Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Integrating Our Loss

Dark Night 4 of 4

Grief takes our world apart and sets us down in darkness, in a time and place away, where we can figure out how we are going to restructure our lives. The grief we feel over the death of someone close challenges our beliefs. It takes us to the far edge of faith as we try to comprehend what has torn our hearts apart. We cannot see our way ahead and feel abandoned.

We stand in the darkness of mountains at night, a blanket pulled around to keep us warm. Overhead are the stars and the beauty of the cosmos, and we long to be lost in their wonder.

Faith would be simple if we trusted God completely. Then we would rejoice that our loved ones were in heaven and go on with our lives. My faith is not that simple, and I suspect that it’s not for many of you. We become attached to the people we love. I’m in John Donne’s camp, the 13th century Anglican poet/priest, who said that while we rejoice that our loved ones are in heaven, it’s proper for us to grieve their absence on earth.

In grief’s dark night we are stripped of our pretense and ego. There is another door here because St. John’s dark night also involves letting go, but his pathless way goes further into the darkness. This is a different journey, and to enter we have to let go of even our grief. The only thing we have left is our desire to be close to God, and in John’s dark night, we may no longer feel the consolation of God’s presence. For most all of us, the transforming power of grief’s dark night is enough.


Mirabai Starr, who has translated several works by the Spanish mystics (John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila), writes about this in her book, Caravan of No Desire. John’s dark night of the soul “is an intensely personal – often invisible – spiritual crisis….  It may at first mimic a state of existential angst, when life drops its disguise and religious beliefs seem inadequate to address the nakedness, but it is also infused with a quality of yearning, a quiet resonance with the deepest chords of the human condition…. What it means is that we have allowed our cup to be shattered, and that the Holy One may (or may not) come along and restore it with light. It means that we have said yes to annihilation, without any expectation that we will be resurrected.”

The term “dark night” is often misused, she notes. It is not about going through a really rough time, suffering a bad accident, or losing a job. These will challenge you and may make you grow, but they are not St. John’s intensely personal, spiritual crisis. “The Dark Night of the Soul is not only about being brought to our knees,” Mirabai says. “It is about unconditional love. The kind that wakes us up and affirms our deepest humanity.”

Having lost her daughter, Mirabai understands grief, “The death of a beloved is an amputation. You find a new center of gravity, but the limb does not grow back.”

“Grief is a sacred experience.”


Thomas Merton, who had been a monk at Gethsemani Monastery, dealt with the soul’s dark night, not because of a specific tragedy, but from his desire to draw close to the source of his faith. Merton realized, with that big brain of his, that he had to set aside his intellectual concepts of God if he was going to do this. Even the rituals and Gregorian chant of the monastery, which gave him such joy, had to be set aside.

In the midst of his search, Merton wrote, “My lord God, I have no idea where I am going…. And the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”

Grief teaches us not to fear the darkness, for it is in the mystery of the darkness that we find acceptance, integrate our losses, and discover what our hearts yearn for.


Dark Night One – Tim Farrington. Shattered Illusions

Dark Night Two – BrenĂ© Brown. Weaving the Shadows Together

Dark Night Three – Kathleen Norris. Losing Our Sandals

Dark Night Four – Mirabai Starr. Integrating Our Loss

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