It's likely you don't receive much mail. You’re one of the sad sacks of our biblical heritage — about as much fun as John the Baptist! But I appreciate the story that you left us, even when you were sitting in the garbage heap of your own life.
Personally, I don't feel that my life is in shambles at the moment; I'm grateful for that. But when I see the state of Earth, Job, I feel sad. Can you hear the groaning and shrieking over where you are? Central and North America, in particular, have had a hard summer.
It’s written that your life began well. You were in a regular Garden of Eden, remaining happily married with kids and successful in business. You had health, friends and faith. Then it all went sideways.
Here in Alberta, our oil patch dictates a boom-and-bust economy. Your life has been played out here often; you had it all and lost it all. Your lament in the face of calamity is why I'm writing to you.
As I alluded to above, we’re in a bit of a mess right now: extreme weather, a refugee crisis, nuclear testing, income disparity — it’s a long list. The response to these things, Job, is often to do what former U.S. President George W. Bush suggested after 9/11: go shopping, divert our attention, enjoy life and get back to normal. It's tempting, sure, but don't we need to do what you did first? Don't we need to lament the mess we have here?
Twenty-five years ago, I joined The Compassionate Friends. It's the worst club a person can join because it’s for bereaved parents and siblings. My first need was to be with people who understood my desire to smash glass, scream, swear, weep and fall apart. My second need (I say with humility) was to "graduate."
Back then, your story helped me to inch forward through the darkest times. Your tale, written like a play, fired my imagination. You spent the first two acts ranting at God, picking at your scabs and fighting with friends. But act three finds you gob-smacked into silence. Out of the whirlwind, God roars, “where were you when I laid the foundation of earth [and] the morning stars sang?”
When you were finally silent, you could next hear the tenderness. “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you." (Job 12:7-8)
In his book, Love and the Soul: Creating a Future for Earth, Robert Sardello writes, "Grieving has become more open and recognized in many therapeutic endeavors over the past several years. . . . I believe that the prevalence of this emotion is something more than personal, more than a psychological process belonging to an individual. It is world-oriented . . .”
Sardello also argues that collective grieving can help us to live more fully in the world as it is today. Expressing our grief for the state of Earth, I believe, is an honest and brave response to our current reality.
The wisdom in your story, Job, is not how it ends, but that you lamented when that was the only sane thing to do. Thanks for that.
This is the eighth in Carolyn Pogue’s “Letter to a Spiritual Ancestor” series.
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