Nothing pushes us more relentlessly toward Mystery than the death of someone we love. In the face of great loss, our familiar, forward-leaning realities are uprooted and at risk. Nothing makes sense. We can’t fix the problem, and we can’t make it go away. We search for answers. We seek out some kind of comfort, or explanation, or meaning. We search for the God we know, or hope, exists. We remember the platitudes – Surely, “God has a plan.” Or, “God needed the person we’ve lost, and heaven is now a richer place with their presence.” Surely, “There’s a deeper purpose that we can’t understand.”
Sometimes, the wrenching experience of grief can challenge or change our perceptions of the Divine Mystery, no matter what form that has taken in our lives.
In letters from “A Grief Observed,” lay theologian and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis remarked: “Not that I am…. in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ ”
Instead of being a “failure” of faith, though, the dark tunnel of loss can lead to deeper and illuminating experiences of the Divine. We might find, in the crucible of pain, that the God of our childhood needs to expand. We may want a new lens through which to see (and seek) Spirit. The “God of our Fathers” may shift to make way for a gentler or more feminine aspect of Divine Mystery – tenderness, instead of might; vulnerability, instead of strength; understanding, instead of judgment; ambiguity along with certainty.
One of the important theological concepts that emerged out of the horrendous anguish of the Holocaust was an expanded understanding of a God who not only does not abandon us, but suffers with us as well. A “Suffering God” co-participates in our sorrow; knows darkness and desolation, and stands in the shadows with us.
Walking through loss can take us deeper into Mystery than we had planned on going. But there are tiny enlightenments along the way. On her website, Theologian Dr. Beverly Lanzetta, notes, “…..Even our most personal, wrenching moments are imbedded in and bound by the eternal, the transcendent. This gives us hope that there is something greater and beyond the present…. Only by risking our hearts to emptiness—to the despair that there may be no path and no road—do we find what is immeasurable. We share then in the communion of all the saints who walk the earth—the communion of direct experience.”
In the scary fire of loss, we may touch upon, and enter, the dark and groaning territory of not knowing how things add up. We, too, may co-participate in the mysterious suffering and illumination of the world.
The following are brief letters from the love room where I wrestled with the Mystery of loss:
Yes, you’re gone. Yes, it is impossibly hard. Yes, there is still, for me, an emptiness. My eyes want to shed tears. But the nectar of your having-been is such nourishment that I am able to bear the Mystery turning itself inside out and taking you back.
Is life just a downward spiral of loss, a long journey of giving things up? Were you the shifted boulder that loosened the tumbling flood of so many other things being washed away? What can I count on, if everything can be gone? What am I, if not planted in a context of connections?
Could all these losses be meant to drive us inward, to whatever lasts—into Mystery, the ineffable sweetness of being? For that’s where I am now; lying stunned and awed on the floor of the love room, without you.