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Vulnerability: A Divine Condition

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.
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