Blessed mourning: God’s Word filters loss through prism of love and eternity
Yet tears came to her eyes when she talked about Walter, her firstborn who had died 12 hours after he was born.
She remembered his blue eyes, his blond hair and a tiny birthmark on his neck. The child she lost had a large space in her heart — even 50 years and many births later.
She was my grandmother Carrie McBride. From her I learned that loved ones we have lost always linger in our memories, stirring emotions to mourn again what is beyond our grasp.
It was a long time before I made the connection between her feelings and Jesus’ parables about the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son. In them, Jesus was teaching a fundamental truth about human nature. In Jesus’ sweeping description of the human condition in the beatitudes, he recognizes mourning as one of the emotions connected to spiritual development and, paradoxically, the state of happiness.
Mourning accentuates feelings and heightens man’s ability to see life more clearly. The ancient Greeks expected tragedy to purge the emotions by arousing pity and fear over a chain of events when a heroic character goes from joy to misery. Russian novelist Dostoevsky illustrated that man often becomes insensitive to pain and suffering, that is, dehumanized. He also taught that mourning draws out feelings and sensitivity that increase our connection with the rest of mankind.
Loss in a community usually draws the community closer together.
Recently, Americans have experienced the terrorist attack at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and the deadly explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas. These events have made all Americans more thoughtful and apt to mourn.
In reality, I am not good at mourning. Our culture has few traditions to encourage mourning. Our “stiff upper lip” mindset encourages getting on with life and getting over it.
My response to mourning, like my response to most of life, is to find the words to describe circumstances graphically and then later to write more, reflecting on the events and their meaning to me and others.
But after all that, I really have not mourned. I have not put the loss through the prism of love and eternity.
Often I wonder how we would feel if we tore our clothes, dressed in sackcloth and sat in ashes as Job did.
Would removing creature comforts make us more conscious of the loss? Would deliberately making our bodies uncomfortable cause our spirits to be more open to God’s comfort?
I want to learn how to deal more effectively with loss and mourning. I don’t want to avoid my feelings, especially if those feelings can link me closer to people and to God.
I have learned to work around all those childhood lessons about big boys not crying. Even when our hearts are broken, we have to put on a smile and meet the world. Life is so busy that we are forced to move on to meet obligations and fulfill our responsibilities. No matter how empty we feel or how significant the loss, modern life pushes us along.
The possessions of our lives make us comfortable, and the people in our lives increase every thought and feeling. Losing things disturbs us. Losing a person makes us uncertain about our existence and ourselves. One poet describes death — the most profound of losses — as offering “superb vistas.” A modern novelist depicts the loneliness of being forever exiled from home, even a land of oppression and injustice. Jesus taught us to mourn over our sins and our failures to be all God prepares us to be.
Whatever we mourn has been mourned before. Philosophers and homespun observers offer many precepts for dealing with grief. But only the eternal perspective of God provides a valid view.
“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
No easy answers exist, but when we grapple with loss in the presence of God, we change and grow to be people whose vision is so enlarged that we know the comfort of God.
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