Grief as a Spiritual Practice
I was spiritually touched by the televised farewell to Michael Jackson. I think it was good for the country to have a collective day of grief for one so beloved by so many. It got me thinking about grief.
Churches have sacraments for grief and many cultures have customs to help people accept permanent loss. In my life, the process of letting go of those I knew and loved best has become a primary spiritual practice in my journey with God.
My dad is a priest and we moved around a lot when I was growing up. I was born in Manhattan, spent my first year in Bronxville, two years in the South Bronx, seven in Newark, four in Cincinnati, and finished high school in Olean, NY.
We were deeply integrated into the greater church family in all of these places and left behind many loved ones. I developed a deep sense of loss very young. Below is a poem I wrote when I was 27 about a childhood memory:
Did I ever tell you
That I’m sentimental?
Or the story
Of my last day in kindergarten?
I had gone to preschool
Too at Playhouse
In West Orange, New Jersey.
I remember that day
Walking around the playground
Past the monkey bars
And adventure tower
Where I had played with
My friends, people I had known
For two or three
Of my five-year life
And I cried.
I knew life would
Never be the same again.
I have lost places, pets, best friends, adventure buddies, lovers, and a few family members. And I’ve realized that allowing myself to lose something is a process I must attend to in order to move forward – and to try to love again.
I have experimented with ways to do this, faithfully and with God’s assistance. Prayer is place I turn in times of loss. Think about it and talk about it – with God. Ask for what you want. Ask for mercy. “Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief” (Psalm 31:9).
I have also found solace in the companionship of my family and friends. I once found myself alone in a kitchen literally crying over a mess of milk spilled on the floor. I called a girl friend who came over immediately. I began despairing that I was never going to recover from my recently lost love. I though I should have been ready to move on… but here I was, in tears before the day had begun. “Don’t try to mess with grief,” she warned me. “Or grief will come back and mess with you!”
Be good to your body in times of grief. Go for walks. Eat delicious food. Let others care for you. Grief is a highly physical emotion. Strong as love is grief and “love is as strong as death” (Songs 8:6).
I always felt that God knew my grief and that my grief was small compared to those of others. As I grew, and my horizons broadened, entering into new places and new relationships, I believed more and more that God is everywhere and grief is everywhere too. It is part of life and should be entered into intentionally, not resisted. One must move through it to move past it.
In this practice, I have learned how to love. How to take care of myself and to give my love fully. How to love and be loved by God. And, most importantly, to believe in resurrection. It is a practice that has been part of my spiritual journey. May God bless you and be merciful in your times of grief.
“May Jesus the resurrected Christ be close always and may we know that there is always more good love, everywhere to give and to receive.”