February is always hard – by now I’m ready for spring to come, but the dark and cold keep dragging on. Now of course, February will always be the month I lost my Mom, so grief is bubbling up along with the winter blues. There are times I want to run away from the hard feelings, but I know I ultimately feel better when I let them run their course. To help honor these emotions and memories, I’m adopting the goddess Persephone this month. I’ll write more about her story in another post, but for now I want to focus on the connection I feel with her unwilling journey to the underworld. Her entire life changed through that unwanted initiation, and so has mine – including some of my beliefs, values, and how I want to live my life. I had the honor to speak about this at church last Sunday, at our “Credo” service, when members share personal statements of belief. These are the words of my statement:
I believe in love. My Mom went into the hospital on Valentine’s Day, 2012. When we realized she wasn’t going to leave, streams of friends and family held vigil at her bedside day and night. We sang to her, told stories, cried, prayed, held her hand, dabbed her lips, adjusted her breathing tube and smoothed the sheets. We weren’t ready, but we told her it was okay to let go. After five days, she chose the moment when her family was around her: we witnessed her last breath and felt her soul leave her body. Her last words had been, “I love you.”
I stumbled through the next months in a haze of deep grief, but like Persephone, I found gifts in the dark journey of the soul. That summer after she died, I was writing a letter to my Mom about how hard things were, and asking what everything meant. I didn’t expect a response, but as I wrote, something emerged that seemed to make sense: the purpose of life is to love.
I’ve continued to explore what this means as my spiritual journey winds on. I think our culture is limited in how we view love. We define it, categorize it, and subject it to law. We want to understand it and predict its course. We believe it stops after death. But I believe love is so much bigger than we can ever imagine or describe. Love is the pinpricks of stars on a clear, cold night. Love is the barista handing you a steaming latte in the morning. Love is holding a friend’s hand while she shares deep pain in her life. Love is marching in the rain, for freedom and justice.
I think we are born fully immersed in this love, and we start out knowing we are perfect, we are enough. But our human tragedy is that we start to forget our perfection. We feel small, hurt, alone, and want others to hurt the way we do inside. But we also try to remind ourselves of the love that is our birthright. Cultures find ways to put a face on this mysterious, divine love; to remind ourselves in concrete and mythic ways, how to feel, express, and share this love in the world.
But since we’re human, sometimes we make mistakes with these stories. For example, there’s a lot of love in the Bible, but I believe there was a big misstep in Genesis: for the first time in history, the Goddess was removed from Creation. And ancient Greece – our source for democracy and reason? That’s where Athena decreed that women have no role in the creation of life; they’re just vessels for men’s creations. Huge psychic damage has been done with destructive narratives like these.
People of all genders need divine metaphors and collective stories in which we can see reflections of our best selves, to remind us of the love and power that are available to us. We can have this by reclaiming old stories, and creating new ones. We can radically accept ourselves with unconditional love. We can recognize the divine spark of love in others. I believe this revolutionary love will change the world.
I feel my Mom’s presence sometimes – as tingling energy that holds my hands when I meditate, or a warm, embracing presence some nights before I fall asleep, and in weird little coincidences that feel like signs that she’s nearby. It feels like she’s echoing words she said so many times to me, from our first day together in on this Earth, to our last: “I love you.”