Listen To Article
On a warm Sunday morning in late October, my family and I attended a smudging ceremony. An indigenous leader from our church had invited the congregation to join him on the grounds behind the church building, overlooking Lake Ontario. He asked us to notice the ground under our feet, the sounds of the birds, the water, and the breeze above us in the turning leaves. He talked to us about the call to reconciliation and how our connection to God, to the land and to our ancestors is part of that call.
After teaching us about the smudging ceremony, he and others went around the circle. Everyone had the opportunity to receive the smoke. I cupped my hands around it and touched my head, eyes, mouth, ears, and heart. My husband and daughters each had their turns.
The circle gently broke and congregants began to go inside for the worship service. I remember turning toward my husband to walk inside with him and the slight moment of confusion I had when I didn’t see him at eye level. And then my eyes traveled down and landed on him. He was lying on his back on the sun-soaked ground, eyes closed, a smile on his lips.
I felt a magnetic pull in my joints and I joined him there. Joy bubbled in my chest as our daughters lay down, too. I breathed deeply, thanking God for the ground, a day of rest, the smell of cedar and sage in my hair. A single yellow leaf drifted down on the breeze. After a few minutes, we got up to join the worshipers inside. Grounded. Grateful.
I’ve experienced this pull to the ground at other times. A couple of winters ago, I was walking my dog by myself in the evening after the sun had gone down. It was snowing gently. I passed by the neighbourhood schoolyard, admiring the soft, undisturbed blanket of snow glinting under the glow of the streetlight. And then came the pull. I lay down on that blanket at the edge of the circle of light, comfortable in my warm coat and snow pants. My dog sniffed around, licked my face, and eventually settled beside me. I watched the flakes fall, marveled at the strange, warm quiet of the moment. Grounded. Grateful.
As I have written before, the ground is the place I go in my mind when in silent meditation. A spot of ground, not next to the water or on a snow blanket, but in a forest clearing. The ground in my mind’s eye is a place of rest, but also a kind of burial place–a death practice in the spirit of St. Benedict, who instructs us to keep death daily before our eyes.
Grief also has a way of magnetically pulling me to the ground. I wonder why that is. Is it because the people I love are buried there and I want to be close to them? Or because the weight of grief is too heavy to hold while standing?
I know that I’m not alone in this grief-draw to the ground. In the current podcast season of Everything Happens, Kate Bowler interviews Clover Stroud, who’s written a memoir in the wake of the long-ago death of her mother and the recent death of her sister. Clover talks about the sacredness of the land where she grew up in England. She lived near many clusters of standing stones – Uffington White Horse and Wayland’s Smithy. “My relationship with my mum and my sister is very much embodied within that sacred landscape, I suppose. And I feel lucky to have that. And kind of sometimes I want to like, lie down in the earth and kind of press yourself right into it in a very physical, almost erotic way.”
In another episode from this season of Everything Happens, Kate speaks with comedian and actor, Rob Delaney, whose young son, Henry, died from brain cancer. When asked what people can do for friends who are grieving (other than saying, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you”), he said:
You just bring a mediocre / not-even-good casserole. And you put it in my fridge. You know what I mean? You come over, you say you’re going to be here with my children for a couple hours while you go for a run or go walk in the park or whatever. Go find a weird corner in the park and lie down, face down, and cry into the soil and have snails drink your tears, you know? That’s much better.
The sacred land by standing stones. Weird corners in the park. Snow-blanketed school yards. The smudging ground between the church and the water. The forest clearing in my mind. The ground calls us down, down, down to anchor us and give us rest, to drink our tears, to connect us to our loved ones, to remind us that we are made from dust, and to dust we will return.
Last week, I visited my sister in St. Paul, Minnesota. Each morning, we walked her German Shorthaired Pointer, Kuyper, around the small lake near her house. Toward the end of our walk one morning, I spotted a sun-dappled pool of yellow leaves and it called to me. “Can we just lie down in the leaves a minute?” I asked. Tracy humoured me. Kuyper sniffed around us.
“I remember…” she began, and I thought she was going to talk about the piles of leaves we’d rake and jump into as kids. But no. She was remembering last November, when she was running a Thanksgiving Day 5K with Kuyper and had a seizure caused by the tumour they would soon find in her brain. The ground rose up to catch her and Kuyper stayed right by her side until help arrived. Though she doesn’t remember the fall to the ground, she remembers waking up on the ground with her dog, thinking, “Huh. I just had a little nap.”
We lay there in the autumn sunshine for a while and talked about that day.
And then, grounded and grateful – with a few leaves caught in our hair, we got up and walked home.
Smudging Photo Photo by Los Muertos Crew from Pexels
Green Forest Clearing Photo by Naomi De Jonge
Yellow Forest Clearing Photo by Pixabay from Unsplash