We don’t become hopeful by talking about hope. We become hopeful by entering darkness and waiting for light.
As part of my parish visitations each Sunday, I meet with vestry members. We typically focus on the congregation’s ministry and whatever joys and concerns those gathered would like to share. I love these conversations and am often humbled by what I hear.
Last Sunday I brought with me a Blessing Bowl for Meaningful Moments, a simple tool that encourages personal reflection. The bowl contains small stones, each symbolizing a particular experience, such as an occasion for gratitude, a mountain high or valley low, a quest or adventure, a sacred moment, an ending or beginning, or a time of grief.
I started by sharing that a young woman whom I had baptized and known as a child died unexpectedly last week and how I was holding the deep grief of her family and friends. I hadn’t planned to talk about her before I came, nor for our conversation to center around grief. But others spoke at length about the loss of a family member, the effects of prolonged illness, and worries that kept them up at night.
Some shared moments of gratitude and even adventure. Yet grief hovered over us all, if not for ourselves, then for someone close, and certainly as we watch yet another nation engulfed in war. Later the rector told me that he was not aware of the depth of sorrow so many were carrying. We agreed that we rarely know the burdens that others bear, even those closest us.
We are surrounded by grief. Sometimes it touches us personally, other times we are its witnesses. “Sorrow is so woven through us, so much a part of our souls,” writes the poet Christian Wiman, “that every experience is dyed with its color.”1
What are we to do with the pain?
If you’re in church on Sunday, you will hear a vignette from Jesus’ long walk from Galilee to Jerursalem. At a resting place near his destination, a group of Pharisees warns him to turn back, for King Herod wanted him dead. Jesus dismisses them out of hand.
But then something happens that gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ heart: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he cries out, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:31-35)
This is Jesus’ lament for the people he loves, and also for himself. It doesn’t surprise or seem to bother him that religious and political authorities are hostile. But imagine his pain at the rejection and indifference from those he had hoped to heal and to save.
What did Jesus do with his grief?
First, he allows himself to feel it, and to cry out loud. He offers himself the same compassion he so freely gave to others, and honors his pain.
Then, after his tears are spent, Jesus gets up and continues on. He knows what will happen if he continues to Jerusalem, but he goes anyway. He knows that while Herod would be the one ultimately to sentence him to death, the people he loves will also play a part in his demise. But he loves them anyway.
We all need time and space to grieve, and to be there for others in their sorrow. On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus took the time he needed. Surely you and I can do the same, for ourselves and all who are hurting now. Then by grace we rise and keep going.
1Quoted in The Gift of Hard Things: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places, by Mark Yaconelli (Downers Grove, IL, 2016) 95.