A Unique Grief for a Unique Time
“Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.” Oscar Wilde
Much of what I share with you is taken from The Wild Edge of Sorrow by Francis Weller (North Atlantic Books, Berkley, 2015).
Francis Weller begins his book by observing that, “Over the course of our lives grief enters our hearts in many ways” in order to tend to that grief we need to acknowledge where it has entered from.
Most of us are familiar with how private grief enters our lives. We have all experienced the grief brought on by the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship. Grief can also enter us through what Weller calls “The sorrows of the World”. This happens “when we register the losses of the world around us”. It is precisely this type of sadness that many of us are currently experiencing.
In order to appreciate how it is we internalize communal sorrow we have to recognize how thoroughly interconnected we are with each other and with the world. Many psychologists recognize that we each experience being part of “the soul of the world” often referred to as the anima mundi. This is recognition that perhaps “the greater part of the soul lives outside of the body.” This notion is recognized by indigenous cultures around the world. Put in a more familiar language, ‘we are part of something bigger than ourselves.’ As we accept this we can accept the notion of communal grief, communal sorrow.
We are not separate from our currently hurt and anxious world but we are part of it. We feel with it. These are times when the anima mundi, the soul of the world, weeps through us.
Today, our cumulative grief is overwhelming. Weller writes, “We know and feel in our bodies that something primal is amiss. It is essential that we stop and recognize our losses...to respond with sorrow, outrage, and apology at these places (and times) touched by so much loss.”
Living, as we are, in social isolation can cause us to feel that “Our soul life flickers dimly and rather than feeling a kinship with the entire, breathing world, we inhabit and defend a small shell of a world...” Herein lies a new and unique grief and it seems to be affecting us all.
Where ‘normal’ circumstances allow us to interact with our community as we feel the need, we can no longer do so. In healthy times we live confident that the whole of which we are members, our tribe if you will, is well. Today we know our tribe is not well. Our tribe is sick, our members are dying, our anima mundi is experiencing great loss and as individuals we grieve.
I write this article now because over the past week or two I have been experiencing this unique grief quite deeply. I am hearing from many of you that you are feeling a heaviness of heart that you cannot name. It is more than the new isolation and fear and sadness brought on by Covid-19. Many of you may be experiencing layers of communal sorrow at this time.
As Christians the community that gathers in worship has been prevented from doing so at the holiest time of the year, Holy Week and Easter. From clergy to new seekers, Christians are sharing with me the grief they are experiencing at this profound communal loss. I experience my connection to others most deeply when participating in Holy Communion. This weekly experience links me powerfully, not just to the heavenly divine, but to the divine in each of you. I miss this and it saddens me.
This week there was a terrible wound inflicted on our anima mundi in Nova Scotia. So many members of our human family, of our Canadian family, are in despair and we share the resulting sorrow. Communal grief and sorrow has always been a part of the human experience. No doubt each of you can look back into your personal histories and identify other examples. I write today to name and acknowledge that this particular type of grief is striking me, and many of you, deeply at this time.
Among the good news in experiencing a common and communal sorrow is the fact that we can heal together. As Weller writes, “Our suffering is mutually entangled, the one with the other, as is our healing”
Living with grief and sorrow is difficult but it is not a thing we should seek to repress. The degree to which you can experience sorrow now has a direct correlation to your future ability to experience Joy. I say this by way of acknowledging that we want to process grief but not seek to be healed from it. In truth our genuine grief never leaves, it becomes a colour in our life tapestry. We seek to understand our grief and sorrow, and contextualize it so that it does not overwhelm us. This is how we are able to live life joyfully moving forward.
If you recognize yourself in some of what you have just read you are already joining the healing process. The first tool in grief care is identifying that you are experiencing sorrow and naming the loss that is feeding that sorrow. We are, most of us, feeling an internal grief which is part of a worldwide communal grief. Acknowledging this allows us to name it, talk about it and move through it.
Allow me to finish with this quote by poet Denise Levertoth
“To speak of sorrow works upon it, moves it from its crouched place barring the way to and from the soul’s hall.”
The beginning of the journey of working through grief and sorrow is talking about it, sharing it. I urge you, as you are able, to name your sadness ask others if they are feeling it too. (Writing to me about it in confidence might be healing.) For many, the nature and power of communal grief may be new so discussing it will validate what they are feeling, “To speak of sorrow works upon it”. Together we will heal and together we will once again know Joy.