The Path of Grief

[NOTE: During my 2022 Study Leave, I am considering various aspects of wisdom and the role of integration as discovered in tools such as the Enneagram and Spiral Dynamics. Blog posts during this time are intended to fold into the greater learning around this theme.]

As I have continued reading and writing around the topic of integration and flow that are essential to wisdom traditions, I see more clearly what others have already seen. The journey to wisdom takes us from vulnerability to suffering to grief and finally to wholeness. I have written more extensively about this in previous blogposts and preached it in many a sermon; however, the emerging clarity of this pathway is important for my current learning.

Those who know me will know how easily distractible I am and how easily I can go down rabbit trails. Fortunately for me, this proved somewhat productive in my study in the past week. As I have read more of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Richard Rohr, and Elia Delio, along with books, podcasts, and lectures on both the Enneagram and Spiral Dynamics, it occurred to me that much of what I was learning reflected on a key book in the Hebrew Bible: Job. So I followed the rabbit trail all the way back through Job for at least the fourth time in my ministry.

While I will save a further reflection on Job for perhaps a study or blog series, the key I discovered is that, on the journey to wisdom, there is a barrier that exists between suffering and grief. It is easy to say that we don’t live in a culture that allows us to grieve, and we quickly critique our institutionalized resistance to grief. I think, however, it is something much deeper. It seems, to me, to be something that is part of the human condition.

In reading Job, the challenge for Job, Job’s wife, and his three friends is that collectively, they get stuck with the flow through grief that finally connects them to God. Job’s wife is just ready to be done with it, and counsels Job to curse God and die. That is pretty quickly dismissed. Job’s friends are defenders of a religious perspective based on transactional dualism (which I have unpacked and will continue to unpack more in the future). This is harder to dismiss because it speaks to so much of religious life even today.

Interestingly, I have always been a defender of Job’s right to complain and speak of the injustice of suffering since we are told at the beginning of the epic poem in the heavenly courtroom scene that Job is righteous and has done nothing wrong. The problem Job faces, however, is that his own righteousness becomes a badge of honor … to the point that it ends up becoming “self-righteousness.” This is pointed out near the end of the book by the young Elihu and then finally by God speaking to Job out of the whirlwind.

While Job’s anger and complaints are justified and very much part of grief, he gets stuck there. He is not finally able to grieve fully, which prevents his capacity to see the emerging truth that our suffering has no meaning unless it connects us with God and one another. This is the very definition of compassion.

As we face senseless violence in our world that is both individually and collectively systemic, the temptation on our part (well, at least on my part) is to continue to unleash further violence into the world through rhetoric and derision of those who perpetuate the harm … especially those who refuse to revise policy at the state and national levels. While calling on elected officials to enact change that can help with such senseless violence, I realize that, if I do not grieve, I can get stuck in the place of self-righteousness, which itself creates more harm.

And it is so easy to get stuck as Job does. It comes, in part, from thinking of the world hierarchically. For those who know (or are learning about) Spiral Dynamics, this means we lack the capacity to see up or down the spiral, which is a first tier phenomenon. Only those who are capable to moving upward to the second tier in the development of consciousness are capable to seeing according to what Richard Rohr calls “third eye seeing.”

I have discovered some truths about myself when I conceive of reality hierarchically. When I am functioning in a hierarchical framework …

  • I am unable to make the leap from suffering to the fullest expression of grief.
  • I cannot easily give up my position of righteousness that places me in the right against my accusers and my enemies.
  • I cannot see value in anyone who does not share my same worldview.
  • I am incapable of seeing the fear (both theirs and mine) that defines our present dilemma.
  • I cannot finally move beyond suffering.
  • I am incapable of greater expressions of compassion and empathy.

As long as we see the world hierarchically, we will miss the opportunity to fully transform ourselves or our world.

So the journey toward wholeness leads us necessarily through grief … both individually and collectively. This is the nature of lament. It is the acknowledgement that our hope finally is only in God.

As we face the fear and terror that grips our human community, may this be a call to us to see the world in non-dualistic ways … as a 3D world. Perhaps then God may be able to use us as willing instruments to transform the world. And the path of grief seems essential to this transformation.

2 thoughts on “The Path of Grief

  1. From Richard Rohr…
    “The only way the Lord can do so is by making the system fall apart. That’s called suffering. It’s how God shows us that life is always bigger than we presently imagine it. Faith allows us deliberately to live in a shaky position so that we have to rely upon Another. God gets closer blow by blow.”
    One of my favorite quotes.
    Rev Dr. Sharon Bell

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