The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling
I’m exploring the possibility of group conversations on grief, outrage, and sadness. The group might be called “Lamentations” based upon the Old Testament book in the Bible. The seed for this group began with a young adult, a college student, who could find no way to express her grief, her outrage, and her sadness over the increasing spate of gun violence throughout our country. These shootings appeared to be random acts of violence, although each shooter had his own reasons for his murderous rampage. According to Connecticut Against Gun Violence, “Hartford's Police Chief James Rovella said one percent of Hartford’s criminals are responsible for 75 to 80 percent of the city’s violent crimes. He said they are tracking those individuals, but the recent uptick in crime has been in some “unusual” locations with some “unusual” types of motives.”
All violence is terrible and terrifying; it demands our weeping, wailing, and outrage. For personal and communal reasons, I am grieving. I am outraged. And I am sad. Never underestimate the power of grief. Unexpressed, it leads to many undesirables. Unacknowledged, it lays like a sinking boat in the wide ocean of your soul. As John Grayston wrote in a WordLive Bible study, the author of Lamentations knew “that grief does not follow a straightforward course. There are moments of deep despair and blackness, but there are also shafts of light; sometimes God seems a million miles away, but at other times we recover a sense of God’s presence and receive comfort.” Men and women, extroverts and introverts, people of various religions, ages, and cultures all grieve differently.
Grief comes from loss. It’s easy to identify our grief when a human being or pet dies, or when there is a public human tragedy; but these losses are only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the tip of that iceberg lay many other losses that we need to acknowledge, grieve, and in due time, let go. For instance, grief comes when we lose control, when we lose power, or when we lose our sense of security and safety. Violence has become closer and more personal and at the same time frighteningly catastrophic. World wars used to be “over there”, on the ground, and out of sight. Now death may just show up on our doorstep, in our schools, theaters, recruiting centers, or in the air. We grieve the sudden loss of our identity, our minds, or our previous view of the world. We lose our faith in others; we lose our faith in God; and when we lose hope, that’s when we sink.
We need vehicles to express our outrage, to shed our tears, and to acknowledge that something is wrong. Life is not always a bowl of cherries; and while some people dwell only on the pits, there are plenty of others who don’t want to talk about them either. While I believe that you can be as happy as you make up your mind to be, I also believe that expressing the fullest range of our God-given emotions in appropriate ways is the best way to live, and die. My theology professor in seminary called death an outrage.
Living in a world where random acts of violence are the new normal can be terrifying, outrageous, and sad. Being in a world where family, friends, and pets routinely die is terrifying, outrageous, and sad. I find prayer helps. Being grateful for life on its own terms helps too. Alongside the Old Testament book of Lamentations, I hold St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in balance. St. Paul writes about faith, hope, and love. While I may occasionally falter in my faithfulness, God does not. According to the author of Lamentations, “Great is God’s faithfulness.”
As for hope, reflecting upon the letter to the Hebrews, Brother Curtis from SSJE, said, “Hope is an anchor. Hope is a sense that you will be able to face the unknown storms of the future because you’ve found your moorings in the past. It’s some sure sense that you’re not sinking, not just drifting in life but of being kept afloat, of being held steady. That’s hope.”
God’s love is ever present in this world, where people lament the violence that exists and rejoice in new life that is fresh every morning. With faith in God as the Captain of our ship, we are anchored in hope, and surrounded by an ocean of love and a great cloud of witnesses. Surely we shall not sink, but zig zag ahead, steady as she goes, both well aware of the icebergs and the Promised Land ahead.