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Reflection June 7, 2020
"A Time to Mourn" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
We hear from the Book of Ecclesiastes that there is “a time to mourn.” Today is such a time. Because human nature is the way it is, I’m never very optimistic about the systemic change we need so desperately.
Maybe I’ve seen too much in my many years of life, ministry, and time given to peace and justice. Hope is hard to cling to as we witness again the abuse of power endemic to our culture and to our common humanity. Power always corrupts at least some who wield it.
Unsurprisingly, we look for someone to blame for our current crisis. It’s appalling that at the highest level of our national leadership, we find the misguided need to blame, as if finding someone to blame solves the problem. Blaming never solves anything. What blaming does is muddy the waters since it’s a flaw in our very nature that’s ultimately to blame. Blaming is what children do. The fault, as is so often the case, lies within ourselves.
In the famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 and following) we hear Jesus proclaim: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Mourning highlights various losses and human tragedies. Today we mourn those killed unjustly and the families who suffer such deaths. A time to mourn!
I recall an era when it was clear who was in mourning and who was not. A widow, for instance, wore black, for a year or two after her husband’s death. My maternal grandmother, Molly, in Ireland wore black for the rest of her life after my grandfather, Thomas’ death. I never saw a colored piece of clothing on my grandmother. She was always dressed in “widow’s weeds.” I have to admit that my grandmother scared me. And, yes, my recently departed cat, Molly, was named for her.
In those bygone days, black-colored clothes were worn mainly by those in mourning. Those in mourning were easily identified. Black was not a fashionable color then as it has been for some time now. Today it’d be fitting for all of us to be dressed in black. We’re all in mourning.
The psychotherapist Miriam Greenspan notes in “Healing Through the Dark Emotions”: “When it comes to the dark emotions, we are all experienced sufferers: grief, despair, and fear are our human birthright as much as joy, wonder, and love. There is no life without loss and therefore no life without grief. There is no life without vulnerability and therefore no life without fear. So long as we live in a world where terror, violence, environmental degradation, injustice, and scarcity exist, despair will find its unwelcome way into our hearts and souls.”
As we mourn, it’s hard not to fall into despair. “About 20 million Americans are clinically depressed …. 20% of the population (roughly 60 million people) are active alcoholics. Millions more are addicted to illegal substances.” (Greenspan)
It’s clear many of our fellow citizens are struggling. I believe some of the problem rests in our often-neglected need to mourn. What we’ve witnessed recently in Minneapolis leads us to mourning.
In the beatitudes, Jesus assures us that if we mourn, God will comfort us. But we can never come to the place of divine consolation without trudging through the rocky fields of human woe. First comes mourning, then comes consolation.
We worship at the foot of the cross, one of the cruelest methods of execution ever devised. We gaze into the brutalized face of someone targeted because of his honesty, targeted because of his unselfishness, targeted because of his love, targeted because of his loyalty to God.
As the recently departed theologian Johann Baptist Metz wrote: “Is there possibly too much singing and not enough crying out in our Christian spirituality? Too much rejoicing and too little mourning, too much acceptance and too little regret, too much comfort and too little hunger for consolation?”
Mourning seems a taboo subject. Part of the reason for this may be that mourning keeps the pain of the past, the problems of the past, the sin of the past ever before our eyes. No wonder so many people flee from mourning. Who wants to be reminded of pains past and the uncountable wounds we encounter in our lives?
But we most first mourn if we’re to receive the comfort and consolation we need. It was the psychoanalyst Carl Jung who famously said that much unnecessary suffering is born into our world because people refuse to accept the “legitimate suffering” that comes from being human. In other words, we bring even more suffering unto our heads when we refuse to acknowledge “legitimate suffering.”
The spiritual writer Richard Rohr notes in Falling Upward: “Holy sadness … is the price your soul pays for opening to the new and the unknown in yourself and in the world.” Rohr goes on to say: “(In working with men), we have found that in many (men) (the) inability or refusal to feel their deep sadness takes the form of aimless anger. The only way to get to the bottom of their anger is to face the ocean of sadness underneath it … Men are not free to cry, so they transmute their tears into anger … (so) we all end up with a lot of sad and angry … men.” Certainly this is worth pondering.
We need to help each other mourn. When we mourn, we weep and wail over the hurts, the injustices, the sins that plague us and our world and the unsettling apparent silence of God. The Letter to the Hebrews states: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death because of his reverent submission.” (Hebrews: 5:7)
Jesus prayed to God with loud cries and tears and God heard him. If cries and tears were good enough for Jesus, if his cries and tears saved him from death, then, by God, we should follow his example. God is always listening always paying attention to our mourning. Blessed are we who mourn, for we will be comforted.
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor