Dump the Sunday school lesson, and follow.
The pre-class chatter set the course for the Bible Sunday school class hour together. We didn’t need the planned lecture and discussion. Not this day. Bamboozled by last week’s events, we needed to process, shake our heads, and pray.
The Boston Marathon bombing. A city shut down. The violent aftermath of the bombing, as the Tsarnaev brothers tried to flee, and authorities wouldn’t stop until they were in custody. A fertilizer plant explodes in West, Texas, killing at least 14 people (other reports say up to 35), and injuring over 200. Flooding in the Midwest devastates homes, businesses, and families.
“Some of the things that religious leaders and people say when terrible things happen drive me crazy,” says Lefty.
“Like what?” asks Irish.
“Like, ‘God is in control,’ and ‘We should be at ease because all who died are in a better place, ‘” Lefty continues. “True as this may be, these are the worst things to say to people who are hurting! I know I don’t wanna hear that stuff!” His face flushed red with frustration and pain.
Heads around the room bobbled as everyone nodded in agreement. And the question burst forth from the weight of the sadness.
How well does Christianity grieve? As a community, specifically.
Not well. Not well at all, someone answers.
Say more, Teacher prompts.
Irish: Well, we don’t have funerals anymore. We have “celebrations of life.” That name change is a huge difference. To me it says that we’re supposed be happy that whoever died is with Jesus. It’s like it’s not acceptable to grieve.
Doc: A co-worker of mine is an Orthodox Jew. When his mother died he sat shiva for her, and was in ritual mourning for her for a year. He wore black, and didn’t shave his beard. His congregation supported him with visits and space and time to grieve, as is custom. It seemed like a good thing. We don’t have anything like that.
Teacher: Wakes and funerals are spaces to cry, moan, and express sadness. People send food and cards, and visit, but even this tapers off within three or four weeks. Often we don’t have the space for talking about death, speaking about the dead in any but a positive way, and experiencing the full rage of grief’s emotions. We don’t know what to do, and the grieving person is expected to put on a happy face so that we won’t be uncomfortable around her or him.
Reader: It seems that American culture allows us three to six months to grieve, and then we’re expected to just move on and “get back to normal.”
Each person’s point is valid. Why doesn’t Christianity have something like the Jewish mourning traditions of sitting shiva (seven days), shloshim (thirty days), and the 12-month period of mourning (which includes shiva and shloshim)? Why do our words of comfort for the grieving rush towards the empty tomb and God’s final victory? We seem to forget the anguish of Good Friday, and the cacophonous silence of the Saturday before Easter. Where are our words for these days and emotions?
Class assessment: as a community, Christianity does not grieve well. We can do better.
What say you? What is your experience of Christianity’s/the Church’s communal grieving? How well (or not) does the Church support those who grieve, and give them space to experience all of their emotions?