You are not entirely alone. Ever.

With votive candles lit in remembrance of loved ones, we entered the softly lit church at dusk. We sat in silence until the piano and violin soothed the gatherers with Fantasia on Greensleeves, arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Imagine yourself there with a candle.

After readings from Frederick Buechner, Mary Oliver, Romans 8 and a brief homily, Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel provided the music for worshipers to come forward to place our candles on the altar.

As the teenage daughter and her 9 year-old brother returned to their pew in front of us, it was apparent they’d experienced a devastating loss. Perhaps a grandparent? A cousin? A pet? The brother, half her size, threw his arms around his sister with great tenderness, sharing a vulnerable moment of deep grief. The father’s hand stretched across the pew to hold them both.

I learned later the reason for their grief – the death of a close friend two months before in a murder suicide that killed her friend, classmate, and teammate, two other children, and their parents. They’d had a normal dinner together the night before the tragedy no one had anticipated or imagined.

votive-candlesTonight the friend was there to deal with her grief. There was something profoundly sacred about the church tonight – a community of the grieving like no other community. Real. Unvarnished. Reverent. Open. Prayerful. Tender. A healthy vulnerable community of mutual need and faith lighting candles, bearing witness to an inexplicable grace greater than the darkness that had fallen upon us.

Members of the Trinity Mental Health Initiative (MHI) Board of Trinity Episcopal Church, founded two years ago, hosted the service. The note in the bulletin read:

“MHI was birthed in the sorrow of personal loss, and with the intent that no one should have to be alone in the terrible helplessness and sadness that comes with some deaths. … We invite you to open yourselves today to both sadness and possibility, and to know that you are not entirely alone. Ever.”

I wish the sorrowing world could have been there.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 6, 2015.