Word of the Week

Few of us intentionally set out to hurt those we love.

But we do.

Angry words come out of our mouths.

Jokes that seem funny to us, offend.

We forget birthdays.

But even worse than this, often our exclamations of joy can rub deeper wounds into a loved one's pain.

I know I've been guilty of such.

But, the clash of pain and joy is not something you learn about early in life.

From where I sit, I believe, it's often a lesson that tackles us in our 20s and 30s when age no longer equals simultaneous activity with our peers. College, relationships, birthing, etc all come (or not) at a unique pace.

My first hint of this lesson came when I visited a mentor's house while home on a college break.

My friend suffered from depression (though I didn't have any idea what this meant back then) and toxic friendships. She really needed a friend to sit and hear her pain. It had been a tough week.

But she was my mentor, so I wanted to tell her my stories before any of that.

So, I charged right in.

I pulled out a photo album I'd put together and started showing her what I'd been up to. Pages after pages of posed pictures and happy faces. I was so proud of the new college friends I'd made.

But I could tell as we neared the end of my "show and tell" hour that sadness found its way to her face. Though I didn't have the courage to tell her what I noticed, the truth was this: my joy rubbed against her pain.


A year ago, I sat with another friend, a peer who was visiting my home for the first time.

I was so excited that she'd come to visit that I was eager to share all those things you can only see when you are in a person's home. I gave a tour, especially of our new basement remodel. I showed her the framed pictures in my office. Hours later I pulled out old pictures from the upstairs bookshelf including my wedding album. On auto pilot, I told her the stories.

But again, the same thing happened.

As much as my friend tried to engage what I told her about the happy day in Southern Georgia when I became a Hagan, by the last couple of pages she was done.  My friend loved me, but she was single. She didn't want to see any more pictures of me in a white dress.

Whereas my wedding album told a story of a fulfilling union for me, my wedding album to her said, "You're alone."

My joy rubbed up against her pain.


I've been on the other side of this conflict too.

Friends have gone on and about their babies, and then sent more emails about baby #2 and #5.

My Facebook feed is full of ultrasound pictures (even some in 4D!)

And invitations to baby showers fill the mailbox.

It's joy rubbing up against my pain. It's a stomach sinking, crappy feeling that I am learning how to endure.

Because at this juncture of the Hagan household, children in the home is not something we can have (though we want).

Every time I hear stories after stories of pregnancy and "the cutest thing" my child said today from a well-meaning friend, I want to be happy and supportive. Yet, my heart aches.

But, I believe in community.  I believe in sharing in the joy and pain other's lives. My faith gives me this desire.

Is there a way to be better and ask others to be better in return?

There many not be easy answers. If any answers at all.

Our world is full of both joy and pain.

All I know is this: "I'm sorry" and "How can I be a good friend to you? with a spoon full of self-awareness is a good start.

A Sermon about Exodus 17:1-7 preached at The Federated Church, Weatherford, OK

Do you remember the last time you were really thirsty? Parched mouth? Dry tongue? Dreaming of water flowing from a faucet?

In our water bottle, water fountain and Sonic on every corner culture, it’s unheard of that any of us would ever "die of thirst” as we are all known to dramatically say from time to time.

Water is something we have enough of, almost always in this part of the world. Unless, of course, a tornado threatens to come through or an ice storm hits and our neighbors hoard the bottles of water off the shelves at Wal-Mart leaving nothing for the rest of us . . .

In Old Testament reading for this morning, Israelites found themselves with one very big problem and it had everything to do with water.

Two weeks ago, we left the Israelites on the their journey out of Egypt as the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea just happened. With joyous celebration they exclaimed the amazing provisions of their LORD leading them on their way into the Promise Land!

Just three days after crossing the Red Sea-- the big and dramatic-- experience of faith, the group was short on water. Scripture tells us that God led them to a spring where their thirst could be quenched. All was well. God was mightily at work among them, providing for their every need.

But, of course we know that their water jugs did not stay filled for long.

In chapter 17 verse 2 they said to Moses again: "Give us water to drink."

And, such was a good, normal, everyday, essential need, right? Of course they had a right to ask this request of God.

