Everybody Grieves Archives — Center for Action and Contemplation
×

By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies and our Privacy Policy.

Theme:
Everybody Grieves

Everybody Grieves

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Week Thirty-One Summary and Practice

Sunday, August 1—Friday, August 6, 2021

Sunday
Because we’re human, we hurt. Because we’re human, we have tears to cry. Because we’re human, our hearts are broken. Because we’re human, we understand that loss is a universal language. Everybody grieves. —Rev. Jacqui Lewis

Monday
We must go through the stages of feeling, not only the last death but all the earlier little (and not-so-little) deaths. If we bypass these emotional stages by easy answers, all they do is take a deeper form of disguise and come out in another way.

Tuesday
The great wisdom traditions are trying to teach us that grief isn’t something to run from. It’s a liminal space, a time of transformation.

Wednesday
By leaning into the horror and yielding to the sorrow, by standing in the fire of emptiness and saying yes to the mystery, I was honoring my child and expressing my ongoing love for her. —Mirabai Starr

Thursday
Grief is our common bond. Opening to sorrow connects us with everyone, everywhere. —Francis Weller

Friday
If we are honest, we acknowledge that we are dying throughout our life, and this is what we learn if we are attentive: grace is found at the depths and in the death of everything.

 

Feeling Our Pain

We all have preferred styles of attention and ways that we perceive what is happening to us. It takes lifelong practice of what I call “mirror-wiping” to see things as they are, instead of as we are! “I” am always my first problem, and if I deal with “me,” then I can deal with other problems much more effectively. Similarly, grief work begins with cleansing the lens of my perception, and simply being “here” to what is. Buddhist teacher Cuong Lu is a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, and here he describes a practical way to be present to our pain.

Do you want to put an end to the dark thoughts racing through your mind, the pressures you feel every day, the many ways you don’t feel seen or heard? What do you really want? What do you really want to end? Your thoughts bombarding you 24/7? Your loneliness? Your despair? What do you think happens when life ends? Do you think you won’t feel anything, that you won’t suffer anymore? . . .

Instead of acting on these impulses—stop, wait, and study the details of your life: the skin on your hands, the despair in your throat, the searing currents running through your veins. Study these things as if your life depended on it. When you stay fully present with your feelings, your sensations, and the world around you, even when it seems dark and cold, joy will arise. Joy and suffering are two sides of the same coin.

The way to free yourself from pain is to feel it, not to run away, as difficult as that may be. Be a mountain and be porous at the same time. Become interested in yourself, your thoughts, your emotions, your sensations. This might not make sense now, but it will. . . .

Pain and suffering make life beautiful. This might be hard to believe while you’re suffering, but the lessons you can learn from hardships are jewels to cherish. If you’re suffering, it means you have a heart. Suffering is evidence of your capacity to love, and only those who understand suffering can understand life and help others.

The world needs your suffering, your courage, and your strength. Don’t try to kill your pain. Share it with another, communicate it. If the first person you talk to isn’t the right one, find someone else. Somebody somewhere wants to listen to your pain, to connect with you and understand you. When you find them, when you lighten your burden and discover the jewels and joy that are alive beneath the pain, later you’ll be present for others who are suffering.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Cuong Lu, Wait: A Love Letter to Those in Despair (Shambhala: 2021), 12–13, 15–16.

Image credit: Dennis Cowals, Upland Taiga (detail), 1973, photograph, Alaska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Grief can feel like a wilderness—the vastness and depth of it overwhelming. We enter this wilderness to find the keys for healing, bit by bit, tree by tree, discovering and knowing our own grief spaces.
Read Full Entry

Everybody Grieves

Grace Fills in the Gaps
Friday, August 6, 2021

To experience grace is one thing; to integrate it into your life is quite another.
Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss

The following three paragraphs came to me clearly in a very short time while I was walking along the Pacific Ocean during my Lenten hermitage in 2012. I think they sum up why, for me, grace is the key to accepting all deaths—and experiencing all resurrections.

1. The goodness of God fills all the gaps of the universe, without discrimination or preference. God is the gratuity of absolutely everything. God is the “Goodness Glue,” the love that holds the dark and light of things together, the free energy that carries all death across the Great Divide and transmutes it into Life. Grace is what God does to keep all things God has made in love and alive—forever. Grace is not something God gives; grace is who God is. If we are to believe the primary witnesses, an unexplainable goodness is at work in the universe.

