philosopher, A.N. Whitehead, had a fancy name for this: the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness”.

When we start to identify with life, our life, as process (rather than a fixed thing), it necessitates the practice of grief. Either that, or we’ll hold on for dear life—but never really live.

It’s good to check in regularly and ask ourselves when we are feeling depressed, or anxious, what it is that we are refusing to grieve. I’ve been wondering for some years now what spiritual practices are uniquely aligned with evolutionary spirituality.

It was probably obvious to many of you, but it seems to me that grief work has got to be right up there. What we love will end. Who we love will pass away. Everything, every moment, every body, including our own will be taken from us. Death and the process of dying is critical to the evolution of the universe, built right in to the fabric of the cosmos.

Grief keeps the channels open to what life wants to do in, through, and as us.

Jesus knew this, of course. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it will not bring forth new life. But what doesn’t die is the process itself. What doesn’t die is the ground of being from which all life emerges, and dies and emerges, and yes, advances in and toward the beauty, truth, and goodness which is the Heart of the Originating Mystery.

So we fall in love with life, with each other, with Earth, with ourselves,  knowing that we’ve received a beautiful, but temporary and transient gift. But we fall in love too with the process, and the Ground/Womb, which showed up as us, and all that we love, for this brief heart-breaking, heart opening sojourn.

Bruce Sanguin is a minister serving Canadian Memorial United Church in Vancouver, BC. Bruce is passionate about raising public awareness that there is a form of Christianity beyond the belief-based, biblical literalism that is associated with traditional “church.” In 2011, If Darwin Prayed: Prayers for Evolutionary Mystics, won an IPPY gold medal for best spiritual and inspirational book. His most recent book is The Advance of Love: Reading the Bible with an Evolutionary Heart.

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Categories: Aging, Bruce Sanguin, Embodiment, Evolutionary Christianity, Featured, Inspiration and Meditation, Meditation, Prayer, Spiritual Growth


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