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  • Liz Simmons

A Rankling Word, A Gospel of Grief

I’m sitting on the floor of my living room where I always sit after I get back from a run. Running has been my contemplative practice of choice over the last several years, and this season of grief has kicked up enough residue of loss to keep me running for miles.


When I run, I stamp the earth with my prayers, I find an altar in the world, and I create external movement to begin stirring internally what feels stuck, asleep, trapped.


When I run I find myself ruminating on thoughts like:


Suffering is absurdity.

Suffering is an extended Holy Saturday.

Suffering is “where is resurrection?”

Suffering is meaningless.

Suffering creates a low-grade fever of hopelessness.


And then, sitting here on this carpet, I begin scrolling the text conversations with my dad before he died, while he was still able to respond.


Like this one:

On June 18th he said


Love you.

Teachable moment for Bina.

So thankful for your faith.

Be at peace!

I have chosen to resign. (from the church)

My body won’t let me follow my heart.


He died on July 18th, one month later.


Suffering is absurdity. It is so senseless, and I will tell you the things that I find most useless:


God doesn’t waste your pain.

God has his reasons.

He’s not suffering anymore (this is the biggest “at least” comment I’ve ever heard that completely undervalues the work and gravity that empathy carves out).

God is using this to bring about your good.

God is writing a beautiful story with this pain you’re experiencing.


While I can’t at present resolve all the insecure places from which these phrases are often spoken (i.e. This must be God’s will because if it’s not – who’s in charge here???), I can say that my theology has been upended over the course of the last year.


While I have been seriously studying liberation theology, I have come to realize how much my theology offered by the church rests almost entirely on God’s omnipotence. We say all the time that God is love, but what we really mean is that fluffy love word is only important so long as God’s power is beneath it. Unfortunately, my most severe experiences with God’s power have demonstrated to me the opposite, which leaves me wondering if there is a truth much more important than his power.


If I had another life to do over again, I would begin with the suffering Christ nailed to a cross. And I would begin with those onlookers, those women, standing there, not taking him down, not putting up a fight, and I would start with Christ’s words of abandonment and yielding. Because really, that’s what I have experienced – God’s presence almost completely through his absence, and the abandonment and the yielding have much to offer as a way forward through the absence, through the absurdity.


And as I sit here I could beat my fists into the floor. I resonate deeply with the “fatherless” label these days. I am sad that I don’t get more time with my dad (he was a really good dad). And I am angry that my children never will. I am angry for the number of churches I have sat in that have no room for grief or pain. I’m so tired of the disorientation that comes from going to church on a Sunday morning, because everything seems to be so rightly ordered, so well-intentioned, so coherent – but the experience of our world is pain and disorder and disorientation and incoherence. It, like suffering, is absurdity.


And it’s not that I’ve lost hope or faith, or that I’m not trusting God, or that I’m not believing enough in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. It’s that our entire orientation to the Gospel has us wrapping up so much pain and grief and suffering with a bow of resurrection – its contents still stink like the death we carry around, or the suffering we see happening in our world. We have misappropriated the Good News of the Gospel. We cheapen the resurrection of Jesus from the dead when we can’t bear to look at him on the cross for more than a passing moment.


I guess that is precisely what the season of Lent is meant to achieve – reminding us of the suffering Christ and our own frailty. It is the season where we bury our “Alleluias” in the ground until Easter Sunday (never mind the many times we sang “Alleluia” at church this past Sunday, despite this beautifully meaningful tradition).


I will close these thoughts on the carpet with this word from Óscar Romero, which my dear friend Lyle shared with me a few months ago:


"A church that does not provoke crisis, a gospel that does not disturb, a word of God that does not rankle, a word of God that does not touch the concrete sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed—what kind of gospel is that?"

—Óscar Romero, The Scandal of Redemption