Choose Grief, Not Despair

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At noon, a darkness fell over the whole land until about three in the afternoon. At that hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? Which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken  me?” (Matthew 27:45-46 in the Inclusive Bible)

We have arrived at Good Friday. This isn’t a Good Friday like any of us have known before. We are not gathered with others to remember and to grieve in the walls of a church. We may not even notice the “day off” from work and school given the strange times we are living through. In some ways, however, it seems easier for me to access that feeling of grief that my tradition says should accompany Good Friday. Around the world, we are all at the foot of the cross waiting to see if life is more powerful than death and whether things will ever feel normal again.

On the cross, Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. Many of us will be asking the same question is we read about Jesus’ death. Where, exactly is God as Jesus dies a drawn out and painful death by execution? Where is God as folks with COVID-19 die in hospital rooms around the world, alone except for the overburdened and traumatized healthcare workers who care for them? Where is God as the earth suffers abuse after abuse by human hands?

I refuse to believe that God is a puppeteer in all of this, sitting in some distant place writing the script and pulling the strings. The incredible thing about the incarnation, about Jesus, is that God is right here with us. When we suffer, God suffers. When Earth suffers, God suffers. God was on the cross. God is in those hospital room. God is in the polluted river and the shrinking forest canopy. God has not forsaken us in our pain and grief.

When it comes to ecological collapse and climate crisis, we must grieve. Diving into the book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer draws on the wisdom of Joanna Macy, another sage in the field of ecology and spirituality:

Joanna Macy writes that until we grieve for our planet, we cannot love it – grieving is a sign of spiritual health. But it is not enough to weep for our lost landscapes; we have to put our hands in the earth to make ourselves whole again (Braiding Sweetgrass p. 327).

In the rhythm of the Christian liturgical year, the time between Good Friday and Easter is so brief. We only have to get through Friday and Saturday before we can arrive at the resurrection. The metaphorical Good Friday of our suffering world however is ongoing. Jesus is still on the cross. We grieve and God grieves. But in Braiding Sweetgrass we are urged not to let our grief for the hurting world dip into despair.  Even as we weep we can work to transform the crisis. I love the excerpt below from Braiding Sweetgrass: 

Despair is paralysis. It robs us of agency. It blinds us to our own power and the power of the earth. Environmental despair is a poison every bit as destructive as the methylated mercury in the bottom of Onondaga lake. But how can we submit to despair when the land is saying “Help”? Restoration is a powerful antidote to despair. Restoration offers concrete means by which humans can once again enter into positive, creative relationship with the more -than-human world, meeting responsibilities that are simultaneously material and spiritual. It’s not enough to grieve. It’s not enough to just stop doing bad things (Braiding Sweetgrass p. 328).

Whether for you this Good Friday season lasts a day, a year, or many many years, may you grieve but not despair. Know that God grieves with you and that even as we grieve we can work towards Restoration.

Reflection Questions:

  • What are you grieving for in this Good Friday season?
  • What practices and people help you transform your grief into restoration rather than despair?

Practices:

  • Set aside a time and space to grieve today. That might look like writing a letter to a friend that expresses your grief or spending time alone in the “wilderness” and speaking your grief out loud to the “more-than-human world”.
  • When you are ready, dream up one small action of restoration that you can do this week. One example would be ordering plants for a pollinator garden. Here’s a local source.

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