Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ashes to ashes...

Times of rest and reflection are valuable to the body and to the soul. In my 20's and 30's I would fill my vacations and even my spiritual retreats full of so much busyness and activity and travels and chores that it was impossible to feel anything or think too much about anything. And that is precisely how I liked it. Work, noise and activity were my anesthesia to life. My motto was "If you don't have time to feel pain, then the pain does not exist."

That did not work very well. I mean, actually it worked like a charm to avoid the pain but it did nothing to reduce or dilute the pain. Nowadays I find that sitting with pain or sorrow, regret or confusion, betrayal or grief is the very best way to manage it so that the pain is dealt with and not expanded into bad choices or internalized cancers.

Currently I am on vacation. It has become, what our culture has begun to term a "stay cation." Money is tight and I had a hard internal job to do which required all my presence to myself to do and lots of time to consider afterwards. That kind of discernment cannot be done well on the run. So rather than take this week as a spiritual retreat in Rome (Plan A) using a small monastery in Rome's Travestere district, I decided to take the week as vacation and stay home to tend the garden, clean the house, make pottery, go on two walks a day with Kain, swim in the Blackwater River (whew! cold! but refreshing and so fun for Kai)and have close friends over for the kinds of dinner that requires all day to cook slowly (Ie: inexpensive meat!)

My job this week is to consider my life. What is going well? What is not going well? What would I like to change? What needs to be taken on? What needs to be let go of? (oops..a preposition at the end of my phrase-- my dead parents are rolling!)

As I walk and cook and make pots I am trying to think and pray. It means I am feeling pain I would like to anesthetize but it also means that I am sensing clarity which can come in no other way. The silence and the thinking breaks down the silos of compartmentalizing which so easily infects religious leaders and the exercise and fresh air and cool, long nights of sleep are slowly reviving me after a long season of stewardship work through two years of recession.

One of my projects in the pottery studio is a set of large jars for the Canterbury Shaker Village where I sell my pottery. These large jars could be used for all sorts of things including a great way to slow-roast baked beans! But I am making these for burial. When people die and they go to get their remains cremated, the funeral homes are selling them (in the midst of their cloudy-headedness of grief) jars for the cremains (the remains of ground bones which comes after burning a corpse) which can cost $500 - #$1,500 - for a lidded jar! Just a jar for goodness sake!

So I am making lidded jars for cremation- simple and un-decorated - like the Shakers would have insisted on. People buy them , keep them on the mantle piece and tell their children that it is for when they die. It seems morbid but it is just good planning - and economical at $250 per urn.

I keep cookies in mine. My will says "take out all but two of the cookies, place my cremains in the jar, seal the lid with epoxy (Lowe's for $3.00 - the kind that mingles two gels into one mix is the best) and bury me in a garden."

So as I make each urn, I think and pray for the person whose remains will one day be lovingly poured into it by grieving family members. Who knew that I would spend my vacation doing this? It is a great honor to participate in the lives of families this way. With every pot, I am reminded that we are bust the ashes and dust of the earth to which we will all one day be returned. The measure of our time on earth will be how much we loved others and how well we made choices which did good and not harm. The rest is up to God.

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