Week Thirty-One: Everybody Grieves
Monday 2 August 2021 The Devastation of Grief
In the Hebrew Scriptures, we find Job moving through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s well-known stages of grief and dying: denial, anger, bargaining, resignation, and acceptance. The first seven days of Job’s time on the “dung heap” of pain are spent in silence, the immediate response matching the first stage—denial. Then he reaches the anger stage, verses in the Bible in which Job shouts and curses at God. He says, in effect, “This so-called life I have is not really life, God, it’s death. So why should I be happy?”
Perhaps some of us have been there—so hurt and betrayed, so devastated by our losses that we echo Job’s cry about the day he was born, “May that day be darkness. May God on high have no thought for it, may no light shine on it. May murk and deep shadow claim it for their own” (Job 3:4–5). It’s beautiful, poetic imagery. He’s saying: “Uncreate the day. Make it not a day of light, but darkness. Let clouds hang over it, eclipse swoop down on it.” Where God in Genesis speaks “Let there be light,” Job insists “Let there be darkness.” The day of uncreation, of anti-creation. We probably have to have experienced true depression or betrayal to understand such a feeling.
W. H. Auden expressed his grief in much the same way in his poem “Funeral Blues,” which ends with these lines:
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good. 
There’s a part of each of us that feels and speaks that sadness. Not every day, thank goodness. But if we’re willing to feel and participate in the pain of the world, part of us will suffer that kind of despair. If we want to walk with Job, with Jesus, and in solidarity with much of the world, we must allow grace to lead us there as the events of life show themselves. I believe this is exactly what we mean by conformity to Christ.
We must go through the stages of feeling, not only the last death but all the earlier little (and not-so-little) deaths. If we bypass these emotional stages by easy answers, all they do is take a deeper form of disguise and come out in another way. Many people learn the hard way—by getting ulcers, by all kinds of internal diseases, depression, addictions, irritability, and misdirected anger—because they refuse to let their emotions run their course or to find some appropriate place to share them.
I am convinced that people who do not feel deeply finally do not know deeply either. It is only because Job is willing to feel his emotions that he is able to come to grips with the mystery in his head and heart and gut. He understands holistically and therefore his experience of grief becomes both whole and holy.
Sunday 1 August 2021 Vulnerability: A Divine Condition
We live in a finite world where everything is dying, shedding its strength. This is hard to accept, and all our lives we look for exceptions to it. We look for something certain, strong, undying, and infinite. Religion tells us that the “something” for which we search is God. But many of us envisioned God as strong, complete, and all-powerful—a God removed from suffering. In Jesus, God comes along to show us: “Even I suffer. Even I participate in the finiteness of this world.”
After two thousand years, Jesus is still a revolutionary symbol, revelation, and reality. He turned theology upside down and taught, in effect: God is not who you think God is. The enfleshment and suffering of Jesus reveals that God is not apart from the trials of humanity. God is not aloof. God is not a spectator. God is not merely tolerating human suffering or instantly just healing it. God is participating with us in it. Living it alongside us and with us. That is what gives us eternal purpose and hope. Like Job, we sometimes feel as if our flesh is being torn off and yet we do not die (Job 19:26). Through encountering the Living God in our pain, we can experience another kind of life, another kind of freedom.
Pain and beauty constitute the two faces of God. On the one hand we are attracted to the unbelievable beauty of the divine reflected in the beauty of human beings and the natural world. On the other hand, brokenness and weakness also mysteriously pull us out of ourselves. We feel them both together.
Only vulnerability forces us beyond ourselves. Whenever we see true pain, most of us are drawn out of our own preoccupations and want to take away the pain. For example, when we rush toward a hurting child, we also rush toward the suffering God. We want to take the suffering in our arms. That’s why so many saints wanted to get near suffering—because as they said again and again, they meet Christ there. It “saved” them from their smaller untrue self.
My friend the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis preaches about the gift of this two-fold path:
I think grief puts us in touch with our vulnerabilities. I think the feeling of grief lets us know the power of wounds to shape our stories. I think it lets us know how capable we are of having our hearts broken and our feelings hurt. I think it lets us know the link that we each have because we’re human. Because we’re human, we hurt. Because we’re human, we have tears to cry. Because we’re human, our hearts are broken. Because we’re human, we understand that loss is a universal language. Everybody grieves. All of humanity grieves. All of us have setbacks, broken dreams. All of us have broken relationships or unrealized possibilities. All of us have bodies that just don’t do what they used to do. Though grief is personal, every person grieves. 
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Job and the Mystery of Suffering: Spiritual Reflections (Crossroad: 1996), 25, 182–183.
 Jacqui Lewis, “Good Grief,” sermon at Middle Church, July 9, 2017.
Image credit: Dennis Cowals, Upland Taiga (detail), 1973, photograph, Alaska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Grief can feel like a wilderness—the vastness and depth of it overwhelming. We enter this wilderness to find the keys for healing, bit by bit, tree by tree, discovering and knowing our own grief spaces.
Prayer For Our Community
Loving God, you fill all things with a fullness and hope that we can never comprehend. Thank you for leading us into a time where more of reality is being unveiled for us all to see. We pray that you will take away our natural temptation for cynicism, denial, fear and despair. Help us have the courage to awaken to greater truth, greater humility, and greater care for one another. May we place our hope in what matters and what lasts, trusting in your eternal presence and love. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our suffering world. Please add your own intentions . . . Knowing, good God, you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God. Amen.
Listen to Father Richard pray this prayer aloud.
Story From Our Community
I’ve been beating myself up for how angry I’ve been feeling, and how over the top my reactions have been. Grief and hurt are deep and wide with the need to “do something” keeping me awake at night. Fear and anxiety, sometimes paralyzing, are ever present right below the surface. But then there is love! Love for creation and all mankind and even this collective suffering that brings us all together. And the love can swell so intensely that I feel my heart might burst if I don’t give it away.
Share your own story with us.
Explore Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations archive at cac.org.
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