I saw a guillemot fall today off the nesting cliffs before it caught the wind; I saw it snatched by a seagull’s bill fast-disappearing in its maw. Lazarus-like it emerged again and I caught my breath for joy, when swept down another gull to swallow the fledgling whole.
Nature’s mien is none too keen on compassion for the young. The weak it passes over lightly as fodder for the strong. The world smiles at peace entraps hopeful souls then dogs of war do feed while songbirds chirp and children sing of innocence and joy.
What means this? cries the philosopher writing down his ethics. Why it’s nature versus nurture, exclaims the educationist. Oh, hollow man, feed on love, the poet strums a tune. The guillemot parents of a fledgling bird hear not the empty words. They see beyond a skeptic’s sight to an ordaining hand, and flying easy from an empty nest, they’ll return again in spring.
Oh God, who takes away and gives, our wounded hearts you see! O give us strength to bear the pain and rest in faith again. Our grief we give to you once more and pray our sight you’ll clear to see the hope of eternal days when tears no more we’ll fear.
Job 12: 7-10 [Job speaks] “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”
There are so many cliches about love, the word, perhaps, has lost its power, but not the notion, not the need, not the knowledge that love’s very presence makes life worth living. In one of his most famous poems (“In My Craft or Sullen Art”), Welsh poet Dylan Thomas speaks of lovers with “their arms round the griefs of the ages” which is curious, as if in embracing one another, they embrace grief, and not just each other’s but those universal.
Ack! What kind of love is this? you might ask.
Anyone who’s been married longer than a decade (or three, in my case) knows that this expresses the height of love. The willingness to bear another’s griefs rather than turn and walk away is love’s absolute zenith, its most precious characteristic. You don’t run away from the pain of those you truly love. Instead, you embrace it with them, faithfully, day after day after day.
And because no one’s life is without its griefs, we often say that we shouldn’t judge a person until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Sorrow and pain are universals. Beyond any happiness, we can readily sympathize with suffering. Each of us carries our pain within us. There are voiceless cries and unshed tears behind every smile we see. And apprehending the universality of our hidden hurts binds us more completely to one another than anything that divides us.
Emily Dickinson realizes this in her poem “I measure every Grief I meet” and while reading it, it struck me that our Lord Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves begins with this understanding, to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).”May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other,” St. Paul prays in 1 Thessalonians.
Christ Himself, of course, set the example. He was, as the prophet Isaiah described him, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53: 3, 4). “Blessed be the Lord,” the psalmist writes, “who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation” (Ps. 68:19, NASB). Because he does, He is where our hearts find their rest.
It’s not easy to help shoulder someone’s grief, not simply in the context of marriage and family, but also those of our friends and neighbors, even our enemies. Yet God commands us to love (Matt. 5:44), even as He loves us, and the way is the way of the Cross, our own and each other’s.
Emily Dickinson, “I measure every Grief I meet” (1830-1886)
I measure every Grief I meet With narrow, probing, Eyes — I wonder if It weighs like Mine — Or has an Easier size.
I wonder if They bore it long — Or did it just begin — I could not tell the Date of Mine — It feels so old a pain —
I wonder if it hurts to live — And if They have to try — And whether — could They choose between — It would not be — to die —
I note that Some — gone patient long — At length, renew their smile — An imitation of a Light That has so little Oil —
I wonder if when Years have piled — Some Thousands — on the Harm — That hurt them early — such a lapse Could give them any Balm —
Or would they go on aching still Through Centuries of Nerve — Enlightened to a larger Pain – In Contrast with the Love —
The Grieved — are many — I am told — There is the various Cause — Death — is but one — and comes but once — And only nails the eyes —
There’s Grief of Want — and Grief of Cold — A sort they call “Despair” — There’s Banishment from native Eyes — In sight of Native Air —
And though I may not guess the kind — Correctly — yet to me A piercing Comfort it affords In passing Calvary —
To note the fashions — of the Cross — And how they’re mostly worn — Still fascinated to presume That Some — are like My Own —
Isaiah 53: 2-5
For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 (NIV)
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
Come to the house of mourning
You will see me there
In the darkening shadows
Of the sighing halls and stairs.
Candles brighten doorways
But they never flicker strong
Though many people enter
And some may call it home.