A couple of weekends ago I enjoyed a glorious weekend on Eilean Dubh Mor as part of a ‘wilderness retreat’. I’ve been a part of them for several years (5 of the last 6) and they are something that I look forward to more than I ever did a Christian convention in years past.
There is something about the space, silence, laughter, raw honesty, prayer, swearing and whisky that never fails to move me or persuade me that there is still hope. My friend writes about it more beautifully and with better pictures than I do ( see https://thisfragiletent.com/2018/05/09/wilderness-retreat-photos-2018/ for example).
During one of the times when I wandered and wondered around the island, I came across this plant, high up on a rock and surrounded by rockpools. It is a small heather plant; how it lodged in such a fissure and grew is unusual and its presence captured me. In fact I circled back to take the above photo as I wanted the memory.
I wrote some words: kind of a prayer I guess. Parts of it mine from a rich seam of cliche, but other parts I like.
May the eddying wind,
Carry at least one small seed
Deep into the crevasse
Of the rock face of
May it find
Blown there by
the same swirling wind.
May that earth
be moistened by
Unlooked for rain.
And may that seed
Nervously advance roots
And start to grow;
frail at first
and then defiant.
And may that plant
By travellers in the wilderness,
looking for they know not what.
And may it give them
that they cannot articulate,
A wry smile,
A soul that sings again.
I took this nearly 2 weeks ago looking out to sea on a wilderness retreat. I think that shortly after I took this I fell asleep on the same rock and lost an hour. I didn’t fall into that same sea.
This is not the greatest photo in the world but it reminds me of the sheer unadulterated bliss of lengthy periods of looking out to sea and becoming lost in the sound of the crashing of the waves.
Each time I do this on a Scottish island retreat I can hear this music over and over again:-
..and each time I hear this music I am taken back to that still place…
I ‘discovered’ this on a cheap cd I bought a month or two back; I’d not heard much about this singer.
This song immediately grabbed me with its story of a chance encounter. There is so much in that encounter: people taking time with each other, honesty, willing to learn from someone and not to talk down to them and then shining through that, a kind of everyday transcendence.
Where you wait and listen; often in unlikely places, these moments tend to happen. Most of us struggle with that ; we hurry, hear enough just to talk back, use people and mostly just stick to ‘safe’ encounters.
But when we try and live as I believe we are meant to, these moments of everyday transcendence are encountered more and more and we don’t feel so alone.
It’s your funeral…
Listening, really listening is very hard. Most of us just hear enough in order to respond.
I’ve heard some ministers becoming sniffy about the ‘dumbing down’ of funerals. I think underneath that is a fear-almost at times an anger- of loss of control when ‘we’ did everything. I’ve also heard some funeral directors be too directive- ‘they are non religious’, when underneath if you took a moment or two you’d find a richer, more complex story.
Really listening though is hard…when people say they don’t want anything ‘religious’ usually they mean they don’t want that control that those same ministers thought was good. They don’t want coldness, impenetrable ritual, a feeling of being ‘got at’ or something that feels remote. In practice, many of those who don’t want ‘religious’ want the 23rd Psalm, or The Lord’s Prayer, or a prayer or sometimes a combination of the 3.
They might not be sure as to why, part from it feels ‘proper’ or somehow comfortable. Some people are prepared to listen; to take the fragments of faith/hope/superstition/wishful thinking/whatever is offered and to honour them- not to look down or disparage them.
…and out of these fragments make something unique that honours the person and whatever faith (or non faith) they bring.
It’s not hard to listen: you just have to remember it is not their funeral, but yours…it was never about you in the first place.
The third in an occasional series about funerals.