Why there is no healing without grief

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“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.

Many Sightings of Hope

This essay, by Martin E. Marty, was originally posted on January 2, 2017 on “Sightings: Religion in Public Life” by The Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion

For more than a year I engaged in the visual and oral analog to “fasting.” Fasters discipline themselves not to eat. I chose not to comment on the election campaigns. A digital word-search will find no mention in 50 Monday Sightings of any presidential candidate or party. The choice was an implicit protest against or retreat from the grossness, waste, distortion, and distraction in what elections have become. Now the bad year of 2016 is past, and it is time to join everyone else in the sighting-and-commentary professions and to re-emerge actively.

What struck me all year was the sense and sight of extreme despair on many fronts, accompanied by some new notices of the meaning and potential of hope. The headline of a column by fellow Chicagoan Neil Steinberg was “The Necessity of Hope.” The column began with a quotation from Michelle Obama: “Now we’re feeling what not having hope feels like.” It ended: “Hopelessness is not an option. Hope is a tool, a hammer. Never let it go. You’re going to need it.”

This paralleled the long holiday essay in The Economist on “The agony of hope,” which focused on President Obama, who had written at book length on “hope,” and who kept embodying and exemplifying it against all odds, as the story recalled. The article traces the President’s career and evidences of his outlook through his bad recent year, in which he had no choice but to act and speak. Conclusion: he had to do the best he could. “Sometimes it was all he could do. The possibilities seem shrunken. After its collision with history, so might hope itself.”

You’ll want to keep reading…

Networking Hope. Let your light shine.

A candle shining in the darkEarlier I posted a link to an essay by the Rev. Dr. Rachel Marsh about having hope in 2017. Among her “four (hope-giving) things” was this:

Transformational change takes place when individual actions are networked

Often we feel despondent because it feels like our small actions are too small, that they are meaningless. But research shows that although individual changes may not lead to transformational change, networking these individual actions CAN make a difference. This is where social media can be a blessing: a small action on one side of the world can inspire groups of people to take action elsewhere. The effect is multiplied and so my small action gains significance, affirmation and inspires me to do more. —Why I have hope for 2017

Today, via the Christian Science Monitor, I found this sign of hope: From a former sex slave to a climate poet: five unsung heroes of 2016. The article highlights the work of 5 individuals in places most of us will never visit. We know of their work because of the internet/social media.

May those doing similar work, may we who are able to support them by prayer, solidarity, and financial resources, continue to network in hope and courage, and for the common good. ~Fr. Dan

For further reading (keep learning)

Why I have hope for 2017 | ACNS

The Rev. Dr. Rachel Marsh
The Rev. Dr. Rachel Marsh

In a blog post for the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) the Rev. Dr. Rachel Marsh sets out “four things” that give her hope in 2017. I’m with her in being filled with hope; I especially liked “thing” #3. ~Fr. Dan

Was 2016 the year that fear and hatred won? Looking to the future, many people are filled with concern, particularly about the environment – a cause close to my heart. … We feel powerless – powerless to stop governments who say climate change is a myth; powerless to stop its impact on the most vulnerable.

And yet, we are people of faith. What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead. (Hebrews 11:1 Living Bible). We know what we want to happen. How can we be assured it will happen?

Here are four things that give me hope for 2017.

Read for yourself the four things that give Rev. Marsh hope.

 

But Grace Awaits – Bishop’s Blog

Bishop Prior is the Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota. I commend his Advent meditation to you.

The Advent season invites us, dare I say challenges us, to NOT fill our waiting space. I know that sounds incredibly inefficient at best and uncomfortable at worst. However, when we allow our waiting space to be an empty place, in my experience, God’s grace begins to seep into our souls.

Source: But Grace Awaits – Bishop’s Blog

Against the brutal urge

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As day dawns in California details continue to emerge about the brutality of yet another mass shooting in our nation. The lament that this is becoming too “normal” is gaining volume. When will our leaders hear the lament?

Prayers multiply. Action to reign in gun violence by gun control has yet to reach the ‘tipping point’ and yet it is the hope and the work of many more each day: to be the voice, to join the work, that begins to control the proliferation of arms in our neighborhoods and communities; it is the further hope of many to be the voice and join the work of nurturing dignity, respect, and peace in our neighborhoods and communities.

How about you, what do you hear? What is the movement of the Spirit within you?

Here is one Pastor’s Response:

Dearly Beloved,

Grace and Peace to you.

Against the brutal urge
only a mass of gentle people
will be effective.

Against the deep night
which is not bottomless after all
only light will bring release.

Read the entire post on Unfolding Light, the blog of Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes. And, listen for the Spirit.

What do you hear?

If you’ve not encountered  (Pastor) Steve Garnaas-Holmes yet, let this be your introduction. Upon hearing these words from Luke…

Prepare the way of the Lord, make a straight path for God. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. —Luke 3.4-6

… Steve heard a prayer and shared it:

God of love, take my heart and change it.

Take what is rough in me and let it become gentle.

Take my fear and let it become wonder.

Read the entire prayer

And you, what do you hear?

Visit Steve’s Blog: Unfolding Light