Find and Bless the Missing Pieces

imageWith each loved one’s death,

With each goodbye,

I feel like I have lost a part of myself.


How can this be? I am still here.

I am still whole.

“What part of me is missing?” I ask.


Is this part of me lost forever?


“Find your way back to the missing part of yourself”

says Sister Priest Friend Alla in

“Life is Goodbye, Life is Hello” *


You gave a piece of yourself to another

And now it is time to “reclaim” it.


Reclaim… “to retrieve or recover.”

That is the essence of grief.


Find the missing pieces,

Bless them. Reclaim them.


This is not betrayal, it is healing.

It is the way back to wholeness.


By The Rev. Mary Anne Dorner

March 30, 2016


*Reference to “Life is Goodbye, Life is Hello: Grieving Well

Through all Kinds of Loss” by Alla Renee Bozarth, p. 25






Us versus Them

imageDualistic thinking leads to seeing the world in terms of Us versus Them.  But in reality, there is no Them…only Us.  We are all in this together.

If this is true, why do we divide ourselves according to race, gender, nationality, religion, and other differences?

It is natural to compare ourselves to others.  But this often leads to condemning or looking down on others who are not like us, and therein lies the problem.

In Richard Rohr’s book, “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,” he describes dualistic thinking as “the well practiced pattern of knowing most things by comparison.”  He goes on to say that “for some reason, once you compare or label things(that is judge), you almost always conclude that one is good and the other is less good or even bad.” (p. 146)

Rohr says that there is a sequencing that leads us to a dualistic mindset: “it compares, it competes, it conflicts, it conspires, it condemns, it cancels out any contrary evidence and it then crucifies with impunity.”  (p.147)

This dualistic thinking is being blatantly played out in this year’s presidential politics.  Politicians are pitting us one against the other.  It is now getting ugly.  Violence is breaking out at rallies, and there is talk of riots across the country if certain events don’t go the way some would like.

How then should we respond?  With fear?  With cowering?  With hatred?  Or, with confidence, strength and love.

I have been studying the life and work of Margaret Mead, a world famous anthropologist, who lived through two world wars.  Her insights are important for us to remember during our own troubled times.  On her website she reminds us that cultural patterns of racism, warfare and environmental exploration are learned behaviors, and that members of a society can and should work together to construct new institutions that will serve all of humanity, not just one segment of the population.

The slogan on her website reads: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

It is time that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens rise to leadership positions and call for an end to the hatred and violence that is dividing our country .  I don’t think that we can walk back the rhetoric that has been thrown around this year.  Perhaps it needed to surface to reveal the deep divisions that still keep us separated from one another.  However, it is time to stop and really listen to each other and to find common causes that will bring us together.  This will only happen if we accept that we are all in this together, and that what happens to one happens to us all.

One of my goals this month has been to reach out to others who have very different political opinions than my own, and to really listen to them.  What are their concerns?  What are their hopes and fears?  This has helped me to see that we can overcome the divisions that keep us from working together for the common good.  Its a start.


Praying Our Goodbyes, Dying We Live

imageEvents this week have exposed that I am in the midst of a season of losses.  I find it difficult to put into words the emptiness that I feel when having to say goodbye to loved ones, to realize that I have to let go of commitments that I cherish but can no longer keep, and finally to accept that the world is changing faster than I would like and that I find it increasing harder to make adjustments to the new realities I am facing.

At times like these, I rely heavily on my Christian faith to see me through.

When I cannot put into words what I am experiencing, I look to others to speak for me.  Throughout the years I have repeatedly turned to spiritual guidebooks to help me through such painful times.

“Praying Our Goodbyes” has been a staple for me for several decades.  Today I picked it up, once again, to help me pray through the goodbyes I am having to say this week.  First, I had to say goodbye to a dear friend and treasured colleague as he lay near death at Hospice House.  We are very close in age, Chuck and I, so his passing was even harder for me than I anticipated.  We truly enjoyed working together.  We shared deep theological discussions, planned exciting church events and beautiful liturgies, and partied like we would live forever despite the fact that we were aging and health issues were arising.

