Texts for Today
Talking to Grief
by Denise Levertov
Ah, grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.
I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.
You think I don’t know you’ve been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider my house your own
and me your person
my own dog.
Also (recommended you look them up on Bible Gateway):
Psalm 22 and John 18:1-19:34
After posting this week’s Denim Spirit
on subversivepreacher’s Facebook page,
about how each of us is under the gun
to reduce our personal carbon footprint,
an old friend of mine responded
with an expression of grief
about all the years she never thought about it
and blithely carried on.
”We are all late to this party,” I said
”and everything we do now counts.”
is so wise about grief.
It is a homeless dog
at our door.
We do not want
to let it in
but we doggone better.
a place at our hearth
where we can speak to it
and care for it
even as it reminds us
of our losses
and the would-a could-as
and absolute should-as
stacked up like cord wood
on our souls.
if we don’t let it in,
grief controls us from the outside
and by seeping inside
to defecate on places
we are not even aware of.
That is what makes Good Friday
a tricky moment for us —
It is a violent story
of fierce oppression
and cruel misuse of power.
It is a story with blame in it
and at the hands of our Christian tradition
it has been a veritable blame game
full of self-flagelation
as well as resentful spite
and prosecutions of perceived guilt.
These are all the expressions
of unprocessed grief:
when anger, hatred, and resentment
or guilt and despair
form a pall over our head and heart.
We know how damaging
unprocessed grief is,
and we know how difficult it is
to move through grief
to the other side.
I believe that the Church is afraid
to fully process the grief of Good Friday
for fear we will forget him.
If we move through our grief
to the other side,
our theology seems to reason,
we may forget how important Jesus is
and how much he should still mean to us.
We have heard that voice of grief ourselves, right?
When someone has died
for whom we are grieving deeply,
and we have a moment of happiness
without even being conscious of it,
we will suddenly pull back
and think we should not be happy.
We may even admonish ourselves
for the moment without grief
for fear the lost loved one might slip away
once and for all.
And so, Christianity
is stuck in grief.
We have not gotten to the other side.
Our theology and spirituality is not complete.
And yet, the story points to a doorway
to the other side
and we have missed it.
That is why I wanted to read Psalm 22
alongside the Passion appointed for Good Friday.
We do not read the words in John’s version
but we heard it in Matthew’s
It is in the other Synoptic Gospels too,
where Jesus says from the cross,
”Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani.”
That is, as we just read,
the first verse of Psalm 22:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
We hear it as agony.
We can only imagine
it is what someone nailed to wood could utter.
What else could he possibly have felt
in that moment
but bitter abandonment
and excruciating aloneness?
It is clearly a song of lament:
”Packs of dogs close me in,
and gangs of evildoers circle around me;
they pierce my hands and my feet;
I can count all my bones.”
But then, toward the end
of the wailful litany of pain and persecution
the voice shifts —
almost turns on a dime:
”Be not far away, O God,
you are my strength; hasten to help me.”
And then, in the final verses,
the voice it outright declarative and hopeful:
”I will declare your Name to my brothers and sisters…
I will praise you…
stand in awe of you…
when we cry to God our pain is heard…
The poor shall eat and be satisfied…
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to God.”
And finally, the voice promises
that the saving deeds of God
shall be made known to a
people yet unborn.
What begins as a bitter song of lament
ends as a hymn of praise.
We hear Jesus grimace from the cross,
”Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani.”
and imagine it is rueful.
But the Gospel’s first audiences
would have heard that first verse of Psalm 22
it is a grief turned to gratitude
Grief must be brought inside,
as Levertov wrote,
for precisely this reason.
Only when we let it in
and give it tenderness and care
can it eventually bloom into gratitude
The Passion story
sucks all the air out of the room
and obscures Jesus
when we do not allow it
to move past grief
and arrive at the other side.