H2O, we know, is critical to our very existence: the definition of a need. Most medical professionals will say that a human being, in reasonable to good health can only live between 3-5 days without water before suffering from extreme dehydration and shock leading to death.

So, while, we might read Exodus 17 with thoughts in our head like "here they go again complaining,” simply the Israelites sought to express a deep need. They needed to say to Moses, their spiritual and administrative leader, "We must have water now!"

In the meantime, however, what were they to do? How were they to wait?

How were they to respond to an unmet need that they were powerless to fix?

Did it mean that their need was not really a need?

Did it mean that God had abandoned them and truly wanted them to die, as they feared? It sure felt that way . . .

It's easy to kick the dog when you are down right? And, so, went the days of the lives of the Israelites and their relationship to Moses.

As they perceived God not giving them the life they wanted, they took out their pain on the easiest next best thing: Moses.

Voicing their frustration to the point that we hear Moses fearing for his life in verse 4-- believing that in their extreme thirst the crowd might stone him if they didn't get a drink and fast.

Moses' natural response to the crisis as a leader was fearful of the crowd's response, but tempered. We hear in the words of this text, Moses saying to the crowds: simmer down stop bothering me and simply trust in God’s provisions-- as this was God's job to meet their needs.

I can imagine, if I were a member of the crowd, I would have found Moses' calm as a cucumber leadership style really annoying. Wouldn’t you?

Trust that God would provide?

"Oh, Moses," I would have said. "It's so much harder than that. When, tell me, when God is going to get God's act together and find us some water!”

For, secretly they hoped that in Moses' bag of superpower, bring on the 10 plagues kind of tricks, he could lead them by another spring and they'd worry about water no more. But, such was just not going to happen.

They needed to wait. They needed to wait to see what could become.

A friend of mine shared with me this week a similar frustration with the world and with God.

After being out of work for the past nine months due to a company downsizing in these difficult economic times, she is currently at the end of her rope.

After sending out over 500 resumes, doing everything she can to do what experts say to do when you are looking for work: networking, staying on a schedule everyday and trying not to get down on herself even as the funds in the bank account slowly begin to run down, she says the best parts of her life are dying more every day.

After interview after interview, rejection letter after rejection letter, and sleepless nights and pleas for prayer to any religiously minded person she knows, my friend shared she was beginning to think that God had forgotten her.

No one in her life seemed to care that she was out of work and without a job coming her way soon; she might lose everything she's worked so hard for including her modest home. She hears her pastor say often at church that “God is going to work things out” but to her God is a distant figure that doesn’t seem to care about her pain.

But in the spirit of these same frustrations, the Israelites were asked to have ACTIVE faith in their waiting.

They were asked to believe that God was still at work, even if they couldn’t recognize it in the moment.

And so, these were Moses' instructions from God: "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile and go. . . . Strike the rock,” God said, "and water will come out of it."

It was a simple as that. Strike the rock with your staff.

I can imagine that laughter erupted from the crowd AND anxiety of what might be next (if this didn't work) from Moses. This God they were serving was just getting crazier and crazier all the time . . .

But, Moses did as instructed by the LORD. And to the amazement of all, it worked. Sweet God Almighty brought them water from a big ole rock!

Let’s stop here and note that this provision was nothing like they expected. NOTHING. But yet it was water nonetheless and EXACTLY what they needed.

The water came not from a spring (as it did before) nor from going back to Egypt (as they had suggested), rather, it came from something that was dead.

Though it would have not been a word they used at the time, the best way I know how to describe the scene is by calling it resurrection! That out of something that seemed life-less and certainly not life-giving, out flowed streaming of living water.

Professor Amy Erickson sums up what happens in this way: "It strikes me (pun intended!) that God choose to bring water-- and the life it symbolizes and will impart-- out of something that appears to be lifeless . . ."

But, this my friends is exactly how God works.

Dead is never dead in the kingdom of God.

Lost causes are never really lost.

And the broken down and washed out are really never without hope.

When I was serving as an associate pastor at Untied Methodist congregation while in seminary at Duke Divinity in North Carolina, I told it was my job to make most of the pastoral visits.

