In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lists a series of beatitudes: “Blessed are…for….” The second beatitude reads, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). The word rendered as “comforted” comes from the same root word that serves as a root word for “Paraclete,” which is another name for the Holy Spirit meaning “The Helper” used in John’s Gospel and in 1 John. In the Hebrew Scriptures particularly, but also in a few instances in Christian Scriptures, individuals will mourn in a very specific way: they will tear their clothes in anguish. Sometimes, they will also wear sackcloth and pour ashes on themselves.
Reasons to Mourn
As I read about 372,657 world-wide deaths and 104,435 deaths in the USA (through 6/1/2020), I can’t help but mourn. As I read about the millions of jobs lost, I can’t help but mourn. As I read about the numerous businesses that won’t be able to return after economic reopening, I can’t help but mourn. As I read about the sick in hospitals and those in assisted living facilities who can’t have contact with loved ones currently, I can’t help but mourn. As I read about those in prisons, refugee camps, and homeless shelters who have nowhere to safely quarantine themselves, I can’t help but mourn. As I read about funerals that can’t be attended, I can’t help but mourn.
As I read about graduations that didn’t happen and important accomplishments that couldn’t be celebrated as expected, I can’t help but mourn. As I read about college graduates whose job prospects are grim and who have to move back in with family, I can’t help but mourn. As I read about the hateful, cynical, and/or militaristic expressions of displeasure directed toward people who want more rules and longer lockdowns or toward those who want fewer rules and an end to lockdowns, I can’t help but mourn. As I read about our elected officials who sold off millions of dollars in COVID-vulnerable stocks and reinvested that money in COVID-profitable stocks based on insider expert information, I can’t help but mourn. As I read about finger-pointing and responsibility deflection from our elected officials, I can’t help but mourn.
The Purpose of Mourning
It seems to me that some Christians, especially those from more individualistic cultures, may have a lot to learn about mourning from our Hebrew faith roots. Hebrew Scriptures depict people who can mourn at the individual level, at the community level, at the societal level, and at the global level. I think true mourning doesn’t involve blaming; true mourning involves experiencing raw, unfiltered emotions and enduring them in all their discomfort. True mourning doesn’t seek to avoid the emotions that accompany mourning.
Mourning is supposed to break us. It is supposed to drive us to places of desperation and despair. It makes sense to not want to go to those places. It makes sense that in a culture where we routinely avoid pain as individuals, as families, as communities, as counties, as states, and as a country, that mourning would not be one of our strengths, and we would employ unhealthy strategies to help us avoid it. Yet, in Hebrew Scriptures, mourning only temporarily incapacitates individuals. They are broken. They are in despair. They are destitute. They are desperate. They are never, however, hopeless. Mourning is a pathway to the Divine. I don’t believe this is because God causes, creates, or condones tragedies, death, war, genocide, natural disasters, cancer, COVID-19, environmental destruction, etc. I believe it is because mourning, when experienced in healthy ways, strips us of the delusion of control and the privilege some of us have to insulate ourselves from the unpredictability of life’s circumstances. When we acknowledge that our control is limited and, if necessary, that our privileges have allowed us to protect ourselves from certain vulnerabilities, then we can move toward God. In essence, mourning can lead us to that place where we’ve exhausted all our resources that we typically use instead of God. Mourning then leads us back to God as our first and most effective resource in times of trouble.
Mourning has broken. That is what it is supposed to do. What is problematic, however, is when our mourning is broken. When our ability to mourn in healthy ways is broken, we will turn toward unhealthy means of coping with pain. Let us, like our faith forebears in Hebrew Scriptures, mourn in ways that deliver to us to the Divine instead of utilizing ways that divide us from the Divine, from our fellow humans, from our loved ones, from our faith communities, from Creation, and from ourselves.