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January 11, 2018

The Inspiration Behind The Wood and the Stone


The inspiration behind The Wood and the Stone

 

A number of years ago, Mary and I began to talk about the idea of writing a collection that would speak to the needs of people experiencing the effects of grief in their lives. We have all experienced grief at one time or another, be it due to a single tragic event or an ongoing situation, and no two people grieve alike. Grief is as unique as the individuals who journey through it, and no one’s grief can be quantified. What is seemingly insurmountable grief for one person may be no big deal for another. It truly depends on the individual. In collaboration with OCP, we created the collection The Wood and the Stone, which is unique in a number of ways. First, it speaks directly to the hearts of those who are in pain. Second, it is not an isolated tool, but one piece in a multi-faceted resource that also includes an evening/morning retreat talk, as well as an accompanying prayer book.

The three parts of this collection: the retreat, the CD, and the prayer book, work both together and separately. The CD contains all eight tracks of music, plus the three guided meditations. The retreat includes reflections, guided meditations, and music, which I will explain in just a moment. The prayer book accompanies all of it, helping each person to journey through their grief with the benefit of the song texts, Scripture, and even simple spiritual activities.

The retreat is a two-hour event, an evening or morning, which is open to anyone, but especially to those who have experienced a recent grief event in their lives. But let’s give it a thought for a moment: Who of us has never experienced grief? If we have not, then we are not human. We all have moments of grief in our lives, no matter if it is something like the loss of a job, an opportunity, a friendship, a pet, or the loss of a loved one. Again, these things cannot be quantified or categorized, as the loss of a pet to one person may be as monumental as the loss of a spouse to another. It all depends on the individual. In the retreat event Mary and I offer reflections based on our own stories of grief and healing through God’s love, along with guided meditations and music. Some of the songs are woven throughout the meditations (although all are done separately on the CD), while others are offered whole. The meditations are based on the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, to which we are connected most intimately in the Eucharist, but through which we both the humanity and the divinity of Christ in a way that brings us healing in our affliction and comfort in our sorrow. We join our grief to that of the Lord, knowing that God will bring us through to the other side, that joy we can still experience through God’s love.

Why did we title the collection The Wood and the Stone as we did? It was Mary’s idea, and it speaks to our Christian experience: our griefs are the wood on which we suffer, and the stone is that which is rolled away from our tombs of despair, leading us back to live the life of joy to which God calls each of us. God does not want his children to suffer, and even when those times of suffering come, God reaches out to us with arms of comfort, love, and hope, leading us through our pain, and so our pain becomes redemptive in that it leads us to a deeper relationship with God. This is our glimpse of Resurrection in this life.

At the beginning of our retreat event I do make something clear: this is not therapy. It is a spiritual experience whose purpose is to help people become aware that, despite the darkness and despair we face, God is not gone from us. The psalmist tells us in Psalm 139:

"Where can I go from your spirit?
From your presence, where can I flee?
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there;
if I lie down in Sheol, there you are.
If I take the wings of dawn and dwell beyond the sea,
Even there your hand guides me, your right hand holds me fast.”

St. Paul also tells us, in his letter to the Romans:

“Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We can be certain, therefore, that God knows us, loves us, watches over us, and lifts us up when we fall or are in pain. Even more important, as St. Paul tells us, is that God’s love for us is defeated by nothing. God overcomes everyone and everything in order to shower his love upon each of us. This is the focus of the meditations we offer in our retreat events.

As Catholics, we know that there could not have been an Easter Sunday without there first having been a Good Friday. Healing does not exist in and of itself, but exists for the express purpose of correcting pain. This is why we hang not crosses in our churches but crucifixes, which have the corpus, the body, depicted on the cross. We acknowledge the apparent defeat of the Cross, the altar of sacrifice, that became the sign of Christ’s victory over sin and death. It is because of the gift of Christ’s pain, suffering, and sacrifice that we can experience the healing he offers us through his wounds. Jesus was human like us in all things but sin. He experienced everything we do: joy and sorrow, hunger and pain, suffering and death. He knows what it is to feel abandoned (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”), yet his deep faith allowed him to draw closer to his Father (“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”). In his suffering Christ found his healing in God, and so we are called to do the same.

The CD, therefore, becomes a remembrance of the retreat experience, allowing the participant to meditate on some of what they experienced by listening again to the songs and the meditations. This collection is different from my own previous ones, especially the first two (On This Mountain and Maranatha) whose music was for liturgy. This music is more for meditation and prayer than for liturgy, although a few of the pieces can be used liturgically (May the Angels; I Commend, for example).

There is also an accompanying prayer book. Participants can receive or purchase this prayer book that includes prayers, song texts from the collection, Scripture passages, short reflections for the week, and simple spiritual activities. The preface of the book provides suggestions for use of the book, but its use can be as unique as the individuals who use it. Over the course of eight weeks, for examples, the user can reflect on one of the reflections each day (there is one for each day over eight weeks), using these as a means of coming through pain to healing, and deepening one’s relationship with God, which is always the ultimate aim. The book encourages the user to set aside some time, even just five minutes a day, to meditate, to reflect, on the songs, prayers, reflections, etc., that this resource may provide its most effective benefit.

For those who purchase the CD, attend the retreat event, and/or make use of the prayer book, there are things that we hope they will attain: For one, a reminder of the love of God in Christ Jesus, as St. Paul teaches us; for another, the knowledge that, even in our suffering, we are never alone. In fact, it is when we suffer that God gives us that extra measure of love, reaching out even further to bring us close to his bosom, gathering us close to his heart; That suffering is part of the human experience, and when we suffer we become more like Christ, who suffered for our sake. Our suffering is not for naught, but can draw us closer to the One who can heal us; We don’t get over our grief so much as we get through it. If we lose a loved one, for example, we do not get over their death to the point that we forget that loved one and simply move on as if they never existed. No, we work through our pain, and that pain, as well as that person, become part of our personal history. Remember, missing someone and grieving their loss is a testament to a loving relationship, for we would not mourn those we did not love. Finally, we want those who partake in this event and collection to know that, no matter what, their own Good Friday is always followed by Easter Sunday, when that tomb in which they find themselves is opened to the light of God’s love, shining healing upon us, knowing that there is nothing we cannot endure for the sake of the Kingdom.

 

Find out more about the retreat experience. 

The Wood and the Stone [CD]

Gerard Chiusano, Mary Chiusano