The Courage to name and sit with pain

  With Dusty Feet Mob in Port Augusta, South Australia .

With Dusty Feet Mob in Port Augusta, South Australia.

During February and March, we spent 32 days in Australia:

  • Facilitating Thriving Family workshops and family camps.
  • Teaching in the Lightstream Spiritual Formation Institute.
  • Speaking at conferences and churches.
  • Leading Ninefold Path retreats and events.
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A memorable part of our journey was time spent with an Aboriginal community in Port Augusta. We were officially welcomed to country by an elder and ate kangaroo tail roasted over an open fire.  A group of women and children danced the story of the stolen generation for us. They also asked us to say a few words and invited us to share the Beatitude postures. We spent three days exploring spiritual formation practices with a group of young leaders who are working to reconcile the tension between their Christian and Aboriginal identities. 

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Over meals and late night talks these leaders were kind enough to teach us about what life is like for their people. Early European settlers thought Aboriginals were animal rather than human and Australian first peoples were not granted citizenship until 1967. Many children were taken from their parents and forced into adoptions and boarding schools. Aboriginal people are genetically predisposed to eat “bush foods” and a Western diet has led to chronic poor health and disease. Because of this, one young woman in our group has kidney disease, is on dialysis and desperately needs a kidney transplant to stay alive. As we traveled around Adelaide together, I noticed how uncomfortable the group felt under the suspicious gaze of dominant culture folks at malls, parks and stores. 

“We don’t tell you these things to make you feel guilty,” the young elder said. “But now that you know, we are responsible for creating a better future together." 

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On the second day of the retreat we talked about the invitation to lament, to grieve what’s broken in the world and inside of us, and wait for Divine comfort. We went to an ancestral mourning site, a spring along the coast, and Shawn told us a traditional story about how these seven springs were formed by the tears of a grieving uncle. 

“We are always mourning,” said one participant, “So many of our people are sick or dying. Every week we go to hospital or a funeral.”  

I told them I wished I could trade some of my privilege and comfort for their pain. We explored the way of lament in the life of Jesus (“My God, my God why have you forsaken me”) and in the ancient Psalms (Awake, Lord! Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?) And then we spent an hour in silence near the spring. Afterward I invited anyone who wished to share a poem or reflection. This is what I wrote:

I try to imagine what it might have been like
to be among the first peoples
living here sixty thousand years ago.
Before civilization as we know it, 
before nation states and multi national corporations. 

It's easy for me to romanticize a more earth based and communal way of life. 
Hunting and gathering our daily bread and sharing with one another. 
Creator has left a small remnant to haunt us, 
reminding us of a way of being
largely destroyed and replaced
by a fundamentally different relationship to land— 
as something to be used up and exploited, 
and people as obstacles and annoyances
to us getting what we want. 

It's time for the oppressors to mourn
and the oppressed to be comforted. 
For old and forgotten stories to be told, 
for sacred lands to be protected, 
for monuments and holidays to be dismantled, 
for rights and promises to be resurrected. 

My life is built on broken treaties, 
on blood stained ground where the bones of fifty million bison lay buried. 
We've asked the few to carry the sorrows of the many. 
They go to the hospitals and funerals parlors and prisons, 
so we can sit in CBD offices, airplanes and bungalows by the beach. 

But our future is together, 
and I'm hoping that an old story
about tears giving birth to a fresh water spring
becomes a present reality for my sisters and brothers
who have already spent too many days in morning.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:


*When you look at the world, what breaks your heart? What do you see that grieves you, and makes you sad?

*What about you? What's broken in you? Where do you feel loneliness, sadness, disappointment, or pain? Where do you long for comfort? 


PRACTICE:


If we have the courage to name and sit with our pain, we may experience solace. This week, take time to sit with what breaks your heart. Try writing a prayer or poem of lament. (Adapted from The Ninefold Path by Mark Scandrette and Danielle Welch). 
 

WHAT'S AHEAD THIS SPRING:

  • Thriving Family events in Miami (April 28, 29)
  • Ninefold Path events in the U.K. (May 4-6, 8,11, 13)
  • Personality and growth training event for Youth workers (May 14)
  • Thriving Family retreat in New York (June 8-10)
  • Mark is working with a team and training chaplains to develop a spiritual formation path for men in the recovery program at the Bay Area Rescue Mission in Richmond, CA.
  • Mark will be teaching a Fuller Seminary doctoral course on Practicing the Way of Jesus in October. See course description