"Mystery and Manners"
Flannery O'Connor, an ingenious southern writer from my home state of Georgia, wrote a brilliant book for writers called, Mystery and Manners (which includes essays she had written spanning the years 1957 through 1969). In it, she made many a profound statement, several of which I hope to share with you in today's post!
I have been very grieved this week. As a child-loss-grieving-mother, I seek out a lot of connection and support from Facebook grief groups. As you and I know, the civilians in our childloss-grief-war aren't ones much for wanting to hear our mourning song, so we look to other grievers who are suffering, like we are, to uplift us. In one of my grief groups this week, a grieving mother succumbed to her pain (see yesterday's post) and took her own life. As hard as this tragedy is on those of us who were "facebook friends" of this precious soul, it became even more complicated when others outside our group wanted --in a sense-- to pile on to the tragedy by demonizing the leader of this particular group.
The leader of this particular grief group is, by self-profession, a practicing Jew; her group is specifically for those of us grieving parents who have lost an adult child, or young adult child. I think due to the nature of the group itself, there are some serious complications to our grief. For one, many of us were in the throes of "tough-love" kinds of discipline due to the age and new-found independence of our children in pursuing all kinds of endeavors that might have been harmful for them. There are also a number of members who are surviving one of the most painful kinds of death a parent could endure, and that is the death of their child by their own hands via suicide; you and I can at least begin to imagine the degree of angst in many of these parents' lives.
There are both Christ-believers in the group, and non-Christ-believers. Many of you who read my blog are Christians, and so you know the degree of comfort we can find in our Lord, and in knowing where our child is, and that we will get to be with them again. But, imagine the depths of angst and pain if a parent does not have those comforts to draw from...
So after the suicide of one of the grieving mothers in this group, some of the other grief group leaders began to be fairly nasty to our group leader. Unfortunately these other grief-group leaders are Christians, and though they have every right to stand on their convictions when they are afraid folks might be hurt by certain practices, they have seemingly overstepped their boundaries and have become particularly harsh toward our group leader.
Again, using some wise words of Flannery O'Connor, "Your criticism sounds to me as if you have read too many critical books and are too smart in an artificial, destructive, and very limited way." She also confirms what I feel, "Conviction without experience makes for harshness."
What these other group leaders seem to miss is the capability of our great God to move mightily by "the action of grace in territory largely held by the devil." (~O'Connor) Child-loss throws us all into the tumultuous territory of Satan's particular ground of, as Christ describes, "(coming) to kill, steal, and destroy." We stand with these grieving parents "at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet," and O'Connor challenges us, our "problem is to find that location."
O'Connor also says,
"Mystery is a great embarrassment to the modern mind. This generation has been made to feel that the aim of learning is to eliminate mystery...
"Mystery isn't something that is gradually evaporating. It grows along with knowledge."
For most of us, it remains a mystery why our child had to die. For Tommy, he questioned,
"Why did my child end up getting killed in spite of me praying for her everyday ... that God watch over her and keep her safe?"
And once our child did die, many of us ask like I did,
"Where IS my child?"
We've spent the entire life of our child protecting them; when they are suddenly taken, the protector in us is still very present, demanding to know,
"Where is my child now? Is she okay?!"
Particularly in the first year, we both wondered that, even though in theory, or by faith, we KNOW where she is, our spirits, our hearts, our souls would still cry out,
"Is she okay NOW ?!"
The Christian group leaders should know, Christian or not, we parents are going to go through the same angst of wondering where our child is upon the point of death. Christians and non-Christians alike will have a lot of the same questions. To not expect unbelievers to seek the answers in unorthodox ways is naive. (One area of particular contention of the Christian leaders is that several in one of my grief groups admittedly seek out psychics or mediums, they are so desperate for answers.)
Everything we've known up to the point of our child's death was essentially experienced through our earthly senses... being able to touch our child, talk to our child, hug our child, feed our child, breathe in our child's aroma, check on our child, speak to our child, hear our child, call our child...
and then when death happens, all we sense is a great big empty blank where our child once was???
Now we are left to gape into that black emptiness of our child's permanent absence from this earth where we had come to know them so well???
And we learn, that just because our child is absent does not mean we are not preoccupied with them. In fact, we are probably MORE preoccupied with them than ever before.
So, yes, there's mystery... Not just for the non-Christian, but for the Christian as well. And we are all raw, so terribly raw. The way we speak to one another needs to be terribly gentle, for we are ALL searching, questioning, second-guessing ourselves and our actions with our child. And each and every aspect of our lives with our child will have to be visited and revisited many times. It is all a part of our healing. It is normal.
We therefore know how cruel it is for the non-child-loss-grief civilians to insist it's time we "move on" before we've barely even begun our grief process. It is harmful; it is callous; it is cruel.
But we grievers can be just as unkind to one another as well when we speak even what we see as "the truth" in a cruel and insensitive manner.
Christ was indeed tough on the Pharisees who should have known better, leaders of the temple who were pompous and arrogant about the things of God, yet missed the blatant truth of God's Own Son standing there before them. And they were putting themselves in the position of God's mouthpiece to others, so Jesus was extremely tough on them (e.g., "Ye brood of vipers," "You are the blind leading the blind," etc.) but with the meek, the humble, the wounded, Christ was gentle, compassionate, and patient -- He was true to Himself in always speaking truth to them, yes, but He was loving, and the people could feel it.
Jesus always spoke His truth in love. Sometimes people were able to receive it and respond to it; sometimes they were unable to receive it at the time "and went away sorrowful." But Jesus was always kind and truthful, speaking the truth in a way they could receive it if they so chose. And so should we.
Flannery O'Connor called her book "Mystery and Manners." May we respect the mysteries many of us cannot understand this side of Heaven, and use loving manners as we receive one another's grief and all it entails (fears, extensive time, angst, questions, sometimes bad choices to get our questions answered, anger, hurt, confusion, etc.). We are all in this together and our words (just as civilians' words) can bring further hurt or can foster healing. May our words to one another foster healing.
And may we trust God's grace to abound "where eternity meets time and place," very likely in this very "location" of our child's death, for God always seeks the seekers. As my clients have often reminded me, God found them in the midst of their seeking, even in the most lurid of places, doing the most lurid of deeds amidst their desperation. As O'Connor so wisely put it,
"Most of us come to the church by a means the church does not allow."