in captivitatem redigentes omnem intellectum in obsequium Christi


posted Apr 2, 2018, 8:03 AM by Aaron Cobb   [ updated Apr 2, 2018, 8:11 AM ]

God of desolate places -
of water, wilderness, 
garden and grave.

God of the disconsolate -
of the betrayed, friendless, 
abandoned and alone. 

God of the dispirited spaces - 
of the dark, breathless,
tears and sighs.

God of the empty - 
the grave, despairing of 
all that is lost, defiled, 
fractured and cast down.

God of sorrow, dies.

God of the empty grave -
Despair withered; death undone.
Found, hallowed, healed, raised up.


ADC 4/2/18

Frail Grief

posted Dec 29, 2017, 6:59 AM by Aaron Cobb   [ updated Dec 30, 2017, 7:06 AM ]

Grief can strip away pretense and presumption. It can expose our foolishness and terror. Grief shows us just how little we understand about who we are and about our needs. Grief exposes us to ourselves and leaves us bent over—a posture through which true understanding is possible. It can draw us to our knees, unclench our fists, and render us open, attentive to immeasurable grace. This is a grace even if it is unwelcome.

There are other gifts as well. Grief can draw us into the depth of our loves. It clears away the clutter, the extraneous, and the distractions; it focuses us on what matters. It heightens our attention. It directs our gaze. It sharpens our vision and deepens our awareness. It clarifies; it illuminates; it attunes us to the value and gifts of our lives. It makes us vigilant, attuned to meaning and significant others who love us well. It tells us to pour out our deepest selves into them before they are gone. It reveals consuming trivialities; it winnows away all the pointless and insignificant things. It centers us in the space of loving kindness, in the habitations crucial to formation of virtue. It beckons us to trust, to faith, to hope, and to love.

But grief brings dangers with it as well. In the space of a breath, it can put out of balance any equilibrium we have achieved in the after of loss. Grief can create postures of resistance—an intransigent, closed-in-on-ourselves, resistant-to-love, and fearful sensitivity to loss and the frailty of our condition. Rather than turning us toward those we love, it can draw all things to the center in a grasping form of fear. Rather than turning us toward costly, vulnerable expressions of trust and dependence, it can lead us to fight against the harshness of the world, to throw up defensive barriers that can protect us from the sorrow attached to our vulnerability. With fearful clutching, we corrupt our love.

And grief can frame our attention in ways that leave us myopic to what matters. We can become so enamored by our sadness that we miss the grace and gift of others. We can become so aware of our susceptibility to suffering that fear or anger find a hospitable dwelling in our hearts. Aspects of our suffering may become so salient that we cannot attend to others in need. Grief obstructs and skews our vision. We may come to neglect or ignore the very things that might turn us toward virtue.

Grief is a teacher, but it is not always a good catechist. How can we make ourselves sensitive to the grace and mercy grief can reveal? How can we protect ourselves against its deforming, corrosive effect? How can those so troubled by sadness discipline their hearts to receive only the grace of truth?

There are no easy answers to difficult questions. But these questions may be poorly formed. Perhaps it is not the bereaved who must do this work of making, protecting, and disciplining. Perhaps this is the role of others who choose suffer with them. Perhaps it isn’t grief that forms us well; perhaps it is others who reveal and teach through their presence, their comfort, and their gentle concern.

ADC (12/29/17)


posted Nov 12, 2017, 8:00 PM by Aaron Cobb   [ updated Nov 12, 2017, 8:41 PM ]

As a child, my father took me to cemeteries. We went to tend, to pay respects, to seed beauty around stones that marked death. I did not grasp it fully, but I knew it was a sacred task.

As a young man, I walked through cemeteries, lost in thought, communing in silence. I wandered among names of ones loved but gone, all strangers to me. On cold Autumn evenings, I stood in the liminal space in front of stone markers.

As a father, I stare at a wall of names etched on niches. I see his name, a son barely alive and then gone. Each week, I pass by so that I can touch his name. You may not notice. Some days, I dwell there. There are more names now—some were young, some old. Each name, a reminder of death’s reach.

Lost in thoughts, you may wander through—like I did in cemeteries when I was younger. You might stand in front of the wall on a cold Sunday morning, considering the length of a life—a breath, and gone. Your thoughts may drift to the ones undone by this death.

This is a space covered in tears. This is a space of deep mercies, many unknown and most unfathomed.

Don’t miss it. Don’t just walk through.

Dwell here. Remember here. Mourn here. Hope here. Sit with saints.

This is holy space.

ADC (11/12/17)


posted Sep 18, 2017, 8:48 PM by Aaron Cobb   [ updated Sep 19, 2017, 4:01 AM ]

You find yourself here, on a new path. You did not want this road. You did not ask for it. But you are here now and you must navigate foreign territory. 

I'm in this land too, on my own path a few steps further in. But I've been here long enough to know the shape and feel of the land. I know a little of what it is like to walk here. I know its contours.

I hear others marvel at your ability to walk forward so soon. I hear them speak kind words. They call you brave. They cheer your fidelity and resolve. They see something heroic in you. And there's a sense in which they are right. You are enduring and this is something worthy of our admiration. 

But this may not be how it feels right now. You walk because there is nothing else you can do. You cannot inhabit another space. There is no way to go back to familiar ground, or better paths. You place one foot in front of the other. You draw on habits and routine, practices that stabilize. You don't know what else to do, or how to even think about where you are. It's all new. And it is awful. None of this feels noble, or inspiring, or courageous, or heroic, or admirable - it just feels like a feeble attempt to continue, to endure. 

And if you are like me and the others I've met in this space, there will be many times when you won't be able to move forward. You will be still, unable to move; or, you will fall apart, doubled over to the ground. Others might not see it. They are primed to see forward momentum. They won't see what's hidden. 

In these times, you may need to dwell where you are. If you cannot move, rest. The paths you walk in this space will demand more than you can imagine. From where I stand, I pray that you will not confuse your ability to move forward today with what it means to endure in faith tomorrow. 

Whether you walk, or you are still, or you fall apart - you can do all of these while enduring in faith. What matters is the endurance.

ADC (9/18/17)

Say His Name

posted Apr 5, 2017, 7:46 PM by Aaron Cobb   [ updated Sep 18, 2017, 8:44 PM ]

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.

ADC 4/5/17


posted Jan 16, 2017, 8:17 AM by Aaron Cobb   [ updated Jan 16, 2017, 8:49 AM ]

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?

posted Sep 20, 2016, 8:23 PM by Aaron Cobb   [ updated Sep 20, 2016, 8:24 PM ]

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.

ADC (9/20/16)


posted Apr 26, 2016, 7:53 AM by Aaron Cobb   [ updated Apr 26, 2016, 7:53 AM ]

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.

ADC (4/26/15)

I Would Say More

posted Apr 10, 2016, 8:59 PM by Aaron Cobb   [ updated Apr 10, 2016, 9:09 PM ]

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.

ADC (4/10/16)

A Prayer in Need

posted Apr 1, 2016, 8:09 AM by Aaron Cobb   [ updated Apr 1, 2016, 8:13 AM ]

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.

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