2. Death is not just our one physical dying, but it is going to the full depth, hitting the bottom, going the distance, beyond where I am in control, and always beyond where I am now. We all die eventually; we have no choice in the matter. But there are degrees of death before the final physical one. If we are honest, we acknowledge that we are dying throughout our life, and this is what we learn if we are attentive: grace is found at the depths and in the death of everything. After these smaller deaths, we know that the only “deadly sin” is to swim on the surface of things, where we never see, find, or desire God or love. This includes even the surface of religion, which might be the worst danger of all. Thus, we must not be afraid of falling, failing, going “down.”

3. When we go to the full depths and death, sometimes even the depths of our sin, we can always come out the other side—and the word for that is resurrection. Something or someone builds a bridge for us, recognizable only from the far side, that carries us willingly, or even partly unwilling, across. All that we hear from reputable and reliable sources (mystics, shamans, near-death visitors, and nearing-death experiences) indicates no one is more surprised and delighted than the traveler himself or herself. Something or someone seems to fill the tragic gap between death and life, but only at the point of no return. None of us crosses over by our own effort or merits, purity, or perfection. We are all—from pope, to president, to princess, to peasant—carried across by an uncreated and unearned grace. Worthiness is never the ticket, only deep desire, and the ticket is given in the desiring. The tomb is always finally empty. There are no exceptions to death, and there are no exceptions to grace. And I believe, with good evidence, that there are no exceptions to resurrection. Love truly is stronger than death.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 242–244.

Story from Our Community:
My husband of fifty-one years died in our bed as I lay there beside him. I hadn’t discovered his death until I woke up. I looked at him, my heart broken, and my future suddenly and permanently changed. In the depth of my grief, I hung onto the joy in my soul, and was able to accept what was real, and move forward. I wept many times over his death and the hole he left in my soul. However, my foundational joy of being alive, of being a part of this magnificent, mysterious world, and of remembering him as he had been, keeps me rejoicing in life and in my connection to the Great Spirit of the Universe. —Shirley R.

Image credit: Dennis Cowals, Upland Taiga (detail), 1973, photograph, Alaska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Grief can feel like a wilderness—the vastness and depth of it overwhelming. We enter this wilderness to find the keys for healing, bit by bit, tree by tree, discovering and knowing our own grief spaces.
Read Full Entry

Everybody Grieves

An Accumulation of Losses
Thursday, August 5, 2021

Psychotherapist and author Francis Weller has studied grief for decades and has developed many rituals and methods to help individuals and communities heal from their losses. Here he explores how we often attempt to keep grief separate from our lives, and how welcoming our grief can open us to compassion. Weller writes:

No one escapes suffering in this life. None of us is exempt from loss, pain, illness, and death. How is it that we have so little understanding of these essential experiences? How is it that we have attempted to keep grief separated from our lives and only begrudgingly acknowledge its presence at the most obvious of times, such as a funeral? “If sequestered pain made a sound,” Stephen Levine says, “the atmosphere would be humming all the time.” [1]

It is the accumulated losses of a lifetime that slowly weigh us down—the times of rejection, the moments of isolation when we felt cut off from the sustaining touch of comfort and love. It is an ache that resides in the heart, the faint echo calling us back to the times of loss. We are called back, not so much to make things right, but to acknowledge what happened to us. Grief asks that we honor the loss and, in doing so, deepen our capacity for compassion. When grief remains unexpressed, however, it hardens, becomes as solid as a stone. We, in turn, become rigid and stop moving in rhythm with the soul. . . . When our grief stagnates, we become fixed in place, unable to move and dance with the flow of life. Grief is part of the dance.

As we begin to pay attention, we notice that grief is never far from our awareness. We become aware of the many ways it arrives in our daily lives. It is the blue mood that greets us upon waking. It is the melancholy that shades the day in muted tones. It is the recognition of time’s passing, the slow emptying of our days. It is the searing pain that erupts when someone close to us dies—a parent, a partner, a child, a beloved pet. It is the confounding grief when our life circumstances are shattered by the unexpected—the phone rings with news of a biopsy; we find ourselves suddenly without work, uncertain as to how we will support our family; our partner decides one day that the marriage is over. We tumble and fall as the ground beneath us opens, shaken by violent rumblings. Grief enfolds our lives, drops us close to the earth, reminding us of our inevitable return to the dark soil. . . .

It is essential for us to welcome our grief, whatever form it takes. When we do, we open ourselves to our shared experiences in life. Grief is our common bond. Opening to our sorrow connects us with everyone, everywhere. There is no gesture of kindness that is wasted, no offering of compassion that is useless. We can be generous to every sorrow we see. It is sacred work.

References:
[1] Stephen Levine, Unattended Sorrow: Recovering from Loss and Reviving the Heart (Rodale Press: 2005), 6.

Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief (North Atlantic Books: 2015), 19–20, 70.

Story from Our Community:
My husband of fifty-one years died in our bed as I lay there beside him. I hadn’t discovered his death until I woke up. I looked at him, my heart broken, and my future suddenly and permanently changed. In the depth of my grief, I hung onto the joy in my soul, and was able to accept what was real, and move forward. I wept many times over his death and the hole he left in my soul. However, my foundational joy of being alive, of being a part of this magnificent, mysterious world, and of remembering him as he had been, keeps me rejoicing in life and in my connection to the Great Spirit of the Universe. —Shirley R.

Image credit: Dennis Cowals, Upland Taiga (detail), 1973, photograph, Alaska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Grief can feel like a wilderness—the vastness and depth of it overwhelming. We enter this wilderness to find the keys for healing, bit by bit, tree by tree, discovering and knowing our own grief spaces.
Read Full Entry

Everybody Grieves

Good Grief
Wednesday, August 4, 2021

When someone you love very much dies, the sky falls. And so you walk around under a fallen sky. —Mirabai Starr, Caravan of No Despair

My dear friend Mirabai Starr has suffered many losses in her life, including that of her fourteen-year-old daughter Jenny, which Mirabai writes about with profound vulnerability and wisdom.

There is no map for the landscape of loss, no established itinerary, no cosmic checklist, where each item ticked off gets you closer to success. You cannot succeed in mourning your loved ones. You cannot fail. Nor is grief a malady, like the flu. You will not get over it. You will only come to integrate your loss. . . . The death of a beloved is an amputation. You find a new center of gravity, but the limb does not grow back.

Richard here: Death cannot be dealt with through quick answers, religious platitudes, or a stiff upper lip. Grief is not a process that can be rushed but must be allowed to happen over time and in its own time. Mirabai recounts that the most important step she took was giving herself permission to mourn in the first place:

With reticence at first, and then with mounting courage, I dared to mourn my child. From the very beginning I suspected that something holy was happening and that if I were to push it away, I would regret it for the rest of my life. There was this sense of urgency, as if turning from death meant turning from my child. I wanted to offer Jenny the gift of my commitment to accompany her on her journey away from me, even if to do so simply meant dedicating my heartbeat and my breath to her and paying attention.

And so I showed up.

When a feeling I did not think I could survive would threaten to engulf me, I practiced turning toward it with the arms of my soul outstretched, and then my heart would unclench a little and make space for the pain. Years of contemplative practice had taught me just enough to know better than to believe everything I think—how to shift from regretting the past and fearing the future to abiding with what is. In this case, a totally [messed up] thing. The ultimate [messed up] thing. I sat with that.

I did not engage in this practice to prove something to myself or anyone else. I was not interested in flexing my spiritual muscles. I did it for Jenny. My willingness to stay present through this process was an act of devotion. By leaning into the horror and yielding to the sorrow, by standing in the fire of emptiness and saying yes to the mystery, I was honoring my child and expressing my ongoing love for her. It was not mere mindfulness practice; it was heartfulness practice.

Every individual has their own journey through grief and loss. Mirabai is an example of how we can courageously face and feel our grief in a way that honors the gift of life we have been given. 

Reference:
Mirabai Starr, Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation (Sounds True: 2015), 227, 223–224.

Story from Our Community:
In March 2019, my 40-year-old daughter passed away suddenly. It felt as though I had been flung over a rocky cliff and fell headlong into a dark abyss of grief. Then came the realization that all attempts at controlling this temporal life are fallacy. Slowly too, came the sense of being held by both death and resurrection, that which is unknowable but still somehow known, and awakened to the eternality of God, whom I call the Present Now of all Love. —Linda C.

Image credit: Dennis Cowals, Upland Taiga (detail), 1973, photograph, Alaska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Grief can feel like a wilderness—the vastness and depth of it overwhelming. We enter this wilderness to find the keys for healing, bit by bit, tree by tree, discovering and knowing our own grief spaces.
Read Full Entry

Everybody Grieves

The Gift of Tears
Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The human instinct is to block suffering and pain. This is especially true in the West where we have been influenced by the “rationalism” of the Enlightenment. As anyone who has experienced grief can attest, it isn’t rational. We really don’t know how to hurt! We simply do not know what to do with our pain.

The great wisdom traditions are trying to teach us that grief isn’t something from which to run. It’s a liminal space, a time of transformation. In fact, we can’t risk getting rid of the pain until we’ve learned what it has to teach us and it—grief, suffering, loss, pain—always has something to teach us! Unfortunately, most of us, men especially, have been taught that grief and sadness are something to repress, deny, or avoid. We would much rather be angry than sad.