On a Monday afternoon only a couple of months into my second year at the church, I found myself sitting in a rocking chair on the back porch of Mrs. Melba’s house. She offered me some iced tea—as good southern women do. We began chatting about life. She wanted to know how my classes were going.

Mrs. Melba, a spunky woman in her early 70s, tried to keep a brave face for this young pastor student. But soon she was fighting back tears as she began to recount to me details about her husband’s recent death. He’d died of cancer recently.

She misses him more than she could even say.

She had trouble, she said, finding the energy to get out of bed in the mornings, many days still.

She couldn’t seem to find her purpose for living life anymore, she told me.

I remember this afternoon so well because in the moments that followed, I broke what I had learned only a few days earlier in class, some of the “rules” of pastoral care. My classmates and I were told to not show too much of our own emotions when we made visits. But, I cried too. Melba and I sat and rocked on that porch and cried. Her feelings of this great “dead end” sign life had handed her felt just as overwhelming to me. Sadness felt thick in the air.

Because most of all Melba felt like God had forgotten her. Everything around her felt dead. She felt dead without her beloved, even though her pulse told her she was still living.

A few years later, a man in mid 30s sat in my office. We were chatting about life. How crazy the amount of snow that winter had been.

But soon, Tom began telling me about how he felt his life had hit a dead-end too.

Tom was the father of three kids, but none of them were living with him at the time. His ex-wife had sued him for full custody of the kids, and had won because of the hot-shot lawyer she’d hired.

Lies had been told about him court.

Though Tom had made some mistakes in life—been a big fan of drinking too much in his younger years—he’d cleaned up his act and there was no good reason why he couldn’t even see his kids on the weekends.

To make matters worse, at a church Tom had previously attended, he was told by an associate pastor that he was no longer welcome to worship at the Sunday services. The pastor, it seemed was the reason his marriage broke up in the first place. His wife and the pastor had a long-term relationship on the side that he was just now finding out about.

Tom felt let God was as far away as possible. Everything around him felt dead too. No wife, no kids, and no church family to help him through this hard time in life.

But—and there is always a BUT in the kingdom of GOD—these feelings of deep despair was not the end for Melba and Tom.

Though in these moments they faced some of their darkest hours, God was still at work.

New water was about to come out of rocks in their lives.

As Melba continued to put one foot in front of the other, getting out of bed every morning, slowly she began to see that life wasn’t finished with her.

Through the loving embrace and watchful care of her church family, she started moving toward service of others once again. Melba started singing in the choir. She involved herself in the mission projects of United Methodist Women and she took her turn leading the lessons in her Sunday School class—using the lessons she learned about finding God in this hard place with other widows like herself.

And Tom, as he took the risk of being a part of a new church community, putting aside the hurt of his previous church in the past, began to see new life spring up around him too.

Tom’s secret passion for writing became a real gift to the church’s communication ministry.

And with encouragement from some new friends and the recommendation of a new lawyer, he was able after 5 long years of separation to spend weekends with his kids again.

Both Melba and Tom learned through their pain that this exactly how God works. Dead is never dead in the kingdom of God. Lost causes are never really lost. And the broken down and washed out are really never without hope.

So, my friends, I tell you today, the God of Israel, the God of Moses who struck that rock that day to watch water flow from such a dead place is alive and wanting to be at work in your life too.

Let us be active in our waiting.

Let us not grow weary in doing good.

And let us surround ourselves with loving community to remind us of the Lord’s goodness if we forget.

And in fact, this is what we are about to celebrate in a few minutes as we come to the table of God—we’ll taste and see that what was once dead has come to new life. We’ll taste and see the sweetness of resurrection called the body and blood of our Lord. And we’ll celebrate together that anything, yes, anything is possible in the kingdom of God. God is always at work!


What do you say when a person is going through the deep woes of grief?

What do you do when there are no words to make it better?

How do you respond a situation so intensely sad and unexpected that you can't even wrap your mind around it?

Many of us just don't know what to do.

