Thursday, March 24, 2011

Observing Grief


The headline from Florida read, “Service held at wrecked church.  Tornado victims try to stay optimistic ahead of long cleanup”.  The picture was of a meandering, shoddily dressed gathering of folks standing around, some facing the makeshift alter of their destroyed church now reduced to a mass of mangled steel beams and splintered wood.  A broken cross was propped up next to an American flag in front of this and a man in a black suit is seen standing high above them, apparently on a wooden box, his arms flung open somewhere between heavenly prayers and embracing his little flock, his head thrown back looking toward heaven.  A band can be seen to his right, a second man also flinging arms, presumably the conductor.  The quote from the preacher read:  “We grieve with you and there will be days that life will wear you down.  “But life does go on and we’re here to help you pull it together.  Don’t let bitterness set in.” 
I read this in juxtaposition with C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed.  One the sentiment of “God is with us, do not dismay” language that is the usual stuff of facing devastation.  Lewis, on the other hand, was bold enough to record feelings he experienced in the loss of his wife to cancer, feelings that most are reticent to admit, deep feelings of despair at the face of loss and suffering.  Here are Lewis’ words.

Meanwhile, where is God?  This is one of the most disquieting symptoms.  When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be – or so it feels – welcomed with open arms.  But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find?  A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.  After that, silence.  You may as well turn away.  The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.  There are no lights in the windows.  It might be an empty house.  Was I ever inhabited?  It seemed so once.  And that seeming was as strong as this.  What can this mean?  Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

In his despairing, Lewis felt the opposite from the psalmist who sang, “a very present help in time of trouble”.  God does seem silent at times, particularly at times of distress.  Lewis goes on, however, to recount how he was able to “rediscover” (according to editor and friend Chad Walsh) his faith.
Times of despairing can shake us to the very core of our faith and being.  One only need to remember, however, that there is a larger picture, a greater story that encompasses the minutest moment of pain.  You will return to balance and wellness.  Healing always comes after the storm.
 “But life does go on and we’re here to help you pull it together.  Don’t let bitterness set in.” 

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