Perhaps the simplest and most inclusive definition of grief is “unfinished hurt.” It feels like a demon spinning around inside of us and it hurts too much, so we immediately look for someone else to blame. We have to learn to remain open to our grief, to wait in patient expectation for what it has to teach us. When we close in too tightly around our sadness or our grief, when we try to fix it, control it, or understand it, we only deny ourselves its lessons.

Saint Ephrem the Syrian (303–373), a Doctor of the Church, considered tears to be sacramental signs of divine mercy. He instructs: “Give God weeping, and increase the tears in your eyes; through your tears and [God’s] goodness the soul which has been dead will be restored.” [1] What a different kind of human being than most of us! In the charismatic circles in which I participated in my early years of ministry, holy tears were a common experience. Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi reportedly wept all the time—for days on end!

The “weeping mode” really is a different way of being in the world. It’s different than the fixing, explaining, or controlling mode. We are finally free to feel the tragedy of things, the sadness of things. Tears cleanse the lens of the eyes so we can begin to see more clearly. Sometimes we have to cry for a very long time because our eyes are so dirty that we’re not seeing truthfully or well at all. Tears only come when we realize we can’t fix it and we can’t change it. The situation is absurd, it’s unjust, it’s wrong, it’s impossible. She should not have died; he should not have died. How could this happen? Only when we are led to the edges of our own resources are we finally free to move to the weeping mode.

The way we can tell our tears have cleansed us is that afterwards we don’t need to blame anybody, even ourselves. It’s an utter transformation and cleansing of the soul, and we know it came from God. It is what it is, and somehow God is in it.

References:
[1] Ephrem, sermon on Isaiah 26:10, in Penthos: The Doctrine of Compunction in the Christian East, by Irénée Hausherr, trans. Anselm Hufstader (Cistercian Publications: 1982), 29.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Beloved Sons Series: Men and Grief (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2005), CD, MP3 audio.

Story from Our Community:
In March 2019, my 40-year-old daughter passed away suddenly. It felt as though I had been flung over a rocky cliff and fell headlong into a dark abyss of grief. Then came the realization that all attempts at controlling this temporal life are fallacy. Slowly too, came the sense of being held by both death and resurrection, that which is unknowable but still somehow known, and awakened to the eternality of God, whom I call the Present Now of all Love. —Linda C.

Image credit: Dennis Cowals, Upland Taiga (detail), 1973, photograph, Alaska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Grief can feel like a wilderness—the vastness and depth of it overwhelming. We enter this wilderness to find the keys for healing, bit by bit, tree by tree, discovering and knowing our own grief spaces.
Read Full Entry

Everybody Grieves

The Devastation of Grief
Monday, August 2, 2021

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we find Job moving through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s well-known stages of grief and dying: denial, anger, bargaining, resignation, and acceptance. The first seven days of Job’s time on the “dung heap” of pain are spent in silence, the immediate response matching the first stage—denial. Then he reaches the anger stage, verses in the Bible in which Job shouts and curses at God. He says, in effect, “This so-called life I have is not really life, God, it’s death. So why should I be happy?”

Perhaps some of us have been there—so hurt and betrayed, so devastated by our losses that we echo Job’s cry about the day he was born, “May that day be darkness. May God on high have no thought for it, may no light shine on it. May murk and deep shadow claim it for their own” (Job 3:4–5). It’s beautiful, poetic imagery. He’s saying: “Uncreate the day. Make it not a day of light, but darkness. Let clouds hang over it, eclipse swoop down on it.” Where God in Genesis speaks “Let there be light,” Job insists “Let there be darkness.” The day of uncreation, of anti-creation. We probably have to have experienced true depression or betrayal to understand such a feeling.

W. H. Auden expressed his grief in much the same way in his poem “Funeral Blues,” which ends with these lines:

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good. [1]

There’s a part of each of us that feels and speaks that sadness. Not every day, thank goodness. But if we’re willing to feel and participate in the pain of the world, part of us will suffer that kind of despair. If we want to walk with Job, with Jesus, and in solidarity with much of the world, we must allow grace to lead us there as the events of life show themselves. I believe this is exactly what we mean by conformity to Christ.

We must go through the stages of feeling, not only the last death but all the earlier little (and not-so-little) deaths. If we bypass these emotional stages by easy answers, all they do is take a deeper form of disguise and come out in another way. Many people learn the hard way—by getting ulcers, by all kinds of internal diseases, depression, addictions, irritability, and misdirected anger—because they refuse to let their emotions run their course or to find some appropriate place to share them.

