…….for they shall be comforted.
There is little that is more shattering to us, than the pain of loss.
And by now, it cannot have escaped our notice that the Beatitudes provide one paradox after another. Today’s is possibly the most extreme. How can it be a blessing to be in mourning? How can it be a blessing to lose a loved one, or a limb, or a job, or anything or person that would cause us to grieve?
Mourning, like poverty is a great stripper of illusions; it stops us pretending that life is other than it is.
And, in a paradoxical way, when we mourn, our tears are not only for ourselves, they are also for those we have lost.
Grief may well cause us to turn in on ourselves, but we also can be taken out of ourselves in our remembering of those who have gone from us.
Those of us who are called upon to minister to people in their time of bereavement, often witness the deep truths of human grief, out of which come springing the beginnings of comfort and compassion, which can be offered to others.
There is a funeral prayer that I like to use, which speaks of this:
Oh God of all comfort,
In the midst of pain, heal us with your love;
In the darkness of sorrow, shine upon us as the morning star.
Awaken in us the spirit of mercy, that as we feel the pain of others,
We may share with them, the comfort we receive from you.
This prayer for empathy, is grounded in the knowledge that God who comforts us when we are mourning, in turn gives us ability to comfort others in their time of grief.
But, when grief is a raw and so deep that you feel numb, and anger, or denial for a long time before the hoped for acceptance we need before we can move on.
One person whose grief was very deeply felt, was C. S. Lewis, one of the greatest Christian writers of the 20th Century. A Catholic and a convert to Christianity, who not only wrote the famous children’s adventure, Chronicles of Narnia, but many other works, on Christian theology, such as The Screwtape Letters, and based on his own grief after the death of Joy, his wife, “A Grief Observed”.
Lewis, unlike most people, was able to articulate and write about it saying,
“Grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up to this, I always had too little time. Now, there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.”
Perhaps you will identify with some, or all of what Lewis is describing.
And he in his grief was also written about by one biographer, Michael Coren, in The Man Who Created Narnia:
“This was the first time Lewis had seen a natural death. He had seen men die in war, bloody and bruised, but never seen someone decay into death. He was in a state of shock and travelled home from the hospital numb and disbelieving. He arrived (home) and told his brother, “God rest her soul,” . . . “I miss her to a degree which I would not have imagined possible.”
“Monday July 18th, was Joy’s funeral. . . . Lewis was physically and mentally exhausted, and when Joy’s name was mentioned, he would cry. Some people were surprised by this, expecting him to be some godlike figure who was immune to such commonplace grief.”
“My heart and body are crying out, come back, come back . . .But I know this is impossible. I know that the thing that I want is exactly the thing I can never get. The old life, the jokes, the drinks, the arguments, the lovemaking . . .”
And so, Lewis wrote his book, A Grief Observed. . . . about the way he felt after Joy’s death:
“At other times, it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket, between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.
There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside tries to assure me that I don’t really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man’s life. I was happy before I met her. I’ve plenty of what are called, ‘resources’. People get over these things. Come, I shan’t do so badly. One is ashamed to listen to this voice but it seems for a little to be making out a good case. Then comes a sudden jab of red-hot memory and all this “common sense” vanishes like an ant in the mouth of a furnace.”
Lewis’s writing, like others who write about grief, has helped many people find the words they wanted to express, but did not know how.
But there are other kinds of mourning. The mourning for a limb lost through accident or illness, the loss of job, or the loss of one’s faculties, either mental or physical.
Exiles mourn for places to which they belong, but where they will never return. Anything to which we might become attached, can be mourned for.
In the years following the rise of Hitler, and the coming to power of the National Socialists in Germany, Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote his powerful exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, which was translated into English and entitled The Cost Of Discipleship. In his commentary on this beatitude, and out of his own life situation in Nazi Germany, Bonhoeffer puts mourning into a larger context saying:
“ By ‘mourning’ Jesus, of course, means doing without what the world calls peace and prosperity: he means refusing to be in tune with the world or to accommodate oneself to its standards
“And so, Leith Fisher concludes, “Bonhoeffer moves us from being grief stricken to sorrow-bearing. He reminds us of the call to live in sympathy “suffering with” others; to share with them in a common human solidarity. Thus, do we offer comfort to one another?”
And so, in feeling our grief, we are once more able to offer comfort. Perhaps, this is where the blessing begins to be felt and shared, when comfort is given and received.
Many people, care about the world and its people are grieving over its condition; whether it is the environment, or the state of man’s inhumanity to man.
For, only when we grieve and mourn over a situation are we then in a position to be motivated into action to change that situation, or aspect of the world’s malaise.
Perhaps this is another way that mourning can be a source of blessing, because pain we feel, becomes the irritant that makes us need to bring about change.
Every cloud has a silver lining, and when a particle of sand or grit gets into an oyster, that is the beginning of the making of a pearl.
At first glance, there is surely no blessing in mourning. But, perhaps once the intensity of pain and shock subside, and healing has begun enough to let us acknowledge our vulnerability and ask for help to reveal the cracks our loss has caused. Then, God’s light can shine into and through our lives.
Leonard Cohen had a song in which the chorus went:
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”,
By the tears which themselves are a release of emotion, by friends who gather round, by memories that will sustain us in the years to come, but most of all, by knowing that God our Father will enfold us in His everlasting arms, and will one day, wipe every tear from every eye.Amen.