mourning and dancing

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. " 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


Anonymous said...

Can one walk this road with you from across the other side of the world? Cause while I'm sure you'll have no trouble finding 10, I'd be honoured to hold your hand as we mourn and rejoice together! You are infinitely valuable and I'm here no matter what the journey brings!

Happy said...

Thanks, Rachel! I would love it if you would. I think it's safe to say you can expect a very long and newsy letter this weekend. :)

Thank you so much, sister. I'm here for you, too. Been thinking of you and praying for you quite a bit of late, actually. Hope things are going well. :) Talk to you soon.


Sara said...

so can ten friends all hobble along together taking turns saying the kaddish and being the chorus?


Happy said...

I don't see why not, my friend - especially as we wouldn't necessarily be using it in an orthodox fashion to begin with. :)

So two bits of it I pray for you today: that He would make peace in your heart in all the ways you need it - and that He will give reign to His kingship in you.

Give it time. That's the sweetest thing about avelut... it's not supposed to happen overnight. I think God sometimes is in far less of a hurry to perfect us than we are to perfect ourselves.

Praying for you.


Happy said...

sorry, that was a bit of disconnected rambling, wasn't it... :) there was a mental path, really there was!

Cheryl said...

hi There... I echo rachel. I'm not there... but I would feel privileged to walk that road with you.... from a few hundred miles away. As I read that, I long for our churches to be more like hold your hands not for the first week, but every day.

Happy said...

Thanks, Cheryl. I think I can guarantee you some interesting conversation on the road trip to Jenn's, then. :) She is, by the way, totally up for company.

Thank you! Can't wait to see you in a couple weeks. :)

Ruth said...

I relate to what you are saying. Several years ago the Lord told me he wanted to heal a brokenness in me. I was surprised because I thought I was pretty ship shape.

He proceeded to bring forward memories of hurts in my life that had left their wounds in my heart. It was kind of eerie. But I went with it cause I knew it was from the Lord. Somehow I was meant to relive these hurts and grieve them. It was then that God spoke to me in my heart with three simple words.

"I was there"

Those words became the balm that healed my spirit. It was like being in a time machine with the Lord. His presence brought peace to my soul. Somehow, everything was okay.

Yes there is a time for mourning. And there is a time to bear one another's burdens.

Happy - I don't know what your burden is but please know that I bear with you in my prayers.

Happy said...

Ruth, thank you - for sharing your own story, and for your prayers.

I had the most amazing experience on Monday - walking through some of the memories during worship at our 20somethings group, and taking them to the Lord, feeling some of the pain that came with them, and hearing Him say, "Happy - it wasn't a waste."

I don't know how to explain what that meant to me, but it's become a mantra of sorts - like yours: "I was there." Knowing that somehow all that time will be redeemed, that what I've been through matters to Him, and that He'll use it for His glory - that it wasn't a waste - makes a difference. God is so good. SO good.

Thanks for praying, Ruth. God bless you.


Rob said...

Well, however little it may be worth, whatever I can do for you or be with you (or any combination thereof), I'm here for you.

Happy said...

Rob, it has *never* been worth little. Not once since that first post-Greek class walk when you asked how I was doing and refused to take "fine" for the lie that it was. (tho I will still argue with Heather that I really was F.I.N.E.) :)

It would be an honor and a privilege to have you walk this path with me...again. It won't be anything new - but this time it's not about learning to forgive... it's about unlearning what I learned that wasn't true. That may take some doing, and I will deeply value your perspective in that.

Thanks. Love you. Hope the symposium was amazing. Can't wait to hear about it - and who you ran into. So sad that I couldn't be there... ah, well. Maybe someday, when I'm a *real* worship leader.... :P (the paid kind with sabbaticals and personal study days...) :)

Amy said...

Happy, thank you for this post. This has been a year of walking through hurt myself. In the midst of that, though, I've recognized that it's very difficult to walk with others in the midst of their pain. To think of a community that has incorporated that into their lives is amazing to think about.

I will pray for you and with you as you walk through this time, specifically that praise becomes even more your song.

Happy said...

Amy, thank you. I'm already beginning to see that happen - praise becoming more my song. Learning to "say Kaddish" this year is going to be a very good thing.

I love you, sister - and I am still praying for you, too. (And that letter I promised you is on the way this week!) Thank you for everything. Peace be with you.

Sensuous Wife said...

"Unnh. Praise God." I say with openmouthed surprise. Sigh. Wow.

Girl, you are so right.

We are relearning so many things that are so important. Reclaiming what should have never been jettisoned. There is a LOT more to judaism than not being allowed to eat pork chops. There are some beeyootiful ways of doing community we can learn from our spiritual cousins (seeing as I am Abraham's seed by faith because of Jesus).

And again, you are so right, in that there was much mourning that preceded my dancing. When I started to experience life with a community of friends who will mourn and dance with me, it was so profoundly good, I could barely take it in. I wrote about this at

I'm sending you my love and comfort today. Let me know when you are ready to dance so I can dance with you! -SW