As requested, here is a copy of the welcome I gave at our Holiday Grief Service this past Sunday, for anyone swallowed up by sorrow this season, anyone remembering a loss, anyone enduring a holiday tinged by loneliness:
Welcome to Covenant this afternoon. Welcome to this service. Whether this is normally your home or just your home for the hour, you really are most welcome. I don’t know what it was that brought you to this grief service today, but I imagine you are bearing some pain or some sorrow this holiday season, and that makes me think that for at least some of you, it took some courage to show up here, and so I want to say thank you for your bravery and for honoring us with your presence.
This past August my friend Aurelia helped me hold my own private grief service and together we had a funeral for my marriage, and with her help we put words and rituals to the pain I was carrying. We carved out a space that would hold me at a time when I felt I was holding too much pain to bear. And I’m just convinced that we don’t have enough such spaces in our culture–safe spaces, sacred spaces, where we can have our pain held. It’s not that a service like this fixes things; it just means that for an hour, you’re not carrying it by yourself, you have a place to take the sadness, you have holy ground where you can just be, you have people surrounding you who get it, and you have a divine embrace to uphold you, even if you are coming apart.
Often it is during the holidays, when everywhere we go seems stuffed to the rafters with holiday cheer, happy music blaring from every speaker, that our own feelings of bereavement feel most poignant, most piercing, and the most lonely. But what I dare to hope is that a service like this one will remind us that Advent belongs to those in waiting, to those in darkness, to those for whom hope is a mere flicker of candlelight in the long lonesome night. Advent was the promise of a Messiah . . . to people who needed something to save them, and it took a long time for the hungry to find deliverance, to know God in human flesh.
Advent belongs to the hurting, and we belong to her. You can’t discern that about Advent in a department store when you’re shopping, but that’s the holy and blessed secret of this time of year, Advent belongs to the barren—barren landscapes, barren wombs, barren people—we are the empty caverns in which Light will be born. Advent is like the hearth of God’s living room where the very most wounded are invited to come for a cry and wait in the shadows together for the promise of comfort to come. On behalf of God, I invite you to worship with us, your fellow mourners.
(Just a few words about our service. Here at Covenant we like to take things slow, so you will notice we often pause between things, but don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten what we’re doing next. We are just purposely going at difference pace than the one you find at the shopping mall. We are slowing, slowing, slowing, centering, hoping that in the stillness, we may on occasion hear God speak. At one point, we will have a full minute of silence, and I invite you to use that ministry of silence in whatever way works for you—maybe you want to pray, maybe you want to journal on the back of your guide, maybe you want to just breathe. Also, your worship guide will be helpful to you this evening in following along . . . Please join me in the litany . . . )