I have long loved Darryl Worley’s song ‘Awful Beautiful Life’ that’s linked above. It came out around the time I graduated from college and it reminds me that life is crazy, tragic, and magic. And the older I get, the more often I see it. For example, I attended the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols this weekend, and was struck by the swirl margarita that is grief and beauty, two uncontrollable forces of our emotional nature.
We describe sorrow and grief as feeling ‘blue,’ but is there any more beautiful color? Have you EVER seen an ugly shade of blue? The diversity from the lightest robin’s egg to the deepest, darkest midnight is beautiful and awesome. And these are the colors God created that we associate with feeling our deepest, most-painful emotions.
Here’s my favorite thing about beauty: it’s spellbinding. When we behold something beautiful, we are captivated; we soak it in. There’s a pause. We don’t judge it (‘Sure wish that flower’s petals bloomed wider.’). We don’t try to change it (‘Well, if *I* composed this piece of music…’). We allow beauty to run through us, course through our minds and hearts and souls. And often, while we are enraptured by beautiful views or beautiful sounds, or some combination of them both, everything else, even the most profoundly painful grief, falls away.
Grief is a marker of something beautiful that is no longer tangible. Renowned philosopher Winnie the Pooh taught me that we feel grief because we have loved. Sometimes the grief comes from a piece of ourselves that has been lost or broken. Sometimes a loved one has died or a relationship has broken in another way.
One of the beautiful things about Lessons and Carols is that it tells a story of hope. And woven through each chapter is music, beautifully composed and shared, arresting the senses with depth of emotion and powerful movement. We hear the music rise and fall, grow and abate. Not unlike our own life of twists and turns.
Grief feels a little like being a puddle, challenging to find structure, and fortify oneself against the onslaught of emotion. Similarly, if we try to hold all that emotion in, its power, like water, can break through our walls unexpectedly.
In another favorite source of philosophy, Ted Lasso, the powerful fùtbol club-owning ‘boss ass b*tch’ Rebecca Welton says, ‘Crying is the best, isn’t it? It’s like an orgasm for the soul.’
What if, aware that we are feeling grief and loss, we create and hold space to feel it? What if we give ourselves permission to cry and sob, to let that wave of emotion overtake us for a spell?
As we become aware of our grief, naming it, living in it, allowing our grief to pour forth from us, perhaps we can channel our sadness into a felt experience. Perhaps we can honor our grief just like any other beautiful, God-created art.
After we feel the feelings, honor what’s been lost, we remember that those we love and our stories of them have the power to stabilize us and remind us of the beauty that has been and is. Our prayers in the Book of Common Prayer can guide our words when we don’t have our own. And our community can prop us up when we lack our own strength against the weight of grief. God’s creation can guide us back to the land of the hopeful and faithful.
Creation is FULL of beauty. Reminders that death and life are part of our God-ordained cycles of life are all around us. Throughout creation we find metaphors reminding us about the importance of feeling:
- No matter how hard the bark of a tree, it can still scar.
- There is beauty in the most fragile of flowers or butterfly wings.
- Greater beauty is revealed when the light gets in.
- No matter how dark, there’s always something shining in the darkness.
A friend recently introduced me to what I call the ‘Wheel of a Life Well-Lived,’ and I refer back to it frequently (pictured below). Naming emotions requires that we pause long enough to consider how we are feeling and perhaps even why. Then with the positive emotions, gratitude follows. With the negative ones, reflection. Then empathy.
Grief is a mandate from God to pause and feel and observe our emotions in our bodies. When we have felt it, we can recognize it in others. We can offer light and love to them. We can extend our own humanness. In this way, we can extend empathy to our children, too. When we grieve, we model a respect for all aspects of the beautiful humanity God has created in our lives. We show others, children and peers alike, that sadness is okay. Anger is okay. Imagine how differently a sibling spat might go if our kiddos can verbalize that they are feeling overwhelmed rather than furious.
You know what else, besides beauty, distracts us from our grief, even momentarily? Breathing. Deep, purposeful, healing breaths. Our breathing bodies are gifts of beauty from God to the world and those around you. God abides in us and Jesus invites us to abide in him. How precious a thing to be invited by God to be held and kept, that our creator wants to dwell with us. Despite our feelings of loneliness, God promises to remain. And then one day, we can remain with others too. Abide in them when they need the love and peace which passes understanding.