Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Time to Mourn

Today Senator Edward Kennedy is being laid to rest, having succumbed to the vagaries of cancer. His death was different than that of his three older brothers, in that he and his family knew that this was coming. It doesn't make the grief any less real, it's just that the family had time to prepare. One Tuesday, I will preside at the memorial service for a church member. She too had time to prepare for death -- but the grief at a loss is still there.

Today, we wrestle with death -- what it means and how to face it. Rarely is the body present at a service anymore (in part because a growing number are cremated). Services today are very different from earlier days. We tend to have more celebration. I'm okay with that. And yet, have we missed something here? Services are meant to bring closure, but do they? And of course, what do we say?

These questions have emerged anew as I've read Jurgen Moltmann's In the End -- The Beginning (Fortress, 2004). Although not the entire focus of the book, Moltmann does deal in some depth with matters of life and death -- including the process of mourning. Moltmann notes that grief has become more privatized -- the mourners concerned that they not disturb others with their grief. But, what is mourning? Moltmann writes this of mourning, and the way in which we mourn:

Is mourning the reverse side of love, and is its pain the mirror-writing of love's delight? The greater the love, the deeper the grief; the more unreserved the surrender, the more inconsolable the loss. Those who have given themselves utterly in love for someone else die themselves in the pains of grief, and are born again so that life can be given to them afresh, and so that they can again find the will to live. This is what personal experience and the experience of other people tell us. But if this is true we must take, or leave ourselves, just as much time for mourning as for love. It is only the grief which is accepted and suffered-through which restores the love for life after a death. People who shut themselves off from the mourning process or who cut it short will discover in themselves insurmountable depression and increasing apathy. They will lose contact with the reality of the people around and will be unable to find new courage for living. The person who mourns deeply has loved greatly. The person who cannot mourn has never loved. (pp. 122-123).

Mourning and love are, Moltmann suggests, related. And yet our society wants us to cut short the process. We want to cut short the process. Even the church wants us to cut short the process. So, as church? As people of faith, what do we do to facilitate true mourning? And how do we exprience new life coming out of the death of our loved ones?


Steve said...

Bob, should the last word in your quote be "loved"? If not, I don't get his intention. It's like saying the person who cannot taste salt will never taste salt.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Thanks Steve for catching my mistake!