I was recently in a scripture discussion group that opened up the Psalms to me in a whole new way. We were talking about how the poetry found within the book of Psalms may have been written by individuals but were communally expressed. That means that the Psalmist very well could have heard other people speaking, or singing their words back to them.
It was like something within me broke open.
I started to think of Hortiao Spafford, who penned the now famous hymn “It is Well with My Soul.” As the story goes, Spafford was to go on a trip with his family, but got delayed due to business dealings. He, however, did send his family on the trip ahead of him. Only the ship they were traveling on sank when it collided with another vessel, resulting in the death of all four of his daughters. While traveling to meet his grieving wife, the only member of his family surviving from the accident, he wrote the words that would become the hymn we know today.
While that story may be familiar to us, in light of our discussion about the Psalms, all I could think of was Spafford hearing the words of his hymn, penned in grief and faith, sung back over him, again and again and again.
And that broke me even further open.
For a long time, Western culture has tried to contain and privatize grief. You get a few days to plan and hold a funeral and then are expected to return back - to work, to business as usual, to all of your hustle and bustle. But that’s not how the human heart works. We need places to express our grief and have people sing it back over us. To hear our words expressed with compassion and held as true. We need to publicly proclaim our grief, while being tenderly held in community.
My guess is that idea makes many of us uncomfortable. We don’t like the idea of people knowing about our grief, let alone joining us in publicly proclaiming it. Yet, what gift could that offer to us, both as grievers and the wider community? What shame could be diminished and understanding expanded by joining together in breaking open the constraints we have culturally placed on grief? What is just waiting to be sung?
Michelle is a Spiritual Director and End of Life Doula. She is the founder of Abide in the Spirit.
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