During the last several months, I’ve often addressed Transitions and the challenges of living in an “Interim Time.” As a world, nation, community, and individuals, our way of life as we knew it has ended. We have not yet arrived in a new normal. Meanwhile, as we experience a deep sense of loss, we can name the process in which we find ourselves: Grief.
Grief is our reaction to all kinds of loss in life. Think about how disrupted and disoriented you’ve felt in your own losses, great and small: in the death of a loved one, loss of a job or home or financial resources, miscarriage, a move, independence, or a loss of relationship or identity. These days, we may be experiencing loss as the inability to gather with family or friends, the challenges of school or work via Zoom, the isolation of social distancing, or the loss of many normal aspects of everyday life.
In the midst of these losses, we may not consider our reactions as “grief.” American culture seems to be “grief-averse.” We avoid vulnerability or any perceived sign of “weakness.” However, naming, accepting, and moving through grief actually requires courage! It takes a brave person to endure painful feelings and tears – our own and others!
Grief is a natural, normal reaction to loss. We all grieve, but we need to remember that each individual’s grief is unique. We do not need others to “get” or validate our sense of loss in order to experience grief and move through the process of grieving. So how does one express grief?
First, name your loss. Express your feelings to a friend or a pastor. Then, having discovered how healing it is to share your grief, be intentional about being on the receiving, listening, end.
We tend to make listening more difficult than it is! According to St. Benedict, listening simply means listening for God’s presence and voice in our lives. As we practice “listening with the ear of our heart,” we become the listening presence of Christ for others.
Benedictine spirituality emphasizes a “ministry of presence,” in which every Christian is equipped to participate. All of us can make ourselves fully available for listening to, and non-judgmentally receiving, another person’s story of loss!
Benedictine listening involves listening silently, refraining from comment! It means listening non-judgmentally, without needing to fix or to stop that person’s pain. It means validating how that person feels, and simply being with that person as they grieve. It is trusting that your presence, that Christ’s Spirit of Love within you, is enough.
Moving forward through grief, through this wilderness of sorts that we find ourselves in, you might try a few simple, daily spiritual practices:
- Practice centering prayer, or meditation. Simply sit still and intend to listen for God’s presence “with the ear of your heart.” Simply repeat a word or verse with the rhythm of your deep breathing. Practice listening and receiving God’s love and presence.
- Try going outside and being with God in creation. Walk and breathe deeply.
- Express your sense of loss to God in prayer. Journal about it. And try expressing your grief to a trusted friend.
- Make a point to reach out and encourage your friends, family, or other parishioners to express their feelings and sense of loss to you. Be silent, and listen as Christ’s presence.
Grief has a purpose. We need to acknowledge loss and enter actively into a process of adapting to it. While it is expected and even healthy to lament, if we persist in seeing the world as it was before the loss, we will be blind to a new reality. However, if we learn to name losses and enter willingly into a process of grieving and listening to one another, then grief can be transformational and healing. Grieving can lead to renewed hope and a deeper faith. In the words of St. Paul:
“Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us…”
Yes, most of us feel disappointed these days. Many are experiencing a sense of great loss – both personal and communal. We’re not finding much that’s redemptive in the current maelstrom of sickness, economic hardship, incivility, racial injustice, and mob violence.
As we practice this ministry of presence, of listening for Christ in our own hearts and in one another’s stories, we will recall that Love Incarnate has already triumphed over suffering and death. Our losses are in the process of being redeemed. Hope does not disappoint! Love wins!
Rev. Dr. Lynn Ronaldi, Rector