Why there is no healing without grief

william-adolphe_bouguereau_281825-190529_-_the_day_of_the_dead_28185929
“The Day of the Dead” William-Adolphe Bouguereau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In this article from The Conversation, author Timothy Beal comments on our contemporary American scene while hearing, and calling attention to, the Spirit in the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures. As the title suggests the scriptures point to healing following grieving. ~Fr. Dan

Timothy Beal, Case Western Reserve University

For many women, people of color, LGBTQ people, Muslims and immigrants, the victory of Donald Trump seems to have endorsed discrimination against them. Acts of hatred against minorities are surfacing even more brazenly.

College campuses are reporting increasing numbers of incidents of election-related harassment and intimidation. Three days after the election, I saw a “Black Lives Matter” banner on a church wall in Denver splattered with bright red paint.

Many of us feel tremendous grief over what appears to be the end of a certain idea of American democracy. Amidst such pain and loss, many are also desperate for healing. Politicians on all sides are declaring, as Trump himself did on Nov. 9, that “it is time for America to bind the wounds of division.”

The desire to begin healing is certainly understandable. But before we can even begin to hope for healing, we need to grieve. As a scholar and teacher, I explore the many fascinating ways in which biblical images, words and even the idea of the Bible help people make meaning in their lives.

To be sure, there is a lot in the Bible about healing. But there is at least as much about grieving. The biblical tradition emphasizes the importance of grieving before moving toward healing.

To grieve is to embrace the reality of pain and loss.

The wounds are real

For many, following the elections, faith in the idea of American democracy has died. Cultural historian Neil Gabler’s “Farewell, America,” published two days after the election, expresses powerfully this sense of the end of faith in America:

“America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide…Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on Nov. 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently.”

Indeed, irrespective of who got elected, the presidential race itself exposed mortal wounds on our body politic. We are not who we thought we were.

As the way to healing, pastors and religious leaders, including Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of evangelists Billy and Ruth Graham, are calling for prayer and repentance:

“When God’s people will pray with a humble heart, repenting of our sins, then God promises He will hear our prayer; He will forgive our sin and the third element is that He will heal our land.”

What do our traditions tell us?

Healing is not possible without grieving. The biblical tradition offers an invitation to sit with sadness before reaching for hope and healing. It does not simply allow for grief – it privileges it.

It dwells uncomfortably long in the valleys of loss and despair, refusing to ascend too quickly onto horizons of hope.

The Hebrew Scriptures, in fact, possess a rich vocabulary of grief. Behind the words “grief” and “grieve,” as I found in my research, there are 13 different Hebrew words with connotations ranging from physical injury, to sickness, to mourning, to rage, to agitation, to sighing, to tottering unsteadily to and fro. The most common expressions involve a mix of emotional and physical pain in the face of loss.

Angel of Grief monument in the Hill family plot in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston, Texas.
Mike Schaffner, CC BY-NC-ND

This privileging of grief over and before any hope of healing is powerfully expressed in the words of the Hebrew biblical prophets. As theologian Walter Brueggemann shows in his book “Reality, Grief, Hope,” the biblical prophets were not, as we often assume, predictors of the future.

Rather they were poets who, like poets today, offered alternative ways of seeing things – that is, to the way the empire (in their case ancient Israel or Judah) wanted people to see things. The prophet confronted ancient Israel’s imperial ideology of special blessing and national exceptionalism with the realities of exploitation and violence upon which its prosperity was gotten.

Addressing an audience that was in total denial that there were any serious problems in their society, the prophet gave voice to the realities of injustice, and grieved the pain and loss that was the result. They confronted the people’s denial with grief.

The prophetic imagination

Consider these words from the prophet Amos, who addressed the prosperous of northern Israel during the eighth century B.C.:

   Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, 
   and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria, 
   the notables of the first of the nations ...
   Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
   and lounge on their couches ...
   but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
   Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile,
   and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

Simultaneously pronouncing judgment for their exploitation of the poor and grief over their imminent downfall, the prophet cries out in horror for those who recline in denial of their ill-gotten prosperity and “are not grieved” (from the Hebrew word “chalah,” “made sick”) at the ruin all around.

Though they are guilty, Amos nonetheless laments that they “shall now be the first to go into exile” as a result. The prophet pronounces judgment from the inside, inviting “us” to look at ourselves, to stare at the wounds, to live into the pain, not as a path to healing but as reality in and of itself.

The crux of this “prophetic imagination” is grief. Then, and only then, is it even possible for the prophet to confront the despair of the empire in ruins with hope for the possibility of healing and restoration.

Grief as activism

I am sympathetic with those who feel driven to do something, indeed to resist despair and renew the struggle for justice. As the black feminist lawyer Florynce Kennedy famously said,

“Don’t agonize. Organize.”

A ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner on a church wall in Denver splattered with bright red paint.
Timothy Beal, CC BY

But what if grief is a kind of activism? What if one of the most subversive acts right now is to give voice to our grief? To refuse to “move on”? Such grief denies denial its power to look away in desperate pursuit of healing. Just as there is no peace without justice, there is no healing without grief.

The day of Donald Trump’s election was also the anniversary of both Kristallnacht – the pogrom in 1938, when Nazi soldiers and German citizens attacked and killed many Jews and destroyed Jewish businesses, schools, and hospitals – and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

This coincidence reminds us that we together have the capacity for both atrocious horror and miraculous liberation. Even now. The difference may lie as much in how we grieve as in how we heal.

The Conversation

Timothy Beal, Professor of Religion and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, Case Western Reserve University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wind Chimes: 17 Dec 2012

Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

Those little Advent candles sure have a lot of darkness to overcome this year.  —Rachel Held Evans

Even in the darkness the wind swirls and blows and the chimes sound. In the dark, what do you hear?

God can’t be kept out – the Good News we hear in the darkness

Rachel Held Evans begins her post this way:

Those little Advent candles sure have a lot of darkness to overcome this year. I see them glowing from church windows and on TV, in homes and at midnight vigils, here in Dayton and in Sandy Hook. Their stubborn flames represent the divine promise that even the smallest light can chase away the shadows lurking in this world, that even in the darkest places, God can’t be kept out.

Later she moves to the ‘rumor’ she ‘calls out’ in the rest of her post:

We all grieve in different ways, and we must be patient with one another as we do, but there is a rumor floating around among the people of God that is so vile, so dangerous and untrue, it simply must be called out. It’s a rumor that began long before the shots rang out at Sandy Hook and long before this Advent season.

It’s the rumor that God can be chased out.

I will say my “AMEN” to her proclamation now and encourage you to read her post, God can’t be kept out. She indeed states, eloquently, what I believe and what I try to proclaim in my own stumbling way.

“God with us.” Amen: may it be as we say and even more than we imagine. ~dan

More about Rachel Held Evans

Links to online Advent Calendars

Even in tragedy, Advent continues. Perhaps this event will demand that we better incorporate the Advent spirituality into our daily lives. ~dan

Each of these has a different approach. Find one that helps you “prepare the way.” Find one that helps you focus on God as you make your way into the loving arms of God.

Trinity Wall Street Online Advent Calendar

Busted Halo Online Advent Calendar

CREDO Online Advent Calendar

Image: Armin Vogel on Flickr

Wind Chimes: 15 Dec 2012

Lit candles, ascending prayers

Even in a silence like death, the chimes sound.
We hear them in our hearts.

What do you hear?

For the children of Newtown

Author of life
Source and Creator,
Grant a perfect rest under Your tabernacle of peace
To the victims of the massacre
In Newtown, Connecticut,
Children whose lives were cut off by violence,
All who fell at the hand of anger,
A rampage beyond understanding.
The future was severed.
Hopes, joys and dreams
Lost to brutality.
May their souls be bound up in the bond of life,
A living blessing in our midst.
May they rest in peace.

G-d of mercy,
Remember, too, the survivors of this attack,
Parents,
Sisters and brothers,
Witnesses of shock, horror and dismay.
Ease their suffering and release their trauma.
Grant them endurance to survive,
Strength to rebuild,
Faith to mourn,
And courage to heal,
So that they recover lives of joy and wonder.

Remember the families and friends
Of the dead and the bereaved
With comfort and consolation.
Grant them Your protection,
Your wholeness and healing.
May they find hope and grace.

Heavenly Guide,
Source of love,
Guard the children of Newtown.
Grant them Your shelter and solace,
Blessing and renewal.
Put an end to anger, hatred and fear
And lead us to a time when
No one will suffer at the hand of another,
Speedily, in our day.

© 2012 Alden Solovy and www.tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.

Read Alden Solovy’s introduction to his prayer.

The author of this prayer, Alden Solovy, “is a liturgist, poet, teacher, editor and writing coach, … he’s a father ….” Alden is Jewish and opens to me the rich poetry of prayer that is the heritage of the Jewish Faith. He posts regularly to his blog, To Bend Light. I recommend his blog to you. This prayer/post contains links to other prayers (“sadly” he laments) written after other recent mass slayings.  ~dan

Links to online Advent Calendars

Even in tragedy, Advent continues. Perhaps this event will demand that we better incorporate the Advent spirituality into our daily lives. ~dan

Each of these has a different approach. Find one that helps you “prepare the way.” Find one that helps you focus on God as you make your way into the loving arms of God.

Trinity Wall Street Online Advent Calendar

Busted Halo Online Advent Calendar

CREDO Online Advent Calendar

Image: The Candles Spot

Wind Chimes: 1 Nov 2012

Revelation 5:8 presents the saints in heaven as linked by prayer with their fellow Christians on earth.

… you are no longer strangers and aliens,
but you are citizens with the saints
and also members of the household of God …

Ephesians 2:19 NRSV

Today is All Saints’ Day. A great day to remember those in every ago and circumstance, known to many, known only to a few, or known only to you, who have helped (or are helping) shape your faith, your service, and your love. ~dan

The chimes are glorious with sounds today. What do you hear?

We believe … in the communion of saints …

What is the communion of saints?

The communion of saints is the whole family of God the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.

“An Outline of the Faith,” The Book of Common Prayer, p. 862

The companionship of the dead

Quote . . .As we grow older we have more and more people to remember, people who have died before us. It is very important to remember those who have loved us and those we have loved. Remembering them means letting their spirits inspire us in our daily lives. They can become part of our spiritual communities and gently help us as we make decisions on our journeys. Parents, spouses, children, and friends can become true spiritual companions after they have died. Sometimes they can become even more intimate to us after death than when they were with us in life.

Remembering the dead is choosing their ongoing companionship.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. (2009-03-17). Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (p. 252, August 29). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

I sing a song of the saints of God

I sing a song of the Saints of God sung by the Choir of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco to the tune “Grand Isle”. From the album “Hymns of Grace”~

St. John on Patmos: Wikimedia Commons