Theology & Spirituality

The Art of Grieving

Drip-drop. Drop-drip. Plink! Glorious Spring rain drips off the gutter-less eaves of my cottage this forenoon; every now and then one drop making a sharp ping off something metal below. Steady, strong notes to set the rhythm for the day, those water-drops. I draw icy water for the kettle, waiting for its warm whistle as a Southwest wind kicks up its heels. The song of the rain slows, softens, becomes silent. Whirling this way and that come the downy flakes of snow.

Pungent Earl Grey tickles my senses as I gaze long at the steady, slanting white. I am very much alone, but not in the least lonely. Solitude need not make one solitary. Fog, snow, roiling grey skies – they are all friends. The damp, chill, and quiet give one time to pause, to recalibrate the soul toward stillness and Beauty. When we make the time to hush, not writing, nor reading, nor listening to the ever-present music that pervades our senses, we are able to be.We are able to grieve or mourn, to ponder and reflect, to pray and listen, to know and be known. Stillness and reflection often seem colossal threats to our current ‘culture of noise’. Particularly in the process of grieving, perhaps the greatest conundrum in this age. In times-not-long-past, there was a set period for mourning in which the mourner at the least wore a black band on their arm, if not complete outfits of black. Now we hardly even say someone has died, but that they have ‘passed away’.

We have funerals and weddings in ‘Life Centres’ at cemeteries. Our culture seeks to sanitise death from all its ugly brokenness. I am very, very pro-life, but even I cannot ignore the effects of the Fall. We cannot pretend that death is routine, neat, and ‘part of life’. It is not. It is a violent affront to God the Creator. It is madness and fragmentation at their extreme end. Grieving is a slow process; whether it is the death of a loved one, the loss of a friendship, or the crumbling of a cherished dream. It takes silence and prayer to walk the road of sorrow. Yet, not even the evangelical church seems to accept this. Half-truths are still lies, yet they ring forth from our Postmodern Evangelical churches and the reams of pages in ‘Christian’ bookstores: God must always make bad things good. We must always smile and say we are well, that it is good to be alive. Christians are always to be happy, happy, happy – which translates to fake, fake, fake. God will make all things well, but probably not the way we think He should, and often not on this earth. It is good to be alive, because we were made for life – but ‘good’ does not mean ‘easy’. The Anglican response to death in the prayer book does not ignore the creeping shadow of death, nor does it wallow in the Fall. It brings one’s focus back to God, the Author of life, the Redeemer of death:

Thou only art Immortal, Creator and Maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and unto earth shall we return.

For so Thou did ordain when Thou created me, saying, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” All of us go down to the dust…

Yet even at the grave we make our song: 

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.


Even at the grave we sing of the Hope to come. We weep and mourn in Hope. This is not easy. We may sing our alleluias through teeth clenched, through stinging tears. But we have Hope: Jesus Himself, the Resurrection from the dead for all who are ‘in Christ’. And when death takes from us one who does not know God, we lament even more. Again, we cannot pretend that death is normal. It is grotesquely abnormal.We still mourn loss.

Learning to lament takes times of silence, of being. It can take the form of long walks, writing poetry, playing or writing music, cleaning vigorously, cooking and baking (for oneself or others), painting or drawing, gardening, crying, and many other things. Strikingly, lamentation is often pro-creative. By that I mean that we find an outlet for grief, anger, and sorrow in making, in serving. Look at the first line of the Memorial Prayer – it calls God three things: Immortal, Creator, and Maker. We tend to think of the last two words as being synonyms, but they are Names and have nuances. A ‘creator’ begets – the thing begotten is from himself, is part of himself, like a child shares the ‘humanness’  and DNA of its parents. A ‘maker’ is a companion or a spouse, as well as one who designs or constructs. So, the act of creation is intensely personal and part of the creator-begetter. The act of making is taking something already in existence and fitting it together; as one takes flour, water, and yeast to make bread; or wood, nails, and varnish to fit into a wardrobe; or chisels and marble to form a sculpture; or a man and a woman together fashion a marriage.

In grieving we image God by making. We turn to pro-creation to pro-cess (move forward, continue). We seek solitude and silence in order to better serve, because the act of serving (helping one’s neighbour with various tasks, inviting others over for dinner, etc.) brings us outside of ourself so that we do not dead-end in grief. This brings up the other aspect of lamenting. To lament, I said, one needs times of solitude. But one also needs time with others. God says in the beginning that, “It is not good for the Man to be alone”. God was right there with the Man, but still says he is ‘alone’ or without a match (or mate) of his own. We need other persons. We need friends and family who will be still with us, who will listen to us. We need others to serve with our creative acts. We need those close to us to cry with us, and also to make us laugh. The hush of snow is heralding a chance to ponder, time to be. This late Spring snow is a gift before I step into the bustle of Summer. The silence of a full day to process and grieve is worth the thanks-giving. Right here and now I learn to be still and know… and to be known. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Johanna Byrkett

Johanna Byrkett

Johanna (Jody) Byrkett enjoys hiking various types of terrain, foggy mornings and steaming mugs of tea, reading classic literature and theological essays, studying words and their origins, and practising the art of hospitality. (She also has the singularly annoying habit of spelling things 'Britishly'.)

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