Over the past few months, I’ve been reading the blog of an American rabbi. She was in the midst of getting a divorce when I first started following her, and her words resonated so much with the pain and confusion I was feeling. 

When it came time to finalise her divorce, she wrote a liturgy around the granting of the get, the document of release.

The Christian tradition doesn’t have anything like that. We have beautiful liturgies for blessing and exchanging rings and two people becoming one. And our liturgies rightly emphasise that the commitment of marriage is not to be entered into lightly. They rightly express the hope that the love publicly declared will be ‘until death do us part’.

But for so many people, for so many reasons, that sadly is not the case. And when we find ourselves faced with one of the hardest, most painful decisions life can throw at us, we can only declare it legally. And alone.

One day I was wearing my wedding ring. The next day I wasn’t.

One day I was Kate Reynolds. The next day I was Kate McDonald.

There was no ritual. There was no liturgy. There was no public declaration or communal witness. There was no way of marking the way these superficial changes have cut deep. No way of acknowledging how the past twelve years I spent with someone have made me who I am today. No way of giving thanks for the gifts that marriage has brought. No way of letting go of the hurt that was inflicted. No opportunity to ask for or grant forgiveness. No way of offering a new kind of love for self and other.

I’ve tried hard to keep what’s going on in my personal life off of this blog, away from my work, separate from my life here. I walked out the door and put on a brave face. I initially convinced myself it was because I needed privacy, and that has been partly true. But I know now that I have allowed the stigma of divorce to send me running away in shame. While I have received so many letters and emails and phone calls filled with grace and compassion, I have also heard too many times over the past months that marriage is hard work, and have internalised that as an accusation that if I had only worked harder, my marriage would not have ended.

The truth is, ending a marriage has been far, far harder than staying would have been. It has taken all my courage and all my strength. And I spent too long hiding from the grief. It finally found me just before Christmas. As I sat in a horrific traffic jam for two hours, the dark clouds shrouded my heart, the world blurred, and as the traffic cleared, I pulled over and sat in my car for an hour on the side of the road and wept the ugliest of tears.

Since then, the grief has been messy. The nice neat stages of grief of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a lie. There are times when the anger is so strong all I want to do is take all the crockery in the house and throw it against the stone wall outside. Times when I do the work that needs to be done and then go to bed early and cry myself to sleep. Times when I ache with regret and long for the familiar. Times when I feel like I’m walking through fog and times when I feel like a compass wildly spinning. Bad decisions. Unhealthy coping mechanisms. Been there. Done that. All the phases of grief, all at once. Then a few days of peace before it starts again. It’s exhausting. No one can warn you just how exhausting it is.

There was a death in the Jewish family next door not long after we arrived in Tiberias. For days the road was blocked with cars. Chanting went on well into the night. Grief hung heavy in the air.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that over the past weeks. About how grief needs community.

Today, especially in the West, we’re taught that tears are weakness, that sadness is unsightly, that anger should be silent. There’s a great country song by Miranda Lambert — Mama’s Broken Heart — which sums it up so perfectly:

Go and fix your makeup, girl, it’s just a breakup
Run and hide your crazy and start acting like a lady 
Cuz I raised you better, gotta keep it together 
Even when you fall apart.

For those of us in public roles, this is especially the case. Who can be a good leader when they’re a hot mess, right?

The lack of Christian liturgy around divorce seems to perpetuate this unhealthy and theologically unsound assumption.

Liturgy is the work of the people. It cannot be done in isolation; it requires community. On days when we struggle with our faith, we can rest knowing that others will hold it for us. At times when we don’t know how to pray, it offers ancient holy words. When we cannot feel God’s presence, it hallows the silence. When we long for nourishment, with a gentle human touch, it places bread into our empty hands. When we feel like crumbling into a million tiny pieces, it reminds us that God binds up the brokenhearted. When the world feels dark, it assures us that in the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us.

Above all, it tells us over and over again that we are God’s children, very human, very flawed, but very loved and very forgiven, blessed even in our brokenness.

One of my clergy friends expressed concern when she heard I was moving to Israel: ‘Where are you going to find good liturgy when your soul needs feeding?’ A wise and insightful question.

I know I will be ok. I know that, as terrible as it feels, what I am experiencing is normal. I have a community in which to grieve, albeit a community which is scattered across four continents and a dozen countries.

But liturgy is where I find my home, where I know myself. And I feel lost and lonely without it.

