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How can I help you understand?

So often when we grieve, we are desperate for someone to feel us. Deep sadness instantly sends us into isolation, yet we crave validation and compassion. I experienced grief yesterday. When I saw that Notre Dame was burning, I thought I was going to burst into tears at work. All I wanted to do was talk to someone about it, yet I instantly started shutting down and self-sabotaging.

“They won’t understand. They’ll judge me. They’ll see me differently if they know.”

See, I’m what you might call a very devoted, hippy Catholic. I wasn’t born into a Catholic family; I chose to move through the extensive process of becoming part of the Catholic Church as an adult. I did it on my own. It was a step of spiritual maturity for me. And it filled in my many gaps.

I was nine the first time I worshiped in Notre Dame. I didn’t really understand what it meant to be Catholic, but I had the most profound spiritual experience of my life. I remember the vibration of the space (hi, I’m Bethany and I’m an Empath). I remember tears filling my eyes and not understanding why. I felt a tug to fall to my knees. The tug to that sacred space never went away for me.

I didn’t tell many people when I became Catholic. It’s not the only part of my identity... I’m also an Army wife, and a yogi, and a lover of all people, and a therapist who specializes in trauma. I’m the person who longs to include everyone, in the whole world, in one big embrace. And many people might not understand how I could fall in love with Catholicism, given its flawed and imperfect history. I’m the first to call out the broken places in my communities, believe me. I can see the sacraments and experience the depth of my calling to the Catholic Church, and also see the growth through trauma that must occur. I am, in my deepest core, developing as a non-dual thinker. I can hold joy and pain, sacred and scarred, all in one breath. After I got off work and wept in my car, watching videos of Notre Dame burning, I drove to yoga, rolled out my mat, and practiced. While I moved through my yoga practice, I prayed the Hail Mary over and over. I cried. I let the sadness be there.

The truth is, you don’t need to understand the intersections of my physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional identity. It’s my identity, not yours. But I sure could use your empathy. And I want to trade you mercy for mercy. How can I honor your experience? How can I see the divine in you, in the way that you practice or don’t practice spirituality? How can I honor the sacred in the way you hold your child’s cheek, or the way you hike in a forest, or the way you write a memo at work? How can I hold the pain you experienced from your religious background, or hold space for you as you process feeling empty or adrift in a spiritual nebula?

If watching Notre Dame burn brought up deep emotion in you, I encourage you to examine it.

Were you weeping? Is there something about that space that speaks to you? Why?

Were you happy? Did you feel justified or fulfilled in some way? Why?

Is your emotional experience making you a more richly connected person? Is it possible for you to walk across from yourself, stand on the other side of the issue, and understand how someone could be feeling differently? And then can you do this same thing next time there’s a school shooting, or you hear about a war in a far away place, or you pass a homeless person swallowed up in his own agony?

Let’s face the world’s tragedies with a soft heart and an open hand. There is so much pain, but the capacity to hold and make sacred is our inheritance as human beings.

I’m honored to grow among you all. I’m going to pray for Paris, for the people of France, for my fellow Catholics, and for every soul touched by the sacred space that is Notre Dame. I’ll also pray for those who feel isolated by my spiritual community, who need to experience being embraced and honored, and who long to be seen.

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” - Rumi

Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images, linked by CNN

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