How many times has it be said about grief: "It's not a big deal. Why can't you just get over it?" Or, "Time heals all wounds."
It is easy for us to say or want to say these words because in doing so we separate the emotion from our participation in it. Grief, when let loose is confusing. It is consuming and can be all-consuming. Grief always has a life cycle of its own. To be a friend of grief, hard work is required. And, if we are honest, often we really don't want to work this hard, especially when we see others on what looks like much easier paths. It is a lot easier to throw up our hands and say, "Life is unfair" than to do the work grief lays out for us. Grief is a messy, very messy process, no matter how trained we are in its "stages."
For the past two Wednesday nights, a group of us from Washington Plaza began a study called, "Sowing Tears, Reaping Joy: The Bible and Brahm's Requiem." This study involves the study of scripture texts that appear and inform the words of the requiem as well as listening to sections of the music in a reflective posture. We've also taken moments throughout the sessions to pause and share with one another our experiences of grief. Together, as a small group, we are wading in the waters of deep community. It's not easy to talk about grief, you know!
Besides observing how real and deep and experienced many in this small group are with the study of and process of grief, I've also noticed how eager each of us in the class are to sit with the depths of grief together in new ways. (What an unusual gift!)
Part of this re-examining process includes revisiting some of the great mourning texts of the scriptures. We started with some words of Jesus.
When Jesus says in his great Sermon on the Mount, "blessed are they that mourn; for they will be comforted" it seems like a completely wacky paradox, we observed. How could Jesus say such a thing? Especially to our natural human tendency to want to explain away grief with simple answers that seem to make it better as soon as possible . . . so how could we believe such? How could mourning be good for us?
While many psychological experts might jump in and answer our questions quickly, from a spiritual perspective, we've talked about grieving because we have to. In fact, our willingness to embrace grief has a lot to do with what we feel about God. Grief teaches us to sit long with such questions as: "What is God's plans for this world? How is it that we know God? Who can ultimately be trusted in the midst of our dark moments? Why do good things happen to such bad people?"
Such grief questions do not even have morsels to offer us if we don't wait. And, wait some more.
Ellen Davis, a professor of mine from seminary said this in a sermon given in 1993 at Berkeley Divinity School, about grief: "From a Biblical perspective, living well with sorrow means dwelling on it, lamenting it before God, allowing-no, committing yourself to search the sorrow, to explore every corner of it, to ransack the emptiness until it yields its treasure, the hidden blessing on those who mourn."
I can't think of a more beautiful way to describe the process of "blessed are they that mourn." For if we refuse to make a friend of grief, both within us and our immediate community, we are also going to also miss out on its great gifts. Again placing the word "grief" and "gifts" in the same sentence sounds wrong to me, doesn't it to you? But, more and more I am learning that the pain of grief is not diminished if we have open hands to what only grief can bring us: joy. Joy, yes, even in grief and all its pain, there might be joy a coming . . .
Joy in the companionship of friends who love us at our worst.
Joy in the ability to keep going when we have every reason to give up.
Joy in the knowledge that we are seen and known deeply by our Creator.
Blessed are they that mourn-- for those who cry, walling, lament, and angrily shout at God for as long as it takes to get it all out-- for in mourning space hope has a possiblity of breaking through.
Any are welcomed to join us on this grief journey for the next five Wednesday nights!