17 thoughts on “liturgical lack

  1. Dear Kate I am as useless at writing as you are good so I have hardly ever commented. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your heart with your readers. Not having had your experience, it is very hard for me to ‘feel’ for the many friends who have. Thank you and may God bless you, encourage you and love and nurture you in your work and life. Anne

  2. Courageous, as always – and helpful, Kate. I know of what you speak. ‘Grief needs community’ – I found it very hard here when, just one year after moving here, I started my own journey of grief through a broken relationship. Because nearly everyone I know, I know through my role as their ‘pastor’ or as representative of the church. But people have come out of the woodwork, as it were, and I have been very surprised that there are indeed places of community here for me. But not where I would have anticipated. And I know my struggle has also made me more of a fellow traveller with some members of the congregations, rather than a guilt-invoking presence.

    Many years ago, at a confusing time in my life, I read Henri Nouwen’s ‘The Inner Voice of Love’. These were extracts from his own personal journals as he went through a time of grief, of broken relationship. He had at first refused to publish them because he felt they were too raw, and private to share with others. But people kept saying to him “why keep your anguish hidden from the many people who have been inspired by your writing. Wouldn’t it be of consolation for many to know about the fierce inner battle that lies underneath some of your spiritual insights?”
    I remembered him and his book when I read your blog entry. I think we follow you because you have an admirable capacity (and need?) to articulate your own brokenness and confusions honestly, and I for one feel gratitude to you for that. And trust – trusting your thoughts and impressions about who and what you experience amongst the brokenness all around you in the Land of Promise.

    1. Thank you, George, especially for the recommendation of Nouwen’s book, which is now on its way to Tiberias. Like you, I’ve been amazed and humbled by all who have ‘come out of the woodwork’ in support and with words of kindness.
      And your comment inspired me to think of ways that my current situation might speak more broadly to some of the turmoil others experience in this complicated land — as well as the wider political situation we find ourselves in beyond our borders.

      1. My apologies Kate, I have just picked up your responses to my comments on your blog. For some reason I didn’t get notifications anywhere else, and I haven’t been on my blog here since 2015. I was intending to come over this summer – and might have contacted you about some low cost accommodation, but last year was so expensive with a Tennessee exchange and the Israel/Palestine tour, that I have gone for a low cost option and am housesitting in Germany in July – lots of reading materials piling up for me. But 2018, I’m hoping for a Jordan trip, and then across the border for a few days. After Easter. Go well.

  3. I have learned from The Jews to “read Psalms” in all kinds of distress.
    I was told to move my lips without speaking aloud. (Which makes sure I say every word).
    There are weekly and monthly schemes but you can just open anywhere you like too.
    Their words are raw and pure and they shower down on me … never beginning and never ending (because I just start and stop at random)
    God doesn’t change the situation (obviously, as I am not an Evangelical); but reading Psalms changes ME.
    I become calm. I become connected (to my my brokenness and my beauty and as well as the world’s). I become collected (till the next breakdown anyway).
    It’s not liturgy and it’s not prayer, it’s something else altogether

  4. Hi,

    I’ve only just read this. I’m so sorry for the loss of your marriage.

    For otherworldliness, when living in other countries, I found orthodox Christianity balm for the soul. Perhaps worshipping with your senses and your body, whilst your mind is in turmoil will be helpful.

    Much love,

    Lynsay

    1. Thank you, Lynsay. For me, it’s been the Maronites (similar worship involving the senses) and the incorporation of beautiful feminine imagery in their liturgy and prayers. Thank you for the reminder that the body believes, even when the mind wanders and doubts.

  5. Oh Kate, I am sorry. I’ve only just found this and had no idea this was going on. I don’t know if I have your email but will try your old one. Know that you’re in my prayers.

  6. Kate, I am sorry to hear this. I think of you often and pray for you. Prayers for comfort, peace, and hopefully soon joy too during such a difficult time. Much love!

  7. Thank you, all of you. I wish I had words that more clearly articulate how grateful I am to be surrounded by the love of prayers of dear friends, near and far. But for now, a simple thank you will have to suffice.

  8. I’m so grateful to you that you write so beautifully and communicate so eloquently through all the pain
    Sue, Limekilns

  9. We found ourselves thinking about you today…. Then we realised that you had gone from Facebook (not normally a good sign) then found this blog post…. Very Very sad to read this Kate… Perhaps think less liturgy and more narrative, narrative is more communal? from my perspective at least.. God bless you as you go through this..

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