Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hospitality for Those Who Mourn

"Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted." -- Jesus

Impromptu Public Mourning Installation, 2007

In other parts of the world and other civilizations in ages past, mourning is a cultivated, communal act.  In our North American culture where individual experience and privacy are valued above almost all other ideals, we've lost the art of mourning.  With fresh disasters and tragedies wreaking havoc across the globe on an almost daily basis, it seems that for us to truly be present in this age we will need to regain a communal language and posture for mourning.  In my humble opining, the first step is to jettison our knee-jerk reflex toward sentimentality, cliche and kitsch.

There is nothing dignified about mourning.  Nothing airbrushed.  Nothing photo-shopped.  Nothing water colored, slick, or marketable.  Mourning is guttural, physical, visceral, sloppy, and often, embarrassing. We best welcome mourning when we refuse the temptation to pretty it up. We best welcome mourning when we enter into the experience of another and allow ourselves to be caught up in the physical indignity of it all.  

Mourning with those who mourn is an act of welcome.  An invitation to the wounded to feel sorrow, fear, anger, despair, loss without judgement.  Without feeling the need to see the silver lining or see the reason for everything or to quote the perfect Bible verse.  Not only to welcome the mourner, but also to share with them the bread of suffering.  

Mourning with those who mourn is not counselling, although that has its place.  It is not construction, clean up, dispensing supplies or sermons, although all those things have their rightful place.  It is not writing a blog post or a song, watching the news, or raising funds.  Mourning, in its purest sense, is ritualized, costly unresolved sharing of suffering.  It is more shiva than multi-colored lapel ribbons.  It is more wake than t-shirt slogan.   It is more slavery spiritual than worship anthem.  It is more Lamentations than Proverbs.

It is almost totally physical presence and almost nothing of commercial enterprise. 

In its purest form, mourning is a mutual welcome.  The wounded needs also to make an invitation to join in her unpredictable grief.  One of the saddest experiences of my life happened during the flood clean up in 2006.  After several days of productive work mucking out houses and offering encouragement to flood victims, we were flustered by the stubborness of one elderly woman.  She sat outside her river-soaked house, inside her four-door sedan, windows closed.  We tapped on the glass, "Can we go into your house with you and help you clean?"  She  pushed the lever to lower the window a crack, shook her head, smiled politely.

"No, thank you.  It's too messy.  I don't want anyone to see it."

Nothing we offered changed her mind.  She refused to allow us to enter her experience with her.  I could tell she was ashamed, of what I do not know.  Either way, there was no welcome there.  She did allow us to pray with her, but what do you say?  God help this senior citizen to have the supernatural strength to muck out two stories of her house all by herself.  To comfort herself.  To be OK all by herself. 

Doesn't seem to be the right words, but what could we do?  We prayed something through the partially-opened window and, unwelcomed, walked away.  

Both missing out on the gift of comfort.

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