I am convinced that people who do not feel deeply finally do not know deeply either. It is only because Job is willing to feel his emotions that he is able to come to grips with the mystery in his head and heart and gut. He understands holistically and therefore his experience of grief becomes both whole and holy.

References:
[1] W. H. Auden, “Funeral Blues,” Another Time (Faber and Faber: 1940), 91.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Job and the Mystery of Suffering: Spiritual Reflections (Crossroad: 1996), 53–55.

Story from Our Community:
I’ve been beating myself up for how angry I’ve been feeling, and how over the top my reactions have been. Grief and hurt are deep and wide with the need to “do something” keeping me awake at night. Fear and anxiety, sometimes paralyzing, are ever present right below the surface. But then there is love! Love for creation and all mankind and even this collective suffering that brings us all together. And the love can swell so intensely that I feel my heart might burst if I don’t give it away. —Carolyn L.

Image credit: Dennis Cowals, Upland Taiga (detail), 1973, photograph, Alaska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Grief can feel like a wilderness—the vastness and depth of it overwhelming. We enter this wilderness to find the keys for healing, bit by bit, tree by tree, discovering and knowing our own grief spaces.
Read Full Entry

Everybody Grieves

Vulnerability: A Divine Condition
Sunday, August 1, 2021

We live in a finite world where everything is dying, shedding its strength. This is hard to accept, and all our lives we look for exceptions to it. We look for something certain, strong, undying, and infinite. Religion tells us that the “something” for which we search is God. But many of us envisioned God as strong, complete, and all-powerful—a God removed from suffering. In Jesus, God comes along to show us: “Even I suffer. Even I participate in the finiteness of this world.”

After two thousand years, Jesus is still a revolutionary symbol, revelation, and reality. He turned theology upside down and taught, in effect: God is not who you think God is. The enfleshment and suffering of Jesus reveals that God is not apart from the trials of humanity. God is not aloof. God is not a spectator. God is not merely tolerating human suffering or instantly just healing it. God is participating with us in it. Living it alongside us and with us. That is what gives us eternal purpose and hope. Like Job, we sometimes feel as if our flesh is being torn off and yet we do not die (Job 19:26). Through encountering the Living God in our pain, we can experience another kind of life, another kind of freedom.

Pain and beauty constitute the two faces of God. On the one hand we are attracted to the unbelievable beauty of the divine reflected in the beauty of human beings and the natural world. On the other hand, brokenness and weakness also mysteriously pull us out of ourselves. We feel them both together.

Only vulnerability forces us beyond ourselves. Whenever we see true pain, most of us are drawn out of our own preoccupations and want to take away the pain. For example, when we rush toward a hurting child, we also rush toward the suffering God. We want to take the suffering in our arms. That’s why so many saints wanted to get near suffering—because as they said again and again, they meet Christ there. It “saved” them from their smaller untrue self.

My friend the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis preaches about the gift of this two-fold path:

I think grief puts us in touch with our vulnerabilities. I think the feeling of grief lets us know the power of wounds to shape our stories. I think it lets us know how capable we are of having our hearts broken and our feelings hurt. I think it lets us know the link that we each have because we’re human. Because we’re human, we hurt. Because we’re human, we have tears to cry. Because we’re human, our hearts are broken. Because we’re human, we understand that loss is a universal language. Everybody grieves. All of humanity grieves. All of us have setbacks, broken dreams. All of us have broken relationships or unrealized possibilities. All of us have bodies that just don’t do what they used to do. Though grief is personal, every person grieves. [1]

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Job and the Mystery of Suffering: Spiritual Reflections (Crossroad: 1996), 25, 182–183.

[1] Jacqui Lewis, “Good Grief,” sermon at Middle Church, July 9, 2017.

Story from Our Community:
I’ve been beating myself up for how angry I’ve been feeling, and how over the top my reactions have been. Grief and hurt are deep and wide with the need to “do something” keeping me awake at night. Fear and anxiety, sometimes paralyzing, are ever present right below the surface. But then there is love! Love for creation and all mankind and even this collective suffering that brings us all together. And the love can swell so intensely that I feel my heart might burst if I don’t give it away. —Carolyn L.

Image credit: Dennis Cowals, Upland Taiga (detail), 1973, photograph, Alaska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Grief can feel like a wilderness—the vastness and depth of it overwhelming. We enter this wilderness to find the keys for healing, bit by bit, tree by tree, discovering and knowing our own grief spaces.
Read Full Entry
Join Our Email Community

Stay up to date on the latest news and happenings from Richard Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation.


HTML spacer