Last week, my Facebook page exploded.
I made statements that were taken as affronts and there were lengthy and sometimes harsh reactions to my reality of hurt.
Meanwhile, things have been addressed and waters have been cleared.
But if I had learned anything during this first year of grief, is that religion has moved far away from what it initially was meant to be.
So I decided to write a letter.
A letter addressed not only to Christian leaders everywhere but to all religious leaders as I know that my situation has not been singular as a bereaved parent.
So, here goes:
“Dear Religious Leader,
A long or short time ago, you felt a calling in your heart to serve God with your life and make ministry your job.
I know that you came from a place of dedication, genuine interest and love for your God and His people.
But the years have passed, social strategies have been accepted as the Bible or Torah or Qur’an and simple sentiments like hope, compassion and companionship have been replaced by big words like feasibility, relevance and AVs.
I have watched over the years religious communities change and transform and as a young attendant, I cheered the contemporary approached to religiosity, sang every new worship song there was and never grasped the big truth that I knew nothing of the reality of pain.
This is the main reason I am writing this letter to you, dear Religious Leader!
Last year, I lost my baby boy to leukaemia, at the very tender age of five and a half months.
And you know what we encountered, which not in a million years had we expected?
We encountered SILENCE.
Yes, as a modern Church (and I refer to every kind of religious gathering and organisation with the generic term of Church), we have forgotten how to deal with pain and loss.
We have become so good at reaching out, at proselytizing, at creating social clubs under all sorts of names. Your establishment’s name has most likely (and to your pride and joy) become the equivalent to pleasant gatherings of friends on a Saturday or Sunday morning or afternoon. Or a place where big and revolutionary ideas are debated and where young men and women believe or are made to believe they have found the vocation and the calling for their existence.
But what most of us have forgotten or were never taught to be is…human.
So here is my heartfelt call to you, as a Religious Leader.
Go back to the basics: love, acceptance, presence, compassion.
People need now, more than ever before in history, to feel loved and accepted. As they are. With their eating issues. With their sexual confusion. With their mental illness issues. With their pain and grief. With their anger.
When my grandad died of cancer at only 47, leaving 7 small children behind, my granny stopped functioning. The task ahead left her completely paralysed emotionally. For days and weeks after my grandad died, my granny forgot how to live and her children depended on the kindness of relatives and village friends.
And then, the young priest in the village heard about it.
And he came to see her.
Every single day.
With no words of wisdom or clever explanations or rebuke for selfish behaviour.
He understood that the pain was stronger than the desire to live.
And for a while, for days and weeks at end, he came, sat down with her and fed her.
He fed her morsels of bread dipped in sweet wine.
To give her body sustenance.
And her spirit strength to fight on.
My granny eventually recovered and lived to see all the 7 children marry and make a life for themselves.
We were raised with this story.
It stayed in our family history.
Engrained in us, in our consciousness.
Love is simple.
Love is acceptance of situations and circumstances. And most important, of people.
Love is presence. Presence in the mess. Presence in the pain. Presence in the incomprehensible.
Love is compassion. It is empathy. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Imagining for a moment the devastation of the soul. And speaking from a place of rawness, not a place of haughtiness and ready made answers.
The Church will start being relevant again to this generation when the leaders, first, and through their example, the attendants, will understand that love in action has always been the only answer.
When pain and loss and death will be accepted as part of life and as an inherent component of our mere existence.
When expressing pain will be perceived as the norm and accepting raw souls in our midst the rule, rather than the spoiler of an overly manicured and shallow reunion of fronts, where crying and lamenting is a “joy breaker.”
So, dear Religious Leader, next time someone in your community or in your proximity suffers a great deal of pain, approach with open arms and shut mouth.
Do the practical and the obvious.
Feed, soothe, be.
Thank you, in the name of all bruised and suffering souls which you will most definitely encounter on your way!
Image, courtesy of Unsplash.