His death on Friday coincided with my last Quiet Day at the church he had served for over 25 years.  A few weeks ago, I decided that I could no longer keep my commitment to return to this church every year to lead their annual women’s quiet day.  Even though I retired from St. John the Divine 10 years ago this Eastertide, I still felt a strong bond with this community of faith, and the Quiet Day served as a way for me to stay connected.  Every year, as I prepared the Women’s Quiet Day agenda, liturgy, presentations, and sacred arts, I felt like I was called to be with these beautiful “sisters of my heart.”  But sadly, this year I had to admit it was time for me to move on, and on Saturday I said my goodbyes after our 13th Annual Quiet Day together.

When I left active parish ministry in April 2006, I struggled to discern how I would live out my vocation as a priest apart from serving in a parish.  For a few years I taught college theology and church history classes, and then served as a volunteer hospital chaplain, and finally I felt increasing called to be a writer.  As my spiritual director reminds me: “Our vocations are organic and evolving.”  So true.

In “Praying Our Goodbyes,” author Joyce Rupp, OSM, describes four elements of saying goodbye:  “recognition, reflection, ritualization, and reorientation.”  (p. 78)  We recognize our loss, reflect on its meaning in our lives, go through rituals that help us say goodbye, and then reorient ourselves to life after our loss.  I have been experiencing all these things, and I give thanks for the ability to have someone put words to my personal process of grieving.

One of my professors at Virginia Theological Seminary, The Rev. Edward S. Gleason, wrote a book called “Dying We Live.”  As Episcopal Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia said: “This book is powerful, evocative, and difficult.”  Over the past two and a half decades since I first read it, I find this to be true.  Here is just a short excerpt from Gleason’s introduction to his work:

“Death happens, despite what we do to avoid it.  Everything that begins, ends.  The fact may not be welcome, but it is realistic.  Death is a central part of life, and despite everything it takes from us, so too it enriches and strengthens.”  (Dying We Live, p. 6)

Towards the end of his introduction, he gives us these words of comfort:

“Once we own up to death, grief is the process by which the losses of death are transformed into new life.  It is a process we all frequently experience, every day and in small ways.  It is an experience we have known from childhood.  The experience is always unwelcome, but the process is consistent.  When the time comes, sooner or later, when we face grief, it is always as it was for that unknown friend wearing a hat in the downtown parish.  Grief is the process by which loss is transformed into new life.”  (Dying We Life, p. 12)

Even as I prepare for the funeral rites of the church for my friend Chuck, I now find myself making plans to attend another funeral…that of a colleague and sister priest The Rev. Alice Sandler.  Alice+ and I came to know each other when we both lived in Naples.  She served at the wealthy parish of Trinity-by-the-Cove and I was at the new church start just a few miles away but a world apart in East Naples.  Alice+ had a passion for Christian Education and so did I…that was our connection.  It was just a short time ago that she moved up to Tampa Bay where she continued her role as a pastor, priest and teacher here in the Tampa Deanery.  Her death was sudden and unexpected.

The deaths of Chuck and Alice+ serve as a reminder to me of the words I heard on Ash Wednesday: “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”  (Book of Common Prayer, p. 265)  Yet, there is more to our Christian faith than reminding us of our mortality.  We also hear the words of “Easter Sunday”:  “Alleluia, Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.”  (Book of Common Prayer, Easter acclamation, p. 39)

In between Ash Wednesday and Easter, during our Holy Season of Lent, we ponder anew the mysteries of our faith…the life, death of resurrection of Jesus.  Through these days, may our faith be renewed, our grief lessened, and our hope restored.

I long for Lent to be over, but there are still weeks before the church will celebrate Easter.  In the meantime, I will daily live into the promise of the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Book of Common Prayer, Burial Office, p. 501.)