Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).
What triggers grief? What makes us mourn? We answer automatically: Loss. We think most acutely: Loss of a loved one through death. Of course.
What is grief, then, if not the aching for the beloved to fill the empty place in the bed beside us again, to walk through the door at the customary hour, to speak the familiar word, even the corny joke, into the new and unwelcome silence at the table?
Of course. And if that is grief, comfort is a miracle. For in this lifetime at least, the empty space, the closed door, and the silence remain. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Really? Comforted?
Comfort makes no sense. Yet, it comes. The pain revisits on anniversaries and in subtle reminders like the eyes of a child or the sound of a song. But comfort comes. Perhaps it comes naturally enough like the changing of the seasons. Perhaps it comes supernaturally like resurrection. Both, I suspect, apply.
Comfort comes because grief walks to a homecoming, an arrival at a promised land, geographical or spiritual or both. Strangely, comfort comes before we greet the departed again, like Dorothy arriving at the Land of Oz again before ever knowing how or when she will return to Kansas.
Grief is the ache of loss, a bitter ending. Yet, it is a beginning, albeit not a welcome one at first. Far from welcome. For fog blankets the rocky, winding, pothole-pocked road, and we lurch forward with no map or markers to God-only-knows-where.
Yet, grief does not wallow. It walks. Grief walks a road to the self we never quite knew before, although we recall subtle epiphanies back in the day when our beloved lay beside us, entered our house, broke the silence.
“The road” passes through liminal space. Anthropologist Victor Turner coined the term, “liminality,” for the passages through uncharted outer and inner territory. He documented how cultures mark the power of these passages in sacred myths and rites. Thus, religion provides the tools for more than coping: for facing the abyss with power divinely bestowed.
Religion, then, not only provides structures and norms for life in the community, but the spiritual images, memories, and myths that sustain us as grief walks down an unknown road from the ruins of past life. The biblical tradition symbolizes that passage through liminal space in such stories as the liberated slave nation’s exodus through the wilderness, the truant prophet’s descent into the deep sea before fulfilling his call, and the aching Saturday before Easter.
Arrival at God-knows-where, the unknown destiny, the promised land at the end of the wilderness trek begins with the encounter with ourselves as God knows us, as God loves us, ourselves in the image of God, yet somehow unique, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” But the knowledge of ourselves is not the end, for we are windows to God who holds all our beloved ones along with us. Grief walks, and at the end finds the face of God.
Paul said, “Now we see in a glass darkly; then we will see face-to-face.” Did he mean a mirror to ourselves? Did he mean a window to Christ? Yes and yes. There is not one without the other. Blessed are you who mourn, for you will know yourself beloved, and you will know the Lover. You will be comforted.