I'm back to Mudhouse Sabbath again, for about the zillionth time this year. I think this may be one of the most influential books I've ever read. Oh, wait! It's January. So this is only the first time I'll have gone on about it this year. Excellent. Well, then. Without further ado... :)
For those of you who aren't familiar with the book, briefly: it contrasts practices/concepts common to Judaism and Christianity, and is Lauren Winner's commentary on some of the ways in which Judaism might helpfully inform Christianity. Her chapter on hospitality is why I now own the kitchen table at which I am currently sitting. And her chapter on mourning has given words to something my heart has been trying to understand for awhile now.
It's been at the fringes of my consciousness for about 5 days. "Go read that chapter, Hap. Go read it." "I will. Later." "Go read the chapter, Hap." The book made it into my bag on Sunday as I left the house. Didn't read it. Brought it back home. Kicked it around my room for a couple of days. Couldn't fall asleep right away last night. Finally got around to opening the book up to chapter three: avelut: mourning. And something finally clicked.
What Winner says of churches is that what we "...often do less well is grieve. We lack a ritual for the long and tiring process that is sorrow and loss. . . . While you the mourner are still bawling your eyes out and slamming fists into the wall, everyone else, understandably, forgets and goes back to their normal lives and. . .you are left alone." And then (this is the best part), she says: "Mourning, maybe, is never easy, but it is better done inside a communal grammar of bereavement."*
"A communal grammar of bereavement." Grammar - the "how-to"s of language. Communal "how-to"s. Learning the "how-to"s of loss... in community. "Please...help me mourn."
There's a prayer called the Kaddish that Jewish mourners are required to say twice a day, every day, for a year after someone dies. Then, on the last day of that year's time, you light a candle and say Kaddish one final time, and then you do something to commemorate the person you were mourning - and then you "move on." And here's the thing. You aren't allowed to say it by yourself. You are required to have a minimum of ten people there with you. And you can't say it at home, nor are you allowed to crawl into a hole and stay there, no matter how badly you want to. No. You have to go to synagogue. With all those people. Twice a day. Every day. For a year. And say Kaddish.
This is Kaddish (the bit that your friends say with you is in italics):
May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified (Amen.)
in the world that He created as He willed.
May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days,
and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel,
swiftly and soon. Now say:
(Amen. May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.)
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled,
mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One.
Blessed is He,
beyond any blessing and song,
praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Now say:
May there be abundant peace from Heaven
and life upon us and upon all Israel. Now say:
He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,
upon us and upon all Israel. Now say:
There isn't a thing about mourning in there at all, is there?
I love that. Because even while you feel all the pain of loss, God's Name is still worthy to be praised. And over time the truth of these words will soak into your soul and you will come to a place of praise again... a place where you remember who God is and who you are in Him. You start to remember again that you are not the center of the universe. That this is God's story, not yours. And that He can write your life any way He wants to.
There are many, many things in life that we, over time, will mourn. Mourning is not always about losing someone to death. Sometimes it is about the death of a friendship, or a dream. Sometimes it is about dashed hope, or disillusionment. Sometimes it's about relational tension that didn't need to be there, but you were both too stupid to see clearly enough past the end of your own noses/egos to really see the situation as it actually was and not as you merely thought it was. Sometimes it's about the past and things that happened - or didn't happen. There are so many things to be mourned... that we will mourn. But praise be to God, we will not always mourn:
Revelation 21:3-4 - And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (NIV)
or Psalm 30:11-12 - "You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever." (NKJV)
I can't tell you what it is I'm mourning exactly. I'm not sure I even understand all of it. Innocence lost, maybe. A lot of things. Stuff. It's been a tough couple of weeks, emotionally. Lots of unbidden memories. Heartache - both over the memories, and a few things more current. And yet...
"You have turned for me, my mourning into dancing.... to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent...."
I love the way the New Century Version puts it, too: "You changed my sorrow into dancing. You took away my clothes of sadness, and clothed me in happiness. I will sing to you and not be silent. Lord, my God, I will praise you forever."
Or the Message: "You did it: you changed wild lament into whirling dance; You ripped off my black mourning band and decked me with wildflowers*. I'm about to burst with song; I can't keep quiet about you. God, my God, I can't thank you enough." *(wildflowers... maybe a whole field full of little white ones?)
So I will start talking. And I will keep praising. I will find ten friends with whom I will walk this valley - or rather, I will ask God to send me ten friends who want to walk it with me - and when it is done, I will light a candle, somewhere. And I will dance.
Oseh shalom bim'romav hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu v'al kol Yis'ra'eil v'im'ru. Amein.
(He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel. Now say: Amen.)
* Mudhouse Sabbath, by Lauren Winner. p. 27-28