Friday, May 12, 2017

Being In The Beatitudes: Beginning Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

"Melancholy" by Edvard Munch

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." 

"It is well with those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

I must admit, meditating on, studying, praying and trying to live out the second of the Beatitudes was not one I was looking forward to starting this week. How many of us truly want to stop and focus on the subject of mourning and what it really means to? We live in a culture that's obsessed with personal happiness (to an unhealthy and destructive degree) and we tend to want to avoid anything to do with mourning and lament. 

When people are grieving a loss, we often expect them to get over it and get on with their lives - or at least to project that they are. We are uncomfortable with grief, with loss, with mourning. And with those who are going through mourning, we struggle to know how to act, what to say or what to do. Many avoid those who are suffering because it's too awkward and uncomfortable.

Christ knew how to laugh and celebrate and have a good time, enjoying a meal and fellowship. But he also deeply understood sorrow and mourning. The prophet Isaiah refers to Christ as "a man of suffering" and "familiar with pain" and "deepest grief." He wept over Lazarus and over Jerusalem. Yet many Christians prefer the joy and want to skip over the suffering, the pain, the sorrow, the mourning and the lamenting. Pass the pain! Mountaintops only, please. We believe it shows weakness and, maybe, even a lack of faith to be caught in loss, loneliness, and sorrow.

Psychologists are even finding that so many in our modern society do not know how to grieve.
More often than not, people today want to ignore or push past their feelings and find mourning to be uncomfortable and unfamiliar. This is unhealthy and can cause further problems later on.

Mourning requires us to be vulnerable. It means we have to admit. "I'm hurting and I don't have it all together right now."  Mourning means we have to take off our masks and reveal how hurt we really are. And we, in the Church, need to be able to hold that hurt. Too often, I have seen those who are suffering a loss, avoided by others who pretend not to see them or barely speak to them before dashing off to talk to someone else. The Church should be the place where our woundedness is welcomed, where our sorrow is a sacrament, where our tears are prayers of lament.

Recently, I was asked. "Why do  you think God has allowed you to go through depression?"

"To give me greater empathy for others who are suffering," I replied. And it's true. All of the struggles have made me more compassionate, made me not turn away from those who are hurting. Our hearts, like Christ's, are meant to be broken open to the suffering of others. As the Church, we are meant to be open to the wounds of the world. It's why I lament what has been going on in places like Syria and Yemen. 

Yet, as I am beginning to approach this verse in Matthew this week, I began to reflect on what I am mourning in my own life. Certainly, as the Papa to an adoptive son, I mourn the childhood he didn't have and the one that he did. I mourn the pain and suffering it has and continues to have on him.

"Blessed are (or "It is well with") those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" reveal to us that God not only sees our suffering but enters into it with us. Nicolas Wolterstorff writes in his book Lament for a Son:

God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers.
The pain and fallenness of humanity have entered into his heart.
Through the prism of my tears I have seen a suffering God.
It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live.
I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor
and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see
his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor.

Psalm 34:18 reminds us of this, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed."

To be comforted, we must mourn. Only when we mourn are we given the promise that God will, indeed, comfort us. Why? Because mourning is healing. Mourning is releasing the suffering. Tears are our prayers that God treasures so much that He keeps them (Psalm 56:8). Not a single tear is unnoticed or forgotten. Someone who understood this was Elisabeth Eliot.  Her husband was the missionary Jim Eliot, who was speared to death by the very tribe he was ministering to, After his murder, she would go to Quito, Ecuador to minister herself to the very people who killed her husband. From this she wrote these words, "Out of the deepest pain comes the greatest sense of the presence of God and the love of God."

"Blessed are those who mourn" is a promise that God will come close to us in our sorrows, that this is His very nature. The Greek word for comfort paraklethesontai comes from the root word parakletos meaning "the one called to be alongside us." When we mourn, God comes alongside us in our agony, our suffering, our sorrow. Matthew 5:4 is a verse that's a reminder of consolation and comfort. God feels what we feel. When we hurt, God hurts just as any good parent does when their child is suffering. He enters into solidarity with us when we mourn.

So, for anyone who's suffering right now, you are not alone in this. God is there. God's heart breaks as your heart breaks. He is tender and gentle. Your tears are His tears and you will be comforted.

1 comment:

  1. That anecdote about the old woman and cashier is so moving. It would have been so easy for the younger woman to keep the walls up and just let the transaction (and the irritable person) go right on past.

    I also loved your statement "By undergoing the spiritual practice of mourning for other's suffering, we no longer try to keep sorrow from ourselves, but welcome it as a way to draw closer to both God and those we are mourning for." Beautiful. Yesterday in church we had a guest speaker who runs a drop-in for homeless people in our city. He talked about chaos and order, and how we as Christians actually NEED the chaos that "difficult" people often bring into our lives. When we do that, I think we realize the chaos is not just out there, but inside us as well. It strikes me that mourning for someone else (and for ourselves) might be one of many ways to embrace that chaos. Come to think of it, I suppose every one of the beatitudes makes a statement about embracing chaos and recognizing that God meets and blesses us there rather than demanding that we present ourselves to Him in an "orderly" way.