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Healing with Medicine, Spirit and Words

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Healing with Medicine, Spirit and Words

Sandpoint pastor publishes book on loss

This book is an invitation to awaken to life’s enduring rhythm of sacred gift, of loss, and of renewing gift once again. It is astonishing how each of our days is saturated by gift and loss. These pages beckon us to be attentive to that rhythm.

You’ll find those words in the prologue of “The Losses of Our Lives; The Sacred Gifts of Renewal in Everyday Loss” by local pastor Dr. Nancy Copeland-Payton.

Nancy answered the phone when I called with a gentle, loving voice. I sensed right away a centered, grounded person. She accepted my request to interview her and invited my wife and myself up to the mountain home/ personal retreat she shares with her husband Gary, who writes a bimonthly column on faith in these very pages.

Nancy knew early that she wanted to be a healer. Her friends in Kansas City would bring her injured and sick animals they found; some she nursed back to health while others were lost to the rhythm of life and death. With these early experiences she learned two things; the joy of healing and pain of loss.

The want to heal and a love for the science lead her into medical school after college. She became a doctor and was Board Certified in internal medicine and emergency medicine.

During this training she discovered the Presbyterian faith she had grown up in no longer seemed to be working for her. She still felt a connection to Spirit but the religion of the church seemed to get in the way of her faith. As a young adult, she fell away from the church of her youth all together, for over twenty years. Still, she practiced meditation and yoga and, in fact, credits both of them for keeping her centered and grounded while doing her internships.

While living in Iran she was introduced to the Sufis, who expanded her spiritual connection; still the “religion” felt binding.

Later, while working in England as a physician, she and her husband felt their sons needed a more formal spiritual affiliation. This journey led them to a study of the Christian mystics, many of them from Celtic spirituality. Ironically, that discovery led them back to the church where Nancy had started as a child, Presbyterian. 

“It was a different church with the same name,” she said. “It wasn’t as binding.”

Another “push/ pull” was happening in Copeland-Payton’s life at about that time. She was changing and medicine was changing. The business of the profession wasn’t always allowing the time necessary for suitable work with the patients. She didn’t feel she was able to give the time to the kind of healing that she loved and which had been her reason for making the commitment to the profession. That felt like a push for her because she didn’t feel she was in integrity with herself to continue working in the changed system.

At the same time, she found herself wanting to be with the family of the patients who needed counsel in their grief. It happened while still in England managing an emergency room, which started her thinking about life and death. Often she would watch the hospital chaplains and felt the work they were doing was as fascinating and as important as her own was. Soon the chaplains were encouraging her to take on that role.

She was also developing many questions in her mind as she studied her newfound connection to God; questions that did not go away or get adequately answered. So she entered Westminster College in Cambridge as a seminary student.

“They had much better questions than I ever thought,” she said, “I learned there is power in the question that can be lost in the answer.”

She followed this quest as it pulled her out of medicine and into the ministry.

The two professions, as well as life itself, taught her lessons of loss and recovery as well as finding the gifts to be discovered in loss.

She talks of all kinds of loss, losses we adults think simple, yet are still loss. The move away from your tree house, or creek but the flowers keep blooming and things kept going on.

She writes; “When we are alert, we awaken to a vague yet insistent sense of longing for something lost. Think of this as an invitation to stop and look at life anew. We’re beckoned to pause our headlong rush into the next moment and to be quiet, to listen deeply, to become attentive to our yearnings. As we awake to ancient longings, we may hear the coyote howl or our own voice call into the night seeking wholeness, completeness, oneness.

“We may even faintly hear God’s voice calling to us, “Where are you?”.”

Not all loss is small and the things we are passionate about need to be grieved.

For example, the loss of one we love.

Again from the book: “He’s dead. I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.”

I had said those searing words to strangers how many times? Now they’re said to me and my husband. How can we say good-bye to our third son, when we’ve not said hello? The pain takes my breath away, threatening to drown me.

She maintains in the book that after we’ve grieved our most painful losses, there may be unexpected gifts.

An old priest, wise in the ways of life and loss, sat with me decades later. He gently said, “Take Colin with you everywhere. Keep him close by at all times. Colin gives you compassion for the agony of other people’s suffering. It is his painful gift to you.”

I couldn’t help but ask if the book was a compilation of notes from her many workshops and retreats she facilitates.

“No, I wanted to start new, but I think it has been gestating all my life,” she said.

Copeland-Payton does understand the value of the question and to stay in the question as it motivates growth. Her book gently brings the reader back to the question with exercises at the end of each chapter that offer “Spiritual Practices” and “Exploring Deeper” sections encouraging the reader follow the questions, deeply as one studies the rhythms of life.

My first impression of Nancy was right; she is gentle and loving, grounded in the way of one who knows and spends time with her spiritual self, who is willing to delve into and be with the questions. That too, is evident in the book.

“The Losses of our Lives” is available wherever fine books are sold.

Photo by Ernie Hawks.

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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

Tagged as:

death, books, grief, Nancy Copeland-Payton, loss, Losses of Our Lives

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