in captivitatem redigentes omnem intellectum in obsequium Christi
every thought captive
I found solace in the broken bread and poured out wine, in the remembrance that His love stooped low, assuming our frame, our suffering, our death, and our hell.
I found it in quiet prayers in an empty sanctuary where no one spoke, in the uninterrupted silent spaces before a stone wall on which his name is etched.
I found it in the loving care of those whose presence mixed comfort and joy into our suffering
But I could have missed it.
Entering makes one a target of anxious thoughts and misplaced prayers. Entering means subjecting oneself to words poorly framed or careless words pronounced incautiously and with authority. It takes courage to leave that space and to return and kneel at an altar to receive from the hands of those whose words wound.
For those who suffer, the spaces of healing are often places of fear. For their sake, let us be mindful of their courage and the gifts of their presence with us. Let us silence our anxiety, our thoughtless prayers, and our false words so that they might enter and receive the solace they need.
If I had to write our story again, I would say more.
I would say something about how different grief is when it has moved from the center to the periphery. It is no longer focal; it occupies less than most of our thoughts.
I would say something about the differences between grief when it is obvious and when it is hidden from view - when it is no longer spectacle.
I would say something about how it contains all the sadness but is enveloped in the sense that it is no longer shared.
I would say something about the countless times when something simple sends us spiraling. I can count at least three times this week - undetectable unless you are near.
I would say more now, some of it unpleasant. And I would probably end repeating the earlier point: there is grace here too.
I do not pray for safety, but for a courage to still these fears.
I do not pray against doubt, but for a faith that wrestles and relents.
I do not pray for protection, but for a hope that all can be healed.
I do not pray for satisfaction, but for a love that consoles.
Lord, I do not pray from courage, or in faith, or with hope, or out of love; I ask because I fear, I falter, I fail, and I wither.
Lord have mercy in this need.
I don’t write joy well. My voice does better with sadness. My work expresses darker tones better than bright. I write laments. Describing the disorientation requires less exertion than its contrary. And when I turn my attention to joy, these meditations reflect the entanglements of sorrow.
Writing joy requires efforts that leave me unsettled. Why does it seem so difficult? Why does it leave me unnerved? Why is it that I can’t discern its character with the clarity I see in hope, or peace, or grace, or consolation? Why am I troubled and perplexed by joy? Is it fugitive because I don’t trust its lightness? Is it elusive because I’m not confident in what it promises? Is it difficult because I’ve been bruised by disappointment? Or, do I just confuse joy for something else?
Perhaps it is because I want easy joys. I want the feel of joy - joy’s cheery moods. I want the delight that comforts because it requires nothing of me. And, in my more honest moments, I think I deserve this. I have suffered; I think I’m owed this much.
But even the simple joys of childhood aren’t this immature. A child’s joy is born of the ability to receive manifold gifts of love. The child’s laugh so paradigmatic of joy is the fruit of love.
The feeling of joy may dissolve. A joyful mood may give way to something less cheery. But real joy isn't the feeling or mood. It is the delight of union with the other. Every enduring joy I've ever known is the fruit of dependence. But my words fail when I try to write it.
Our experience is not merely sorrowful. It contains rays of joy that cast their light over the darkness of the wait and the darkness of the grief. These are the joys of presence with him, of a union that cannot be taken from us. Joy is in the presence of the beloved either in memory, in the present, or in anticipation of some future.
Josef Pieper writes, “Man can (and wants to) rejoice only when there is a reason for joy. And this reason, therefore, is primary; the joy itself is secondary. But are there not countless reasons for joy? Yes. But they can all be reduced to a common denominator: our receiving or possessing something we love - even though this receiving or possession may only be hoped for as a future good or remembered as something already past.”
Sorrow, like joy, is secondary. It is our love that sews joy. It is also the love that leaves us sorrowing. Our sorrow and our joy are possible only in and through love. And today I cling to the memory of a loved presence that is unforgettable, unmistakable; it is a joy spanning eternity in just a few short hours.
How many words to say one simple thing?
How many thoughts to convey something so singular?
How many pages filled?
Maybe just one - just one for each day dwelling in absences;
just one for every loving word lost in vacant spaces;
just one frail and failing word that says less than I mean and conveys less than you deserve.
Just one more emptying word still not enough.
I used to think that hope was my possession. I used to think I was its source. It was some interior strength that sustained it. There was a reserve I guarded against disappointment and sorrow's threat.
Now I doubt this picture.
I find hope in me when I couldn't be its author. I find hope in me when I've resigned every possibility. I find hope in me when I'm undone and unguarded, when I'm weak. Unbidden, I find this gift which has been present all along but unperceived.
In the end, it sustains me.
I want to say that grief can be fruitful. That it can open us to the manifold presence of grace in our lives.
This is what I want to say; and this is all I want to say.
I want to stop there on a note of resolution, a note that seems hopeful. I think that would be more comforting.
But if I am being truthful, I can't say this alone; I have to say more. I have to add this: whether or not grief opens us up, it always divides. It severs moments, and joys, and healing.
We might enfold loss into a life we would not wish away. From this loss, deep love and joy might grow. We might find sustaining hope and stillness. But all our life we will piecing together the threads grief tore.
And again, grief divides.
It divides what I want to say from what I can say.
I think I have a dim view of the shape of an endurance.
I think I have some darkened grasp of the breadth of patience.
I've studied this suffering long enough to taste bitter and its sweet.
But I still cannot fathom healing.
There are gentle, plaintive cries which echo,
there is the feeling of warmth slowing fading,
there are those hours of hushed and unhurried peace -
fault lines tracing through what once seemed strong.
Healing cannot be erasing; it cannot be undoing.
If it is a restoring, to whom or to what will I return?
Or, is it that I will reclaim or receive something lost?
You ask whether I am healing.
I don't know what is healing.
All my writing and rambling could be explained as an attempt to resist a deep, awful temptation. It is a trial of both heart and mind: buried underneath thousands of words, an anxiety that whatever meaning I've tried to coax from this experience wasn't there to be found. I have constructed a narrative to avoid the coldness I feel. Thought and emotion claw to the surface and betray me.
What is the sense?
Acknowledging the temptation leaves me colder. I know the suggestion is untrue. I know how we have grown; I know how we have been changed. I know how we loved him and how we were received.
There is the sense.
I keep saying this to myself - I make it a habit, repeat the refrain, pronounce each true word deliberately.
But these errant affections, these undoing thoughts - this nonsense - accompany me now as they did then.
If you would know me, know what tries me.