David Whyte. The Well of Grief*
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,
turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.
We are living in an apocalypse. The time of the revealing of things hidden. The unraveling of illusion. The great uncovering.
My teenage granddaughter told me she cried most of the day after the election. She had imagined a woman as president, and people she cares about—safe.
These days people tell me of their sleepless nights, fitful tossing and turning, horrifying dreams—their inability to focus.
There is fear and uncertainty in the air. Every breath we take—we inhale it.
The news is not good. And if you are checking your Facebook or Twitter accounts you’ll get more than your share of judgement and hysteria.
Whoever you voted for—or even if you did not vote—every late-night tweet by the president-elect can inflame your emotions—up or down. It’s a roller coaster ride at top speed.
Many of us have become addicted to the news (fake or real)—we are bombarded day and night by ceaseless sound bites and texts. We seek them out, responding to every ping on our phones.
There was a day not long ago when you and I read the paper once a day or watched the news in the evening—or maybe we went days without. We somehow knew the world would continue to spin without our being constantly in the know.
Today though we seem caught in the grasp of a paradox: we know more and more news sooner and sooner, day and night--and we ride those waves or sink under them. We’re addicted to hype. We’re exhausted. Stressed out.
On top of this, the Apocalypse itself is a time of danger. That revealing of truth we dared not face. The unraveling of our illusions—of dreams and hopes too for some. The Apocalypse is a time of vulnerability. The turf which seemed solid, is not. No wonder we feel so stressed.
One instinct is to flee—to withdraw into a cave or move to Canada perhaps. Hunker down. Become invisible. You know about fleeing the scene—there are so many ways to do it. There’s a certain allure to withdrawal—after all it’s all so overwhelming. We know too much...
In the know, we are also not in the know—in fact many of us are in a state of ignorance about one thing: what are we to do? Who are we to be in times like these? As followers of Christ, what are we to be up to in the days of apocalypse?
I suspect that one of our deepest fears—one that lies under the surface of a myriad of others is the fear about our faith –untried and untested for so many years—the fear that our faith will not carry us through the days that lie ahead. Just when we need to call on it—it will fail us. How is it possible that the long-expected Jesus could come in such a time as this? How?
And, if in fact, the divine is present in this now, how can I possibly open myself to receive, when my instincts are to shield, protect, ignore, and run away?
I take a page from the prophets here—from people like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Hosea—that lineage of truth-tellers that Jesus came from. For them it all begins with grief. The revealing of the truth that things are not what they seemed to be—that truth that we have refused to look at even though it has been in our midst—this is an old theme in prophetic work and literature. The calling of the people to recognize that they have been living a pretense. When the unraveling comes and the revealing is made clear: the prophetic response is grief.
Grief was in my granddaughter’s tears and is in my own and those of men and women who have told me that when they have dared to sit still and silent these days—they find themselves weeping.
Who knows for sure what is in those tears? Perhaps tears of grief for shattered dreams. Grief for how far our reality is from God’s own dreams and visions. For our own complicity in systems that oppress so many and ruin the earth. Grief for the revelations of the depths of racism, sexism, and all the other isms and phobias we were afraid to acknowledge. Tears of frustration and powerlessness. Tears for the poor and the shut-out, who it turns out, include some of our neighbors some of us hadn’t paid much attention to. Tears that our own vaunted democracy has been revealed as not so perfect after all.
Tears have an honored place in Christian mysticism. The desert fathers and mothers talked quite a bit about tears, and the necessity to weep. Grief makes us humble. It is a measure of our losses—a measure of our love—a measure of our relationships. We grieve for what is important to us. And grief can be a shadowy place—as David Whyte says, It is a well –dark and cold even. It may leave us gasping for breath.
This is on-going work. We grieve in different ways. But, however we do it, it is our human way to acknowledge the truth of our situation. Things are not as they should be. This truth will set us free. Tears are our offering. Our acknowledgement that we have a place and a responsibility for the fabric of life. To grieve is to relinquish detachment and any pretense of control—not by running away, but by entering deeply. It is to acknowledge our fragility.
However it is that we are to open ourselves to the depths and strengths inherent in our faith—however it is that we are to grow up into Christ so that we might stand upright in the days to come—it needs to begin in grief. And, my guess is that we will have continuing grieving to do in the weeks and months ahead.
Jesus’ life—from his birth in the cave to his death on the cross—assures us that he is present in the vulnerability and depth of life. We have to dare to enter those places to meet him there.
Grieving will break open your soul to receive the Christ.
*David Whyte http://www.davidwhyte.com/welcome/#home