It was a cold rainy day off yesterday so I couldn’t do my laundry or go out like I had planned (I like to do as the Dominicans do, it gives me an excuse to be lazy). So I snuggled up in my comfy little corner next to the Christmas tree to the only chapter book I have fully revisited more than a couple times in my life; A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. I suppose I revisit it because every year brings new experiences that give new light to my understanding and reading of the book. This time I marveled at the ease I now have in reading C.S. Lewis. When I first handled the book I knew I held a treasure. I knew it would be a book I carry with me, but I also knew I didn’t fully understand the eloquent articulations of the sophisticated scholar; Clive Staples (two fingers to the nose to convey snobbery). The first time I pressed the pages I thought I knew and fully understood grief without understanding C.S.Lewis. Today however, I know and understand just how much I didn’t know. I guess you could say, I now know how stupid I was and still am.
Today I read knowing how much more I have yet to glean from this book and from life. I find myself crying far more as I read it now than I did before and I wonder what I have yet to learn and how many more tears the book will bring with years to come. Call it empathy, sympathy or just feeling sorry for myself, call it what you like but I have found that there is a wealth of knowledge to learn in grief. Like a fine wine of balanced dryness, and sweetness, grief is a test by which we know the joys now gone and it intensifies the sorrows felt. We better understand the sweetness in the dryness and the dryness with the sweetness.
We look at the small mundane things of the world that once held no meaning at all. In our grief we find meaning. We look at something as simple as an evergreen that we have seen a million times before but this time we see it. We attach our grief to the object in a way as to seek after and grasp what once was. We see it as something to be understood in grief. For example; every other time your eyes rested upon that evergreen it was just a prop in your world, but now you look at it and remember that the last time you saw it was with a blissful ignorance without the grief laden eyes that now look upon the same evergreen. That evergreen can then also become a symbol of hope. The hope is that sweetness once experienced will find it’s way back into those things.
Before grief the evergreen was a prop, in grief it is a painful reminder of what once was, in moving beyond the full blow of grief we can never fully return to it being just a prop again. There is however, a beauty in the fact that once it just was, and now it takes on new meaning. We can now look at the evergreen and look to where we had once been and know that even when grief, sorrow and suffering changes our world, it gives new meaning. We can look at the evergreen and know joy where there was once nothing, all because we have walked through the dark shadow of grief. The morning comes and the light shines and the people walking in darkness have seen a great light! How darkened and meaningless all the props in our world would be if we did not know the pain and suffering once endured by our Savior. He gives new breath, new life in walking our road of tears. He comes to us in human flesh and shows us what it means to live a life of faithfulness. Now the evergreen is not just a prop, it becomes a cross, and later becomes a symbol of hope.
This life is not just a crescendo of beautiful things only made ugly by grief but perhaps a crescendo of things made beautiful by grief. Bread and wine become a tearful reminder of a final passover meal and progress their way into a celebratory meal where forgiveness is given and God is present. Two intersecting pieces of wood break the heart and carry the remembrance of a dark Friday. From the empty cross stained with blood new life is given. A feeding box for animals was once just that, until a young woman made it into something that could make for a bit of a bed on a night when she had no other choice than to just make do. She gave birth with blood sweat and tears; no different than any other natural birth. I imagine she held her child and remembered the day she received the news that would cause ridicule, mocking, and chastisement, not just for her, but for the child she carried. I imagine she held her first born son and cried the tears of a young mother until fatigue overwhelmed her. I imagine she held the words of the angel and looked upon her son maybe a bit overwhelmed in the normality of the birth. A child brought forth in pain to carry the sins of the world as a man and redeem it from sin and death. It is in his suffering that we find the mundane things of this world to hold beautiful reminders of pain once suffered for us. It is by him that something as cold and normal as rock might communicate once of death, suffering, loss, and pain later to be shattered by His resurrection and His life. I pray that props may be appreciated in your life without experience of great grief this Christmas. I pray that if you are reminded of loved ones lost in the mundane objects of your life, that you may also remember the joy the loved one held in your life. Most of all I pray that everyone would know the exceeding beauty and pleasure of a Savior who comes to us as our Emmanuel and who gives new meaning to the mundane in the midst of grief. Merry Christmas everyone, and God Bless!!!