Walk slowly along the path this morning. Listen to the soft collapse of dry earth and loosened rocks under the wasted rubber soles of shoes deeply imprinted by the bones of tired feet.. The pathway and the riverbed are dry today. Dry rocks, like Elijah’s dry bones, cry out for water, for life – for breath – and wandering alongside this unpredictable brook, day in and day out, the waters come and go (Ezekial 37). Sometimes the water roars and tumbles, sometimes it lays still and silent, still other times it runs under ground or gurgles out from the mountainside, but we walk and walk, and the river is there. This river, Grief, whether still or roaring, replenishing or deadly, shifts moment to moment alongside and sometimes through the path.
Like — and unlike — the rivers Styx and Acheron which separated the living and the dead, providing pathways from one world into the next; Like — and unlike — Cocytus, so full of wailing and lament; Grief flows not as a door to travel though, nor tears only of lament. Grief’s headwaters are in sight of a deep longing for Peace and Love and Truth and Joy, a sense of what their fullness in this world might mean. A fullness, unreachable, but tethered tightly to this world. We see through the river Grief, images of memories and hopes and dreams, of goodness, and we lament our short reach and swim in circles in the waters – our inability to swim into the maelstrom of the rapids and create and recreate the images within.
Joy…might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. – C.S. Lewis
Around this time, three years ago, we were a little over a month into a complete shutdown of our normal work, school, and life activities. Precautionary lock downs due to the coronavirus pandemic which began as weeks turned slowly into more weeks, months, and eventually an uncertain reality of how our daily lives would be remade. As the unknowns of virus mutation, fear of contagion, and toilet paper scarcity, took hold, news sources began to report on the astounding transformation of the skies and bodies of water around the world . The stop of commuters and industrial plant operations had almost immediately resulted in the healing of nature. As people became scared, and sick; as uncertainty and fear began to take hold, the world healed. The climate and nature begin to grow and thrive, and people began a descent into sadness and grief that has become the water we swim in 3 years later.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Romans 8:22-23, NIV
Grief due to sickness and death plaguing the people we love, memories of lost beauty and love and joy – reflections in the waters of friends, family, neighbors, and even our enemies. Empathy fatigue heightened as we read reports of the loss being shared around the world. Grief enveloped and evolved to include our separation from our communities, a rise in depression and deaths related not to the viral effects of a contagious pandemic, but to the sadness heightened by loneliness in loss. Locked down and separated in order to protect the health of our families, we could not engage in community of friends or churches, or even the shared activities of going to the store or coffee shop and saying a friendly hello to our fellow humans. Our failing mental health quickly spiraled into it’s own sort of pandemic as a direct result of the protecting of the physical health. And flowers bloomed and water ways were clear and we could see the mountains in the distance, but the distance was too great. In the clear waters, we began to lose ourselves in the seemingly untamable Grief.
For it is one thing to see the land of peace from a wooded ridge…and another to tread the road that leads to it. -Augustine Confessions VII, xxi
O, that the river Grief might have incorporated the waters of the Lethe and allow our human hearts to forget, to erase – but we remember. We remember in Lent as the “floods engulf us” (Psalm 69), and we wade in because we know the Joy of Easter on the other side. We remember in life the people who have gone before us, the created things of life that have come to catastrophe, and those glimpses of Good haunt our days. The waters of Grief are reflective, refractive, and intertwined with the air we breathe and we dive in and out of an ever changing current.
Travelers must always be wary – the beauty and rest the river holds are just as present as the dangers it poses. Sometimes the river is for wading, for washing, for drinking, and sometimes for sitting calmly to listen to it’s life and gurgling. This river, Grief, is a friend and a foe and like any river, It is always better to have a community – a friend — to accompany you when swimming as the current is bound to shift and change and be stronger than you anticipate. We are travelers on a journey through created lands that groan and wait impatiently, and our own souls wait and cry out.
The pain present in the midst of healing, that feeling is grief. The treading along the long road to peace, the journey is filled with an ever present grief, highlighted with the joys an fleeting moments of health and happiness that weave this life together. Last month, the Mudroom writers wrote about Health, and as I read, I found these words returning to me over and over:
- Nicole T. Walters, wrote “Beyond the pain, there is a work of continuing to live and love and forgive. We must keep making the choices of one who has been changed. Healing is a miracle, a gift. But it requires our participation and our will”;
- Tammy Perlmutter wrote “..humility makes way for healing”;
- and Carrie Zeilstra wrote: “Healing means we choose to step forward with the best of what God has revealed through the soul-sifting work of his hand”.
Throughout the month of reading about Healing, I was constantly struck with healing’s similarity to, and undercurrent of, Grief. Whether the healing of a climate, or of the broken and lost pieces of community and family, a faith longing to be restored, healing doesn’t mean a return to a state of being previously known. Sometimes healing is becoming something new, something unknown, uncertain or untried. A becoming something different and forever changed. Grief then, is the memory of what was and the wanting for what will be, and the knowing that we are caught up in a current we cannot navigate alone.
For creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21)
Augustine, of Hippo, Saint, 354-430. The Confessions of Saint Augustine. Mount Vernon :Peter Pauper Press, 19401949.
Harder, Amy. “As Coronavirus Tanks Economies, Cleaner Skies and Water Emerge.” Axios, 20 Mar. 2020, https://www.axios.com/2020/03/20/side-effect-of-a-pandemic-a-brief-glimpse-at-cleaner-skies-and-water.
Lewis, CS. Surprised by Joy. 1955: HarperCollins Publishers, New York.
Perlmutter, Tammy. “Do You Want to Get Well?”The Mudroom, 2 Mar. 2023, http://mudroomblog.com/do-you-want-to-get-well/.
Tsoni, Paula. “The Five Rivers of the Greek Underworld.” GreekReporter.com, 24 Oct. 2022, https://greekreporter.com/2022/10/24/five-rivers-greek-underworld/.