A friend of mine recently lost her life partner to cancer. Another sad story about the way that life just should not be. In the past couple of months, this friend has kept several of us up to date through emails about how she is doing, what she's been thinking about, and what has brought her comfort. I've really appreciated this way to connect with her, especially considering the authenticity in which she's faced her deep sadness-- including those of us who love her in her process as much as she is able.

And today my friend forwarded to me "This is how I feel" list that she received from participating in a recent grief workshop. She said it expressed beautifully what she felt. As someone who has also been through long periods of grief too, I know so many of these suggestions to be helpful ones-- ones I wished I'd been able to share at the time with those who wanted to "help" me but just didn't know what to do. So I could not help but share it here:

Please be patient with me; I need to grieve in my own way and in my own time.

Please don't take away my grief or try to fix my pain. The best thing you can do is listen to me and let me cry on our shoulder. Don't be afraid to cry with me. Your tears will tell me how much you care.

Please forgive me if I seem insensitive to your problems. I feel depleted and drained, like an empty vessel, with nothing left to give.

Please let me express my feelings and talk about my memories. Feel free to share your own stories of my loved one with me. I need to hear them.

Please understand why I must turn a deaf ear to criticism or tired clichés. I can't handle another person telling me that time heals all wounds.

Please don't try to find the "right" words to say to me. There's nothing you can say to take away the hurt. What I need are hugs, not words.

Please don't push me to do things I'm not ready to do, or feel hurt if I seem withdrawn. This is a necessary part of my recovery.

Please don't stop calling me. You might think you're respecting my privacy, but to me it feels like abandonment. Please don't expect me to be the same as I was before. I've been through a traumatic experience and I'm a different person.

Please accept me for who I am today. Pray with me and for me. Should I falter in my own faith, let me lean on yours. In return for your loving support I promise that, after I've worked through my grief, I will be a more loving, caring, sensitive, and compassionate friend-because I have learned from the best.

Is there anything you'd add?

It's always the little things, isn't it that stick with us through life? It's usually not the grand gestures or the extravagant moments, but the whispers. The experiences that are engraved in our memory and won't let us go, even if we tried. Many call this the beginning of grace.

A gem like this has stuck close to me since high school-- though it was not taught to me by any teacher or shared with me by any friend. In fact, it's crazy that I remember it at all.  It came from a banner hanging in my school hallway.

From 7th grade on my parents sent me to a Christian school about a 30 minute drive from our home in downtown. They were concerned about the quality of education I'd receive from the public high school assigned to me and they felt really great about academic and social opportunities available for me at this place. My grandparents were even kind enough to help out with the tuition. Small class sizes, individualized attention and loads of spiritual formation was a part of everything I experienced here. Though I wish now that my teenaged years had been full of more racial, religious and socio-economic diversity, I am thankful for the spiritual foundation for my time at the Christian school gave me (basic Bible classes in seminary were much easier from all the preparation!).

In line with this value system, each year, the senior class would select a class verse and class hymn to be read and sung at graduation. Then later, each class' verse of scripture would be sown into a banner and placed along the walls above the lockers. The banners were usually all quite large and colorful. You could hardly walk down the halls without noticing them.

Though I have no memory of my particular class verse was, I do remember one. This banner hung directly across from the door I walked into every morning next to the principal's office. As I gathered my wits together to keep going through school each early morning, I read it daily and was memorized:

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future. Ecclesiastes 7:14

It never made much sense to me, especially the ending. "Man (or woman) cannot discover anything about at his future?" Such a sentiment seemed to go against everything I thought I knew about God at the time. Growing up in a fundamental driven household, I believed that I grew up to do the right things at the right times, then my life would be free of trouble. The only people I thought at the time who experienced trouble were those who went against God's plans for their life. (And, with my "I'm spiritual" hat on I knew I wasn't one of them).

But, as I've grown up and heard the words, "when times are good . . . when times are bad" in the back of my head, this verse of scripture has equally made more sense to me and frustrated me all the same.

No matter how good you are or not, life interrupts. Plans you once betted your life on are quickly destroyed. People whom you thought would be in your life forever simple do not have the breath to climb the mountains with you.  Grief comes. Sadness comes. The unexplained comes. Life makes absolutely no sense. We cannot have a specific 30 year life plan and even dare to think it will come true. We just don't know. And, it's frustrating. Many of us truly wish for life to simply be more lineal and fair.  And it isn't. It never will be.

