The Uses of Sorrow

I have some wonderful books of poetry by Mary Oliver. One is a book she herself gave me, at a small gathering of Episcopal clergy. The book is called “Thirst” and in it is a poem I think of often:

The Uses Of Sorrow
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

Despite our long acquaintance with sorrow, I fear that, too often, we Christians have leaped forward to God’s message of hope and completely bypassed sorrow. And, as the world grows increasingly complex and we are inundated with words and images at a faster pace, we learn less and less how to sit with our sorrow. How to center ourselves and adjust to a world of loss, without leaping over our grief and our anger to try and walk ourselves into a brighter day.

God has indeed promised us hope, a hope that is never-ending, and always alive. But I wonder if God ever expected us to take it upon ourselves to think we can bootstrap our souls into that hope? And I wonder, too, if God would wholly approve of our practice of finding comfort for ourselves before we have even taken proper time to sit with darkness, and sorrow and discomfort and grief.

Just a thought as we move deeper into the heart of Ordinary Time, approaching the season in which God’s coming assures us again of God’s care and love — we have been offered many gifts from God, not the least of which is sorrow.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver, an excerpt from “The Summer Day”

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