Grief is Love that has Lost Its Object
First Presbyterian Church
September 23, 2012
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
The four vias or paths of Creation Spirituality are just that—vias or paths. They are ways. They are not ends in themselves. Movement is the guiding metaphor. The movement is not just upward. They are not ladders to climb as much as spirals to dance.
Yesterday the calendar commanded that summer give way to fall. Even if the calendar refused and decided to deny the end of summer, it wouldn’t matter. The leaves on the trees surrounding Watauga Lake would begin to let go of their green anyway. Temperatures would begin to cool. Earth moves around the sun such that in our part of the planet it appears to go to sleep a little earlier each evening. This happens whether or not we with our calendars, language, and reasoning manage to make sense of it or not. Life happens if we are ready for it or not. So does death.
It doesn’t matter if we like summer or don’t like summer. It passes. I suppose one could move around the globe so you never have to leave summer. It is always summer somewhere. You could follow it so that you never have to see the trees let go of their green or feel the temperatures cool or bid the sun goodnight until late at night every night.
That would be a path or via too. The via positiva all the time. Endless summer. As we disc jockeys used to breathlessly announce: “Nonstop music. One hit after another.”
Most of us are not quite so nomadic, following endless summer with our surfboards. We know the other seasons as well. We know Fall, Winter, and Spring. If we have been around long enough and been fortunate to have lived through a number of these seasons, we may have found in them some sense of significance. While summer might be free and easy, bright and cheerful, there is something to these other seasons too. While we may have a favorite, if we are intentional about it, we can find something to stir our soul in the others.
But we really don’t have a choice. The seasons change whether we are intentional about finding meaning and significance in them or not.
The spiritual path of the via positiva the way of awe and wonder may be the path of choice. It is the happy path. It is the celebration of life. It is noticing the blue heron as she flies just a few inches above the water. It is allowing her flight to inspire wonder and reverence for these magnificent creatures and for all of life.
She is going to do her blue heron thing whether or not I take notice of her and admire her or not. The via positiva only becomes a spiritual path for me when I allow it to be. The via positiva is not about what is. It is about the awe and wonder for what is.
We know that we can go through our day and not notice the miracle of our existence. That is why all spiritual figures, deep thinkers, interesting people, and wise sages have told us since stories began to stop and take notice. Our man, Jesus, said: “Consider the lilies.”
“Consider…” I think that wonderfully understated translation of that verb is the essence of the via positiva-- “Consider…” Don’t just ignore or take for granted or use, “Consider…”
Consider creation, say the sages. If you have a spiritual bone in your body, marvel at it. Question it. Puzzle over it. Try to calculate it with numbers and equations. Write poems about it. Sing to it. Paint it. Allow yourself to be taken by it, to fall for it, to love it, to fall in love with it.
That is what education used to be, you know. It wasn’t something you purchased so that you could learn the technical skills and receive the required paperwork to be a drone in some cubicle doing something of no interest to you so you could get a paycheck to buy stuff made by other drones.
Education used to be about the via positiva. Consider and marvel at creation so that you might get a glimpse of what it means to be a human being before your life is over. Human beings have a job. That job is to tell our story. We are here to tell the truth of what we see, hear, feel, consider….
The via positiva is the path of noticing this world. Mary Oliver is one of our teachers. This is her poem, Invitation:
Oh do you have time
for just a little while
out of your busy
and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles
for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,
or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air
as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine
and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude--
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,
do not walk by
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.
It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.
That is the via positiva. We notice. We fall in love.
Maybe in so doing we change our life.
Then we get the call in the middle of the night.
The one we love, the one we give our heart to,
The one we live our life for,
She is the mother who held us,
who sang to us,
who was our strength,
and now she sits in her wheelchair and cannot remember our name.
He is the husband who loved us with passion,
who laughed freely without reservation,
whose illness took him long before we were ready.
He is the son, tender, sensitive, smiling,
But whose pain was too great for him to bear.
She is the forest destroyed, the stream polluted, the wildlife vanished.
It is nearly impossible to go through this life without being cheated.
That which we love leaves.
That will happen whether we want it or not.
That love doesn’t end.
The love remains.
The object of our love--
the forest, the husband, the mother, the son--
But it isn’t as though we can just turn off the love.
We can try, I suppose.
We can try to numb it, bury it, deny it.
It is still there.
Love when it loses its object does not cease.
It changes to grief.
It demands attention.
It invites the heart to be present.
It invites us on another spiritual path.
Not the one that considers the lilies or the blue heron,
No this path requires courage as well as consideration.
When love turns to grief it hurts.
It hurts badly.
It hurts for a long time.
The spiritual path, the via negativa, is to be attentive to the grief.
And not to turn away.
I turn to Mary Oliver again. From her poem, Love Sorrow:
Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing a street. For, think,
what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so
utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment
by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see,
as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.