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Collective Grief

May 4, 2020 by Beth A. Richardson

Just a few weeks ago we lived in a different world. It was not a perfect place. There were so many challenges—illness, injustice, poverty. Then the coronavirus hit, and the world that we knew is gone. Our challenges of illness, injustice, and poverty have taken on whole new meanings. We have witnessed a dismantling of our lives, communities, work places, faith communities, routines … a total undoing of our familiar realities. In just a few weeks, millions have lost their jobs and have been thrown into chaos. 

And, at the same time we are witnessing the courage of champions who fight the virus on our behalf: physicians, nurses, hospital aids, scientists, paramedics, grocery store workers, truck drivers, and trash collectors. So many nameless, faceless essential workers who risk their lives to keep this delicate society functioning. 

We are walking this Jesus journey in a new way, in a situation we could never have imagined. We walk with Jesus in our fear and disorientation, our doubts and our suffering. We walk with Jesus, who weeps with those who are alone—in quarantine, in the ICU, in the empty places loved ones used to fill. We walk with Jesus as we name the inequity of this virus’ effect on the poor, persons of color, those who are in prison and in detention. And, we walk with Jesus as we try to trust in the One who defeated human death.

How hard it is to face these days of never-ending loss and grief. We are waking, working, talking, sleeping, grieving grief. Words cannot express the depth of our individual and collective grief. And even though death is a natural part of life, we seem to have come face to face with it in a deeper way. 

I have received comfort over the years from the words of Julian of Norwich. Julian was a mystic who lived in England in the 14th century (1342–1416). Julian’s book, Revelations of Divine Love, is thought to be the earliest surviving book written in the English language by a woman. Julian lived during time of the “Black Death.” In those years of pandemic, it is likely that 40–50 percent of the residents of Europe died from the disease. It is very possible that Julian lost her whole family to the plague. And, yet, Julian spoke words of hope that can carry us today in our own pandemic. 

Julian wrote:

These words, ‘You shall not be overcome,’ were said very loudly and clearly. … God did not say, ‘You shall not be tormented, you shall not be troubled, you shall not be grieved,’ but God said, ‘You shall not be overcome.’
God wants us to know that God holds us with the same certainty whether we are in sorrow or well-being. … For it is God's will that we cling to God's comfort with all our might. For bliss is lasting, without end, and pain is passing and shall be brought to nothing for those who will be saved. 
The tender love that our good Lord has for all who will be saved … comforts quickly and sweetly, explaining in this way: ‘All will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.’ *

Please don’t try to go through this alone. Share your grief with friends and with us. We walk this journey together. If you are on Facebook, join us for Live Morning Prayer each day at 11:00 Central Time. Be present with others by praying for those who post their prayer requests on The Upper Room Prayer Wall.

Don’t forget that you are not alone. You are held gently in the comforting arms of the Creator. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Beth A. Richardson serves as the director of prayer and worship life and Dean of The Upper Room Chapel.

* For more of Julian’s wisdom, read Upper Room Spiritual Classics: Writings of Julian of Norwich.

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Throughout my Walk I experienced the presence of the Risen One in the devotional spaces as well as in times of teaching, meditation, and prayer. The communion with brothers, experienced in the daily sharing at the table and in the Word, generated deep bonds of brotherhood.” 

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