But, this does not take from us the moments-- the pure and beautiful moments of our journey. Which is what I think this verse is all about.

When life is good, let's rejoice, but when it bad, let's remember that each experience of life can be just a season. Life's joys, even as tainted as they may be by past losses, will return. Joy comes in the morning . . . (even if we have to wade through the night for years and years and years).

Over the past couple of weeks, I've heard countless stories from friends and colleagues about this dichotomy of life.

Some parents' children have died much too young from rare diseases. While other parents' children have soared into a new school year-- making their first goal at soccer matches and getting their first 100% on Spelling Tests. Some parents have cried new deep rivers of tears. Other parents have smiled for so long they thought their mouths would burst.

Some marriages have ended in bitter word wars over financial issues. While other marriages have only just begun with cakes, glamour photos and gleeful expectations based on promises for a long future. Some have entered new dark seasons of self-doubt and life crushing agony. Other folks have soared to high once in a lifetime emotional peeks.

Some long-term partnerships have ended because of the death of one from an unsuccessful battle with cancer. While other partnerships have soared with the expectations of new shared dreams and common goals. Some have cried tears they never expected to ever leak. Other folks have simultaneously said to themselves, "I didn't know that life could be this wonderful."

This is the mystery of life. Or as my friend Leslie said the a couple of days ago on Facebook, "On any given "best" day, someone, somewhere, is having their worst day.  I guess that's the deal.  Please God, give us strength when we need it."

I'm glad for the ever-present reminder of this wisdom as I long for the day when we are all made whole.

Yesterday I preached on I Samuel 15:34-16:13, and though I thought I would be writing a sermon about God's unlikely choices this ended up being a sermon about grief. Surprised me for sure! I just couldn't seem to get the "How long will you grief for Saul?" verse out of my mind as I prepared. So, I just went with it and here's a portion of it:

When is the last time you truly grieved over something? I mean a good long cry, a into the night cry, into the next day cry that you thought that you never would get over?

 I remember the spring when my grandmother died. Gran, who had played a central role in my upbringing and joy in my childhood, died as when I was in my second semester of seminary. Gran was more than just a grandmother via biological connections, she was a friend, a confidant, someone in whom I talked my problems over with regularly. She made me feel special always in a way that others did not. When she died, the loss stung deep. It ached. It made me feel like there was no reason in the morning to get out of bed-- though trust me, there was plenty of papers calling my name to write! But, I couldn't seem to get over it as much as I tried.

 Anne Lamott in her book Operating Instructions writes about the first year of her son's life the experience of getting used to motherhood but at the same time grieving the death of one of her closest friends saying, "And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.”

Sometimes as much as we want to get over the loss of someone or something, we simply can't. Our grief grips us and becoming the central story of our lives to the pint in which we simply can't even comprehend seeing past our own circumstances.

 Grief, as many of you know, especially those of you who have studied it in workshops and other seminars, is not always about loss via death. Grief over the loss of careers, aspirations or relationship which used to be close but are no longer can paralyze us as deeply as any physical death can. To wake up one morning and find that what you thought was your life work is destroyed by the rejection of others, to come to terms with your best friend no longer is speaking to you, or be let in on a truth about our family after years of secrecy, we can feel smacked in the face. Grief seeks to holding us down for as long as possible. Grief, if we don't find a way to move through it can destroy our lives.

 In our Old Testament lesson for this morning, we meet the prophet Samuel again.

 Called out as the great prophet of Israel, called out as young boy to be the saving grace leader of a nation in deep decline, called out as the one who would be God's spokesperson to a people desperate to hear a good word-- Samuel  was on top of the world. Things were going great! Samuel was the hope of the nation, after all.  Yet, in this state of extreme responsibility, I can imagine that Samuel  felt  he needed to make just the right choices at just the right time so to ensure that the nation of Israel had a future. And for a while, it seemed Samuel tasted the sweet fruit of his good, seemingly God led choices.

 So, what happens when all goes badly? What happens when the king HE anoints behaves badly and needs to be removed from office?

