By Scott Hudgins
Director of CBFNC’s Helping Pastors Thrive Program
Anger and no one can heal it. Slides through the metal detector.
Lives like a mole in a motel. A slide in a slide projector.
The cool, cool river. Sweeps the wild, white ocean.
The rage of love turns inward, to prayers of deep devotion.
– Paul Simon
More than a half century ago, the noted psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross taught us that grief progresses through stages, and that none is more powerful than the stage of anger. Grief and anger seemingly hang out together as emotional partners. Anger serves grief as a language that both expresses and reveals the our depths of loss. Where there is grief, there is, for a season, anger. And where there is anger, there is a strong probability that it is rooted in grief. Sometimes it is clearly seen, and at other times, it is hidden or camouflaged under the stuff of life.
Our pandemic year has provided us, our churches and our larger communities with plenty of grief. Often the grief is searing: the death of a loved one, an illness that leaves us isolated and alone, separation from those we love because we love them and want them to be safe and healthy. Sometimes the grief is more subtle, smoldering with no observable flame like the disruption of gatherings that mark our lives. Weddings, graduations, baptisms, college life—interrupted, deferred, not as we planned. There is the loss of time spent with friends and family, vacations thwarted, jobs lost, livelihoods destroyed. Both resound through our lives, and I would suggest that in this moment, if we listen carefully, we can feel the winds of grief and anger blowing all around us.
Over the next week, as our days will be filled with important occasions in our common life, we can glance the interplay of grief and anger. In a normal year these would simply mark festive celebrations of the autumn season. Yet COVID-19 has changed our perspective.
Halloween arrives at dusk on Saturday with a new set of thrills and chills for trick-or-treaters and neighborhood interactions. This year the fear of community spread of the virus overshadows the scary goblins and ghoulish pranks that accompany the holiday. This Halloween, we should all be wearing masks.
On Sunday, we recalibrate and add yet another hour of time to 2020 (as if we needed more of this year). Then, most of us will gather together electronically and at a distance for worship on All Saints Day—when we remember the lives of our saints, those faithful witnesses who betray death by their indelible impact on our lives. We will recall the names of those who departed in recent months, some victims of this cruel disease. Alone, the dying and the living, yet together in sadness and grief.
Then comes Tuesday, when we elect a President in the most polarized environment since the American Civil War. Anger, disagreement, outrage and disbelief have accompanied this campaign. Neighbor against neighbor. We have seen and felt it in with our own eyes in our communities, our families, and our churches. Now we must navigate the aftermath and pray for peace as we work to mend the frayed edges of our civic life. There is so much anger in part because there is so much grief.
I am convinced that now is the time for communities of faith, especially our churches, to forge hope through the work of love. Advent is coming. To get there we must attend to our grief, recognizing the sources of our anger. This has been such a difficult year. We need to grieve as a nation, as churches, as families and individuals. Perhaps our mission in this season is to find platforms and opportunities to grieve together. I am convinced that the Spirit of God will liberate us for this work.
In recent days, I have returned again and again to the gift of the scriptures in helping me with the language I need to make sense of this life in this time. And, I have also read familiar poems and lyrics that seem to speak to our realities in new, unexpected ways. Thirty years ago this month, poet and songwriter Paul Simon released his album, The Rhythm of the Saints, a collection of mesmerizing tunes and remarkable lyrics that some consider his most “spiritual” work. One of the songs entitled “Cool, Cool River” has been ringing in my head in recent days. I think I now understand why. It helps me amid the challenges of this season to forge a bit of hope, reminding me that attending to grief is about the work of love.
And I believe in the future. We shall suffer no more.
Maybe not in my lifetime. But in yours I feel sure.
And these prayers are
The constant road across the wilderness
These prayers are
These prayers are the memory of God