When the Tomb Feels Safer than the Garden by Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee

I have always loved Lent and Holy Week. When I was young, I enjoyed the challenge of fasting. Holy Week was the powerful culmination of it all, so I would try to make the fast even harder then, like a sprint at the end of a marathon. Chocolate quickly got boring, so once I gave up all desserts. Another year, I gave up lying. (I’m a PK – Preacher’s Kid; enough said.) And then there’s the famous year sometime in my 20s when I decided I’d better give up swearing. (PK, remember?) Both my sister Trelawney and my husband just love to remind me of how I literally swore while walking out of the Ash Wednesday service. And didn’t even notice. And when they finally explained why they were laughing at me, I, of course, immediately cursed again. Sigh. Well, I respond each time, that’s why I decided to give it up in the first place!

My kids and I have also had a lot of fun observing Lent and Holy Week. Each year, it teaches us something new about abundance – especially amid the wealth of intensity and ritual during the last week. We are not legalistic about it; we just want to learn and grow together. One year, we limited plastic as much as possible. And I’ll never forget the year we gave up paper products. That was the first year we didn’t get sore noses, because we used handkerchiefs instead of tissues. As Trelawney likes to say, we finally stopped blowing our noses on a tree.

My daughters are both in high school now, and this year, we chose the hardest Lenten discipline we’ve ever done. In addition to some fasting (toilet paper, believe it or not, which ended up coming in very handy due to the pandemic), we decided to read through Gayle Boss’s new book, Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing. Each week, she offers four devotionals about critically endangered wild creatures and the humans that are trying to help them.

It’s tough. We have to light candles and breathe deeply and weep and sing and pray in order to face this particular spiritual discipline. Sometimes, we make a donation, too. I periodically check in – are you sure you want me to keep reading this one? Should we keep using this book? And they always respond, yes. We need to do this. This is the most important thing we are doing right now.

We have many ways to work through it together. We’ve been through tough things before. Because of childhood trauma, I developed PTSD when my mother passed away very suddenly ten years ago. She had been living with us, so it was devastating for my daughters as well. We have spent a lot of time learning about fear, grief, and resilience. Last week, as we were about to read our Lenten devotional, my younger daughter asked me, how did you get through Holy Week the year Grandma died? I immediately answered, I finally understood Holy Week the year Grandma died.

I’ve written elsewhere about death and resurrection. What, our faith ancestors asked, does hope mean in the face of crushing loss? What if, sometimes, it means we pause, right where we are? We don’t rush out to look for it, somewhere bright and vibrant? What if – sometimes – it dwells with us, and within us, deep inside the tomb itself?

Thanks to so many things – my wise ancestors, my loving family, my powerful faith tradition, my gentle seminary mentors – I feel more grateful every year for the Grace that holds me and heals me and guides me to grow. So I leave you with a song I wrote that Lent, a Lent of profound, earth shattering loss. And a Lent of the discovery of a sacred ark, which carried me through a relentless, devastating flood.

Loss is rough. May you find an ark as well, to hold and carry you. For as long as the storm rages on.

By Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee

I want the feast
I want you here to wash my feet
And stroke my hair
And cover me with a blanket

And I want to sit
And rest my head upon your knee
And listen
While you tell me what I need to do

And I want the garden
Full of life and full of love
To walk and laugh
And have you hold me when I cry

And I don’t want the Friday
And I don’t want the pain
And I’m not ready for Sunday
When the sun will rise again

On some kind of new day
Where you live on in me
Where I’m the one
To wash and hold and teach

But I know I can’t have Thursday back
And Friday’s come and gone
And since I can’t do Sunday
And since I can’t face the dawn

I’m just going to stay here
Safe inside the tomb
Wrapped up in a blanket
In the darkness with you

And I know you’ll be with me
As long as I am here
And I don’t roll the stones away
And I don’t face my fear

Of what on Earth to do
With a world made new
New and strange and frightening
Without you

Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee recently earned her Ph.D. in social and ecological ethics from Boston University School of Theology. She continues to study intersections of ecofeminism, permaculture ethics, grief, and nature connection. She previously did graduate research on Alzheimer’s Disease and preventive research on Ovarian Cancer. She received a B.Sc. in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.A. in Molecular Biology from Harvard University, and an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology. She lives in central Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters, and enjoys gardening, canoeing, learning about medicinal and edible wild plants, and rewriting old hymns to make them more inclusive.

Categories: Christianity, holiday, Lent, Ritual, Women's Spirituality, Women's Voices

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14 replies

  1. Our GodSon died last march at 27 after years battling brain tumor. I’ve shared your words on FB today to help those of us filled with the never ending grief

    thank you


    • Anita, I am so very sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this with us. My every prayer is with you for peace in the never ending grief.


  2. Gee, considering what’s going on in the world–pandemic, etc.–maybe it really is safer in the tomb. Or maybe our houses are currently metaphorical tombs, places our mayors and governors keep telling us are safe. I find your Lenten adventures highly interesting. Bright blessings to all who believe and sacrifice and set aside for Lenten reasons.

    But what is that furry thing on your table in the photo?


    • Barbara, I am always so grateful for your comments. Yes, indeed, there is much of the tomb in our experiences of this pandemic.

      Thank you for asking about our Lenten altar. That is a muskrat we found. It had been hit by a car and killed. We stopped and moved it off the road, and sang to it and blessed it. Then, as we were leaving, I mentioned to my daughters that it had not been badly damaged, and asked if they would like to take it home and harvest the hide and tan it, and put the rest in a bug box in order to save the skeleton. So we thought about it, and it seemed like the muskrat wanted to come home with us. So that is what we did, and now we have the beautiful fur of its pelt. As you can see in the photo, we added various creatures we have found to our altar, including a squirrel skull and a turtle shell. Because the book we read was all about wild creatures, it was holy and powerful to have their presence on our altar. Maybe I will write a blog post about the muskrat sometime. It was quite a powerful experience for us, and it has meant a lot to us to have its presence in our home. We may make a muff with it, or we may just let it be an offering on our altars.

      Many blessings to you, friend, in all your set-apart times of reflection, meditation, and fasting.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. This beautiful post and your poem moved me to tears. We are in the tomb right now. Thank you for helping us acknowledge that we can be there and can find comfort there and strength for whatever the dawn brings.

    I am also a PK and smiled in recognition. Swearing and reclaiming all the way, is the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Elizabeth, thank you for your comment, and I am honored at your response to my poem.

      Your comment made me smile. There is something about us PK’s, isn’t there? Glad to know we have this in common, sister!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I laughed at that story of you cursing on the way out of services. I like that about you. Shows fire, energy and spirit! Of course my back is not as a PK. Love what you are doing with your kids!


    • Janet, thank you for your words of affirmation! I feel very lucky to have these experiences with my daughters. And I am glad it made you laugh – I’m still chuckling all these years later! :)


  5. Tallessyn, this is just wonderful. So poignant and lovely. I wept and wept. Thank you for your beautiful spirit and wisdom. <3 <3 <3


  6. Thank you for sharing – your pain and your ultimate way back to Sunday – very moving post


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