 And it is at this juncture, we find him in a place of deep grief.  All is not well in his world.  Samuel blames himself. He pouts. He cries. And, see Saul's failures as a reflection of himself.  How can he ever again show his face in public after Saul has flopped big time? Grief was his primary story.

 And God has a word with him about it saying in 16:1: "How long will you grief over Saul?"

 Or, "How long, Samuel will grief be your story?"

 It is not that grieving is wrong or an inappropriate emotion, but that for every period of grief, (especially the more pity party kinds)-- there comes a time when it must end. For as spiritually cleansing and healthy as grief is, it's an emotion has a time and season. For, if one stays in a grieving process too long, past its time-- it can actually be destructive. For Samuel, God says, it is time to move on.

Grief over what could, should, would have been and all the feelings of personal failure internalized held Samuel captive, we learn. In particular for Samuel, his grief held him captive to only what he could see, hear, and feel in the present moment. Grief stole his vision for life and the people he was entrusted to lead.

Thus, the Lord is saying to him, "You are not perfect. All is not perfect in this land.  I know this. But one thing still holds true: I still love these people. I still love you. And, there is work to be done in the future!" And this is the post-grief task one that our text narrates for us, God says: "I have rejected [Saul] from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons."

Though Saul has been a disappointment of a king and leader and Samuel wants to keep believing that it was all his fault, such feelings just aren't helpful. In fact, God is asking him to dust his sandals off from the dirt in which he's sat and go be a part of the next great thing that God was going to do in the nation: anoint the next king.

And, it's important to note here that it would have been easy for Samuel, as he went to find the next leader, to fall into the trap that is naturally a part of being in an aggrieved state: the syndrome of "must do anything to fix the pain right now."

 You've met these people if you aren't one right now: the "hurry up and get this over with" folks. Pain and its effects are despised so much that  these people will do anything not to feel the pain of disappointment, rejection or loss.  Things like:  drinking too much wine  when they get home from work, staying at the gym too long and skipping meals, or even drowning each night away in mindless tv-- just avoiding the grief through a distraction.

 Or, the approach of getting to work too rapidly, taking the lead alone to solve the grief right away. Type A things like signing up for every single class or seminar known to man about a particular issue-- trying to become the expert of one's own problems. Things like making lists after lists after lists of what can be done-- trying to logically organize their way through your problems. Or even, the simple act of refusing to rest through grief-- doing, doing and more doing.

 In all of this, I believe that God knew that Samuel could be in this exact place as well-- trying to avoid or solve the problem too quickly. Samuel is given exactly, then what grief needs to keep moving-- clarity. Samuel is told exactly what to do, exactly what to say, and exactly who to listen to when he arrives at the hometown of Jesse.  The end of verse three gives us what is most important as a word from the LORD: "You shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you."

 Specifically Samuel was told in verse 7 not to make a quick judgment just to get the process of selecting the next leader done as quickly as possible. Saying, to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance but the LORD looks on the heart." 

God saying, "Don't just go Samuel to who you think meets the criteria that others will approve of. Instead, listen to me. I can show you who has the heart for the work of king. Don't make this process about you. Listen."

Or simply stated, Samuel could have rushed through the line of brothers among Jesse's sons-- very easily he could have solved his failure complex quickly-- but if he did, then, he'd be missing out on an opportunity to hear God's leading.

And, thus, this is the surprise-- in Samuel's grief, in his pain, God was about to do a new thing, a new thing in the life of Israel where healing would come from the unlikely choice of youngest son David as the next king as Samuel kept listening. This was all he was asked to do.

I can remember some of the most powerful words said over me (that I obviously still remember to this day) at my ordination service. During the laying on of hands a deacon of the ordaining church came up to me and said, "Listen to God. You've gotten to this point in your life through listening and you will do great things if you keep listening."

Isn't God funny like this sometimes? We make it so difficult when all we are asked to do is to put one foot in front of the other and listen as we go.  Of course this doesn't take away the pain or the loss, but we do have direction for what is next. And this can be grief's greatest surprise . . .

How else have you been surprised by grief in your life? I'd love to know!

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!