Hopeless Grief Is Passionless

Suppose you have no desire to go on.  Suppose the world has oozed into another holiday season, but you can’t even feign enjoyment of family and friends.  To you, the entire season seems hollow and fragile, like cheap ceramic ornaments on trees.  Suicides go up during the holidays, but suicide probably does require a mental illness, a true psychological pathology.  What of the sane but desperately sad, those so low, they pray for death because nothing in life attracts them? 

 

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I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless;

That only men incredulous of despair,

Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air

Beat upward to God’s throne in loud access

Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness,

In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare

Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare

Of the absolute Heavens. Deep-hearted man, express

Grief for thy Dead in silence like to death—

Most like a monumental statue set

In everlasting watch and moveless woe

Till itself crumble to the dust beneath.

Touch it; the marble eyelids are not wet:

If it could weep, it could arise and go.

 

Elizabeth Barrett Browning is right about hopeless grief.  It is passionless.  Those who still have hope raise their prayers to God.

They yet deeply feel their sorrow and their longing.  Sad but still expectant, they are those who

 

Incredulous of despair,

Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air

Beat upward to God’s throne in loud access

Of shrieking and reproach.

 

Someone who can cry is still alive, still resists the paralysis of true despondency, which is hard and “lieth silent-bare." What of statues that can no longer weep?  What of souls, in quiet despair, whose sorrow is not allayed with hope?

Perhaps it’s a grace that the Church begins anew far from Christmas and its cheer.  Instead the year opens where it ended: with longing for a future that never dawns.  And, let us be honest, it hasn’t yet come.  Where is the return of the Christ?  Where is the kingdom that was promised?

Scripture speaks for such souls in the plaintive and powerful words of the prophet Isaiah:  “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you! (63:19) If that prayer is not your own, be grateful that you have never known a loss that could not be redeemed, never suffered a death that killed the spirit within you, never prayed desperately for relief to a God who did not respond.  But there are many who have experienced these things. 

 

Full desertness,

In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare

Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare

Of the absolute Heavens.

 

Souls can die long before bodies do.  They become barren, blanched, and still the silent sun does not relent.

At a certain point, we cannot hear our prayers hollowing.   We forget that we no longer expect God to respond.  What is the preacher to say to such?  And what if the preacher has also become a “monumental statue set / in everlasting watch and moveless woe?”  Would that a such a soul still could cry!  Because “if it could weep, it could arise and go.”

Yet we hear the words, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you!”

(63:19) And so, with whatever hope and expectation we can muster, we try to make these words our own.  After all, we are still here.  We did hear them.  The truly dead do not look upon themselves. 

The words have been proclaimed.  Let there be no clever ruse, insisting that the promise has been fulfilled, if only we were not ourselves, if only we were saints.  Let the words stand.  We’ve heard them.  Either there is no God, or God, in God’s wisdom, has chosen not to intervene, or comes in a way we cannot reckon.  Either way, we have heard, and we await.  No more does Advent ask.

Isaiah 63: 16b-17, 19b, 64: 2-7   1 Corinthians 1: 3-9   Mark 13: 33-37

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