in captivitatem redigentes omnem intellectum in obsequium Christi
every thought captive
There is this temptation. It is a temptation born of the sincerest of intentions. It is the slight nudge, the suggestion that a mention or a question will cause further sorrow.
It may. There are days when, at the sound of his name, or at the sight of a child who could have been him, or the feel of something remembered, I am left undone. If that is the day you choose to say a word, I will bleed.
But please say his name anyways. I don’t hate these tears. I may turn aside, I may brush them away, I may save face, I may feign strength, I may not respond, but I will go home and I will have heard his name again. And this means more than you know. I will appreciate that you remembered enough to say it aloud.
I don’t doubt that you think of him. I’m relatively confident that you remember him. I’m nearly certain that he has left an impression. Put them to words and say them so that I can hear. I love the sound of his name.
And the days when I don’t bleed, each moment given to thoughts of him is joy doubled. This is more than enough joy to make these tears beautiful.
I sit to watch joy play, enclosed in spaces memory built.
I sit alone in thought, backward and forward drifting from present to past - returning.
I sit and wonder, I sit to hear a child.
A day for thought - a day to imagine how else things might have been.
A time punctured by voices of children, laughing.
A structure, a symbolic space where death springs to life.
Or, is it an empty space - a container for the mixed up grace of life and death?
Or, is it a full space - a witness to Joy running over death?
It is the little ground to which I come: a playground for lost thoughts and his laughter.
How should I describe this grief?
Should I describe it as a property of place? The places of loss, of absence, of reminder, of resolve, of surrender, of tears. Should I tell it as a history of movements from places enveloped in loneliness to those pervaded by love? Should I narrate grief as a movement from place to place, cataloging the ways sorrow has forever altered space?
Or, is better construed as a way of marking time? The moments of sorrow, the long, plodding vigil, the hours of wandering thoughts and tears. Should I tell it as a ritual of days significant to us alone? Should I narrate grief as a movement through time, cataloging the ways sorrow has forever divided before and after?
Neither place, nor time - they are inadequate. Grief may be tethered to places and bound up in time, but it is better characterized as a form of address.
In it, we are addressed by suffering, by fear, by anger. We are addressed by our stubborn questions, our brittle thoughts, our fractured and frail faith, our dependency. We are addressed by the care of some and the distance of others, by compassion and indifference. In it, we offer up an address. It is an address of lament, of questioning, of trust, of confusion, of invocation, of wondering, of sorrow, of wishfulness, of hope, of strained and straining faith, of petition, of anger. It is not always tidy or appropriate; it is often wordless, inarticulate.
How should I describe this grief?
Not by reference to places or times, but as form of address. It is an address we offer before You and to You. It is an address we offer in bent but as yet unbroken hope.
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.