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When Grief is Upon

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 and Blessing for the Brokenhearted by Jan Richardson


September 18th, 2022 10:30 a.m.

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST


By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche



Happy Sunday! Thank you for showing up for yourself and for one another again! I was pondering this morning whether God delights in us showing up for one another too.


I invite you now as we come to this part of our worship to take a few deeper breaths, to let yourself arrive a little more fully, so we can all tune into whatever word God has for us today.


Gracious God, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen


She let herself have as long as she needed, as many wave rides, as many sunsets, as many sunrises, as many moments as she could take in, given her heartache. In the summer of 2018 over my time of sabbatical on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands, a female orca swam with the body of her dead calf for more than two weeks.


The mother whale known as Tahlequah, or J35, her label given by researchers, carried the body of her baby for 17 days, preventing it from sinking, nudging it toward the surface of the water.


As Darran Simon wrote of the event when the mother whale finally let the body of her baby go, he said “Her tour of grief is now over…” He said her tour of grief is over and her behavior is remarkably frisky…


I thought of her, whale J35 this week because we are continuing our series on what we can learn from animals and today, we explore grief. I was surprised to discover how many nonhuman creatures have been documented grieving, although not all scientists agree on the level of emotion involved. I have learned that elephants and chimpanzees, magpies and crows, giraffes and dogs have all been observed grieving, taking the time and space to mourn what is lost.


And I think in some ways, in this culture at least, we haven’t given grief the attention it needs. So I wanted to talk about it today because I sense it, in the air almost, individually and collectively and then we heard those words from the Psalmist about when… grief is upon us! I sense a grief in our country that is getting to us and it isn’t going away it seems. It’s a kind of grief that is more like a background noise, something that lingers on, but is often not mentioned. It’s a grief that seems to be almost steadily gnawing at us.


And because we aren’t really allowed to say out loud in public, or at least we are not supposed to say all that we are grieving, I wonder if it is eating away at our softness a little bit? Stealing some of our hope? In part because we haven’t really let ourselves do what the whale did, we haven’t fully given ourselves something like a grief tour…


And I want you to know that it’s okay, at least here to grieve, to have this place and this space where we can all be honest about the things that are breaking our hearts. Is it okay if we are honest here about our grief?


I feel that people need me as a spiritual leader to be okay all of the time, but I am sure you can imagine that I am not. I understand why you need me to be not without hope all of the time, but in order for me to remain authentic, I need to be able to be honest with you. And the truth is that I am grieving and maybe you are too.


I am grieving that the world seems to be forever different, that when I looked back at the number two years ago, there were 28 kids here on a Sunday. I am grieving that some things and some people seem to be forever changed, hardened in a way. I am grieving the trauma that continues to surround us, that we aren’t doing enough collectively for the earth, that we aren’t doing enough it seems to save our democratic republic. I am grieving all that I cannot fix. This summer a clergy colleague wrote that, “We are all traumatized in this country…the earth is literally burning. Rising fascism in government, democracy under real threat. Gun violence, mass murders. Racism and the carceral state. Extrajudicial murders of Black people. Criminalization of immigrants. Women’s rights eroded...”


And on the list could go… so it feels essential for me and maybe for you too, to be able to be open about this, to be honest about how hard it is to be a person of conscience right now on planet earth, to say out loud the things that are breaking our hearts. Not to be forever weighed down with sadness, but the opposite. I feel like I need to be able to be open about what I am grieving so I can stay open, stay tender hearted, stay true.

I don’t think that the brokenness will make us tougher, but I do think that staying open will help hold us together, will help us to go on breathing and giving thanks for one another and loving what is.


As you heard from Jan Richardson I love that she says about “how we will agree together for now that we will not say the breaking makes us stronger

or that it is better

to have this pain

than to have done

without this love…. Perhaps for now

it can be enough

to simply marvel

at the mystery

of how a heart

so broken

can go on beating…”


What if individually and collectively we need to have something like a grief tour? To name what we’ve lost, to let ourselves be able to love what it is that is still here.


Because with all of this grief upon us and in us, with this grief that is more like a background noise, that lingers on, steadily gnawing away, I fear if we don’t name it and to let ourselves be honest, the grief will get us, will close us and turn us cold, and change us. If we let it, the trauma we are swimming in, can turn us away from who we are called to be.


Because as you may already know, grief can show up looking like inflammation of the joints, it can show up as anger, indigestion, illness, depression. Making space for all that we are holding and experiencing and making room for whatever is, scientifically speaking, is an antidote to as one researcher wrote, the “natural negativity bias and helps us appreciate what we have, as we also honor what we have lost.”


What if individually and collectively we need to grieve? Because maybe you noticed what the researcher said of, J35, he said her grief tour is over and then he said that her behavior is remarkably frisky. After she let herself grieve, she could find some joy.


Beloved of God, we can grieve alone and together, not so that we are constantly reminded of all that is sad and wrong, but so that we can in a way let go of what isn’t and what cannot be to be present for all that wonderful and gorgeous, the wild places and the beautiful people that are here right now. It’s okay for this to be a place and a space where we can be honest and open about the things that are breaking our hearts. When grief is upon you, upon me, upon any of us, what if we let ourselves be more open? Maybe together, it can be enough to simply marvel at the mystery of how hearts so broken can go on beating together? May it be so. Amen.



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