In taught a class at church in preparation for Lent, I suggested, after Walter Brueggemann, that one path of practice was to take up the ancient practice of lament, of grieving for that which was lost, broken or dead, as a prophetic statement on the way to hope. Little did I know how deeply that is being called for in me in this Lent. Bruggemann says that the practice of grief is counter to denial, and it “summons the city to be fully, deeply and knowingly engaged in its actual life experience.” (Reality, Grief, Hope, p, 57)
Even with that conviction I have not been prepared for the onslaught of sorrows that keep pouring forth in this season: the deaths of people from my past lives–a former student, a seminary companion, a member of my congregation. And there has been what seem like daily losses of the familiar avenues of routine–access to groceries, freedom to move about the city, gathering for worship, the natural friendly embraces on which I rely. Overlying those changes, which range from inconvenience to outright loss, is the loss of trust in what is being said in the media and from “expert” sources. What is true? on whom can I rely? for what?
The presence of the Covid-19 virus among us has exacerbated all those losses with its threat of contagion, contamination and death, I find myself in a group called “elderly,” at risk, and therefore, the loss of the cultural prize of “youth” and its privilege of place. And the threat of disease is real and unknown, hence a loss of a sense of protection and safety for myself, for those I love, for those for whom I pray.
As much as I am enculturated to glide over grief, to “just get over it,” I find myself this fourth week of Lent called to enter into this cloud, or as Rumi puts it, this “crowd of sorrows.” Rumi asks that I welcome them, even as they “violently sweep the house/empty of its furniture.” I am finding again that the Psalmist also lifts a voice, inviting lament to deep and concrete grieving. Both of these teachers demonstrate that this grieving is clearing the path to the Hope that is the final Word.
It is not lost to me that Lenten practice in some communities has often focused on penitence, on personal confession and recognition of brokenness, sorrow for sin, “things done and undone.” And in this crisis of our life and times, I am woefully aware of the ways in which I am more critical, more fearful, more selfish than what I am called to be by living in Grace. That makes me sad. I would have hoped that by my age and stage, I would be more compassionate, more trusting, more full of Grace.
So I grieve! And with the grieving, I stand in solidarity with our world, and its many particular people who suffer in so many profound ways, Rabbi Earl Grollman writes, “The only cure for grief is to grieve…there is no way to predict what you will feel.” I pray my grief–with the Psalms, with poetry, with music, with walking the labyrinth. And I am sure that grief is not the last Word.
I am free to grieve, because I grieve with Hope in mind. Actually that is the endgame of this entire cloudy Lent–there is Resurrection at the end! There are no final defeats! God keeps my tears in a bottle, as I cleanse the way for the Light to arise! I am giving my grief its due, but only its due!