The Master Class On Grief We Didn’t Ask For By Mariann Edgar Budde, excerpt published: Sojo.Net, Sojourners, August 2020 How can we live now in a way that our future selves—and generations to come—will look back with gratitude?

Posted on September 30, 2020

While we were not strangers to grief before the pandemic, these months have been something of a master class. “Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint,” writes grief counselor David Kessler. “But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed.” We are witnesses to one another’s grief.

In our witness, we must acknowledge that loss is not equally distributed. Those of us with privilege have allowed this to happen, and we have much to answer for before God; there is so much that we must work to change. And we don’t have all the time in the world.

I hear empathic grief in parents who can’t spare their children the sudden disruption of their lives and the loss of rites of passage for which they have spent years preparing. And I hear it in children of elder parents who are sick with worry, and in family members of those deemed essential workers who, by choice or compulsion, risk their lives each day. I hear it in the business owners doing everything they can to keep employees on the payroll; in teachers, caregivers, advocates, and in my fellow clergy.

Grief propels us to do whatever we can to make things better and to offer hope and meaning for those we love. Spouses stand outside nursing-home windows with signs that say “I love you”; lines of cars drive by the house of a child celebrating a birthday or graduation; concerts are organized via Instagram; volunteer networks provide food and essential supplies to undocumented families. This is grief mobilized for good, helping us to do something to redeem the time we’re in.

We all have our stories to remember when the pandemic has passed -- not that we got through it, but how – how we loved and cared for each other, how our hearts were broken open, and how we resolved to change things. Poet David Whyte asks: How can you live now such that your future self, and all who come after you, will look back with gratitude? How, in other words, can you become now the blessed saint of your future memory?

In John’s gospel, Jesus speaks to himself as a shepherd who calls us each by name and whom we follow because we recognize his voice. He also speaks of himself as a gate through we enter and find salvation. Here’s the line I invite you to dwell upon in the days to come: “Whoever enters by me will be saved. . . I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly,” he said. I wonder where and how do you need to be saved? What would it look like and how would it feel like to experience being saved now?

It’s a risky question to ask. But if we don't ask it, how can we enter a conversation with the One who calls Himself our Good Shepherd, and who promises salvation in the midst of our lives as they are and our world as it is?

This is what salvation looks like for me: when Jesus comes to me as the whispering voice, the presence of divine love. And when he encourages me and teaches me in a way of love that is merciful, forgiving, sacrificial and universal.

I believe that in Jesus' life, His suffering, death and resurrection, God reveals and invites us all to join in the divine mystery of bringing life out of death, and meaning from grief.

I believe that salvation is deeply personal, but not individual. “We will walk in the Kingdom of God together,” wrote the priest activist Daniel Berrigan, “or we won’t walk  in at all.”

We are closest to Jesus and most like Him in our grief for those we love in their suffering. That’s what propelled Him to the cross - His love and His grief for us all. This grief propels us to take on, gladly, whatever is needed to make things better, to wrench whatever meaning we can from this ruined house for love’s sake.

Followers of Jesus are not immune to human suffering, nor are we spared anxiety or grief. He never promised us that. In fact, He prepared us for the exact opposite-that like Him, ours would be the way of the cross, which is the way of salvation through suffering, not around it. In our master class on grief, He is the master teacher.



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