Saturday, April 27, 2013

The words we say when God is dead.

"He whose soul remains ever turned toward God though the nail pierces
it finds himself nailed to the very center of the universe.  It is the
true center; it is not in the middle; it is beyond space and time; it
is God.  In a dimension that does not belong to space, that is not
time, that is indeed quite a different dimension, this nail has
pierced cleanly through all creation, through the thickness of the
screen separating the soul from God" -- Simone Weil, Waiting for God
Grief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wonder about the ways that we share the experience of grief, and the ways that we never will.  Grief is always, on some level, a solitary thing.  No one else has your map, even when the territory is shared.  No one else is behind your eyes or in the recesses of your heart, connecting memories to fears and feeling the emotions of this present moment, passing now.

Even in shared trauma or loss, no one else has experienced exactly what you've experienced.  You were injured in the same accident, abused at the same age, devastated by the same earthquake - still your experience of grief is unique.  I think that's why the country of grief is often a lonely place.

I shared a trauma with seventeen people physically impacted and hundreds more directly affected by the subsequent chaos and loss.  A horrific car accident in Nigeria, December 2005, killed eight of my friends while nine of us survived.  Some of those dear people are still physically recovering even today; some may wear trauma on their bodies until the earth itself is made new.

As consciousness returned and stories unraveled, as months past and emails flew one thing was clear - it was the same van hitting a truck driven irresponsibly that impacted us all, but each of us felt and processed the event differently. And not only us, but moms and dads, siblings and friends of those in the van, leaders in our organization and people who caught wind of the tragedy from far away, whose hearts were broken as well.  We all had loss to grieve.  We all had ache in our hearts, some of us in our bodies.  And we all had a different story to tell, our own description of the events and the state of our minds in the aftermath.  Especially if you ask why it happened.

The "why" of any traumatic event is a complex and emotional topic.  Some people think our accident was wrapped up in spiritual warfare, others an avenue of redemption in that country or some part of God's greater plan.  Others think it's just life in West Africa, a terrible accident, a work of potholes, poor decisions, gravity and chaos.   Most of us directly involved would probably sense that even our own processing of that very bloody Sunday has changed, has evolved, as healing comes slowly.  Grief is like that, healing in layers and years.  Traumatic events have no easy answers to the "why" question.  There are lots of reasons why bad things happen, and none of them are good reasons, none are enough to eradicate pain.

I'm wondering if that can be said for our understanding of Jesus' work on the cross.  My husband recently posted an article on our Facebook page that brought a different-than-usual perspective to ideas of sin, shame and what Good Friday means for us.  I didn't find it that controversial, just an angle (written for a very wide audience) that brought some new light, new ways of thinking.  The post on our wall received about 75 comments from a good handful of people, a friendly dialogue (with actual friends of ours) about the meaning of the cross: what happened, why it happened and how we are now meant to live.  Everyone had a different perspective and held to it passionately.  My husband stayed up late reading and replying.  (I think that boy needs a blog.  Some of his comment lengths were a bit out of control.)

Historically there are different perspectives on Christian atonement, how humanity is reconciled with God through the life, death and ressurrection of Jesus.   A quick google search will give you at least seven views on this and there are more emerging.  There are plenty of verses to quote and theologians to employ and maybe some aspects are so important that it's worth debating over.  I won't dismiss the hard work of theology and it's role in shaping the way we think and hopefully live.  

But I wonder if part of our experience of the cross is an experience of grief.  I remember being with a group of friends, working in an Indian hospital, overwhelmed by the pain and suffering we saw daily.  We stayed together one morning and read through the gospel of Luke, which is Luke's account of Jesus life and teachings.  I wrote about it here.  Those were powerful hours as we were immersed more deeply in the story than ever before.  When Jesus was being executed I cried, maybe for the first time in my life, I cried hard tears for his death.  I felt the brutality, the injustice, the godforsakenness of that dark Friday.  I felt the loss on behalf of a world in great need.

As starchy as atonement theories can get, we are a people who need to grieve.  What do we say when God is dead in the world, if only for a short while?  We live now in that "Holy Saturday", between death's daily assaults and the world's final resurrection.  Creation groans with labour pains and we do too.  We wait for God to come and rescue us as He makes home here, laying a foundation of justice and mercy and truth over our corruption and exploitation.  We truly live with an inexhaustible hope, but when we are quiet to creation's chorus and honest with our deepest heart, the reality of today is full of grief.

And everything I know of grief says we experience things differently, we interpret events differently, and ultimately as we grow and change our understandings change too.  The cross of Jesus means different things to me now at 31 than it did when I was 18 (and knew everything).  And I anticipate even more change coming as I read the Story in new cultures, hear the songs in different languages, see oppression and resurrection on all corners of the earth.  Educated white men do not have the last word on the cross.

Ask a woman who lost her toddler to diarrhea, a father whose son was killed by gun violence, a soldier whose seen the devastation of war.  Ask a nun who cares for the dying in India, a child whose been trafficked by their parents into sex slavery, a boy whose lost his mom to undiagnosed cancer in a slum.  Ask your teenage neighbour, the shop owner down the street, the lady sitting two pews over in church.  Most of us come to realize that the world is not a safe and happy place.  The nails have pierced cleanly through us as well. 

In our experiences of grief we can be grafted into Jesus' own experience–the utter abandonment he felt on the cross, the separation from everything right and just and true, fully given over to a violent, raging world.  As we read the Bible and books, converse about theories and perspectives, let us open our hearts wide and trace our fingers along our own scars.  If we engage the world's pain (and our own) and somehow stay, as Simone Weil writes, "ever turned towards God though the nail pierces", though we don't understand why, we speak Truth more powerfully than doctrines or theories ever will.

Let's tell our reconciliation stories with courage as we stay in the painful wait of Holy Saturday, alongside a world pregnant and longing for all things new.
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  1. Thanks for this, Becca. If I'd written a post about how I experienced Good Friday this year, I would have titled it, "Good Friday or Tragic Friday." This post capture that sentiment, I think. Thanks again.

  2. I am almost speechless.... and I have to admit, that does not happen often. I just stumbled upon your blog and I can't help but believe I was meant to find it. Your words have made my heart ache, brought my tears to my eyes, and shed new light on the meaning of Good Friday. Thank you for sharing your experiences, your grief. You have touched my soul with your story. God bless you.

  3. Thanks for reading! Grief is a painful subject, but universal - I think it's important to keep experimenting with words and ideas to help us process and heal. So glad it was a meaningful post for you. X