Saturday, September 3, 2011

Memory, Grief, and Suscipe

One of the most daunting conundrums with which grieving individuals wrestle is that of memory.  What do we do with it?  Where do we put it?  Do we wrap it carefully, seal the edges of the package, and place on it on a shelf in the attic?  Do we bundle it up in an old blanket and toss it into the nearest lake?  Do we set it in a place of honor on the mantle, surround it with candles, and breathe it into our souls every day?

When we make the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, toward the end we pray the Suscipe, and some, perhaps most, of us, continue to pray it regularly, perhaps for the rest of our lives.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me. 

Awhile back, someone whose heart is filled with joyful memories asked me what that would mean, to release them to God.  The same question bubbles up in those plagued by memories of other kinds.

As I wrote last year in my exploration of Miroslav Volf's book The End of Memory, God offers us a vision of a future in which we will forget the wrongs we have perpetrated and suffered.  But most of us, me included, have a great deal invested in our memories, including the most tortuous ones, as foundational to identity.

This is a particularly difficult day for me.  Three years ago this morning, I was on retreat, and woke up anticipating a day of silence and prayer.  I did not know that my son had died during the night, and that horror upon horror was about to unfold.

I have made a commitment about releasing the terrible grief associated with the memories that at times knock me down but, you know, it's a learning process.

Yesterday a friend whose very beautiful teen-aged daughter died of cancer in 2009 posted this offering:

Open your hands. Hear the whisper.

It sounds so easy. 

It's so not.

In the meantime, enjoy the incomparable Elaine Paige, who originated the role of Grizabella in Cats


  1. Oh Robin... I didn't realize. Three years today. Oh Robin...

    Yes, in the attic, in the lake and on the mantle. A place for everything, and everything in its place. A conundrum indeed.

    I'd never heard the Suscipe. Thank you for sharing it here, as well as my prayer with its link. I will link to you, too, if you don't mind. Seems our minds are on similar tracks.

    To release everything to God, to open ones hands and let go... If the memories are all we have left, how do we filter what to keep and what to give when even some of the painful recollections are some of my most-cherished because of the underlying strength shown by one so young, and I'm trying to honor her memory, inspired by that strength?

    Yeah, it's SOOO not easy!
    I will take you in my heart as I walk through the woods today.

  2. Robin, I hope you feel held in love and light today by those of us who are grateful for you and the sacred path you let us glimpse. Mary, thank you for your prayer and for its connection to your beautiful daughter.

    In the midst of very different kinds of endings and losses, I appreciate knowing that there are others who seek a God way of getting through and making sense and keeping on and being real and living. What to keep and what to let go of ... it's already been said: "it's SO not easy."

  3. OK. In spite of the near 90 degree temps here and a 3-mile hike in the woods, your post has given me the goose bumps! Elmhurst is about 20 minutes away from our home. One of Erin's very good friends is from there, and I would imagine it was her mother who came over to your blog. Erin's friend now attends Elon in NC.

    Erin attended Elmhurst College for two months in the fall of 2009 before the cancer took the final upper hand and she was forced to withdraw near the end of October. She died that December.

    See a picture in this post (with EC backpack) of the day we moved her into the dorm.

    Talk about lives intertwining! I'm a little freaked out here!

  4. I had never heard the Suscipe, but it is an example of the deepest heart of prayer, isn't it? What a beautiful gift - and that card, as well, with its lovely artwork and calligraphy. Thank you for sharing these gifts with us, especially in this season of memories for you and your family. Sending much love and gratitude to you. God bless your heart. xoxoxoxo

  5. A peasant before a king
    St. Catherine of Sienna

    If I did not understand
    the glory and sufferings of the human heart,
    I would not speak before its

    Like a peasant called before a great king,
    When all of His court is assembled–

    That is how I stand before
    every woman and

    How is it that God seeks our counsel
    whenever a voice or face
    asks of us?

    What a sweet divine game
    He plays.

    I stand with humility before every creature
    when they call me into
    their court,

    because of your holiness,
    my dears.

    How humble is God?

    How humble is God?

    God is the tree in the forest that
    allow itself to die and will not defend itself in front of those
    with the ax, not wanting to cause them shame.

    And God is the earth that will allow itself to
    be deformed by man’s tools, but He cries; yes, God cries,
    but only in front of His closest ones.

    And a beautiful animal is being beaten to death,
    but nothing can make God break His silence
    to the masses
    and say,

    ‘Stop, please stop, why are you doing this
    to me?’

    How humble is God?
    Kabir wept
    when I

    I'm passing onto you the words of my moments of dark loss I have been held afloat by others who faithfully prayed and with words often in the form of poems given- they seem to me often the right words at the right time. I lit a candle for you today

  6. This entry was a gift. Thank you for sharing. My love...

  7. Oh my, such a flow of memories and words and pain and mystery. Your self-awareness amidst such suffering and longing is the gift you give. You light the path for the rest of us broken-hearted mothers, and I pray God that there is light for you. Light, peace, comfort, joy and... a call. You have so much to give to all the broken wanderers. Sending you so much love.
    Karen EAST