Loss Upon Loss, Grace Upon Grace

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I can’t count the number of times my counselor has said to me, “This is another loss to grieve.” Often, I have responded, “But I’m TIRED of loss. I’m tired of grieving.” In my darker (and more dramatic times), I’ve been known to claim that life is nothing but a continuous string of losses. That statement is partially true. Life is a string of losses. However, it isn’t “nothing but” a string of losses, despite times it absolutely feels that way.

I have been slowly reading through a book called Entering the Healing Ground: Grief, Ritual, and the Soul of the World by Francis Weller. My counselor recommended it. Weller discusses all sources of grief, not just the grief we associate with the death of a loved one, but also grief experienced at the loss of a relationship, the loss of purpose in life, and the awareness that things are not as they should be (among others). So often, we assume grief is only for those mourning a loved one, but in reality, our lives are filled with all kinds of grief begging to be acknowledged.

Weller calls himself an “advocate for grief,” asserting that “grief ripens us, pulls us from the depths of our souls what is most authentic in our being… it is the broken heart, the heart that knows sorrow that is also capable of genuine love.” Weller explains that he does not mean that we live lives of constant sorrow, but that delving into the grief is what enables us to engage with the joy and beauty in life. Weller believes that “without this awareness and willingness to be shaped by life, we remain caught in the adolescent strategies of avoidance and heroic striving.” Grief is part of what makes life full.

When a friend described to me several of the trials she and the people around her were going through, I observed that it seemed like she was experiencing hurt upon hurt. As I typed the phrase to her in an e-mail, it reminded me of a phrase I had read in the New Testament, “grace upon grace.” It’s from John 1, the “Word became flesh” passage where the author describes the coming of Christ. The specific verse reads, “For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”

I admit, I have an affinity for phrases that repeat words in a way that emphasizes the meaning of the words, even if it isn’t logical. The nature of grace is that it is limitless, so why say “grace upon grace?” Or, in the Lord’s prayer, why do some versions read end with, “For Thine is the Kingdom…forever and ever?” Forever means, well, forever. We don’t really need to say “and ever.” The author of John didn’t need to say “grace upon grace, ” either (or whatever the Greek equivalent would be). This unnecessary use of words points to the immeasurable essence of grace. He can use extra words just because.

In a world of loss upon loss, we desperately need that immeasurable grace upon grace. We need it when we are hurting and when we are not. We need it when others hurt us and others care for us. We need it when we hurt others and when we care for others. Grace is already there regardless of whether we recognize the losses, but naming and feeling the losses helps us to better see and experience grace. Even more, it enables us to be the presence of grace in others’ lives.

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