Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mourning into Dancing

This morning I was blessed by reading the Henri Nouwen book that Joshua gave me for Christmas, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. The chapter “From Sorrow to Joy” especially resonated with my heart. I love the way Nouwen describes the process of turning our mourning into dancing, in a similar way that Alan Nelson illustrates our being broken in the right places and transformed when we embrace our pain and loss. I hope these highlights from Nouwen bless you too, as you consider how your sorrow has been or could be turned into joy:

If there is any word that summarizes the sorrows of life, it is the word loss...Think about your own losses right now— the many places in your life where you have lost something dear and life giving...I am not suggesting that all of these losses will touch each of our lives in the same way. But as we walk together and listen to each other, we will soon discover that many, if not most, of these losses are part of the human journey— our own journey or the journey of our companions.

What to do with our losses? That’s the big question that faces us. Is there a way for that which is lost to be found? Can sadness turn to gladness? Can mourning lead to dancing? When “weeping lasts for a night time,” does joy truly come in the morning (Ps. 30: 5)?

The question is not whether you have experienced loss, but rather how you live your losses. Are you hiding them? Are you pretending they aren’t real? Are you refusing to share them with your fellow travelers? Are you trying to convince yourself that your losses are little compared with your gains? Are you blaming someone for what you have suffered and lost?

There is another option— the possibility of mourning. Yes, you can mourn your losses. You cannot talk or act them away, but you can shed tears over them and allow yourself to grieve deeply. You can never get to the joy if you dare not cry, if you do not have the courage to weep, if you don’t take the opportunity to experience the pain. The world says, “Just ignore it, be strong, don’t cry, get over it, move on.”

But if you don’t mourn you can become bitter. All your grief can go right into your deepest self and sit there for the rest of your life. Better to mourn your losses than to deny them. Dare to feel your losses. Dare to grieve them. Name the pain and say, “Yes, I feel real pain, real fear, real loss; and I am going to embrace it. I will take up the cross of my life, and accept it.” To grieve is to experience the pain of your life and face the dark abyss where nothing is clear or settled, where everything is shifting and changing. To fully grieve is to allow your losses to tear apart feelings of false security and safety and lead you to the painful truth of your brokenness and dependence upon God alone. Finally, you come to the point where you honestly can say: “Yes, yes, yes! This is my life, and I accept it.”

True healing begins at the moment that we can face the reality of our losses and let go of the illusions of control...

If our own human capacities are our sole resources, it would seem that the only reasonable response to our losses would be some form of stoicism. But I do believe that the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of Love, is given to us to reach out beyond our fears and embrace the reality of our losses. This is what mourning is all about: allowing the pain of our losses to enter our hearts; having the courage to let our wounds be known to ourselves and felt by ourselves; embracing the freedom to cry in anguish, or to scream in protest— and so to risk being led into an inner space where the joy can be found.

There’s a “time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Eccles. 3: 4). But what I want to tell you is that these times are connected. Mourning and dancing are part of the same movement of grace. Somehow, in the midst of your tears, a gift of life is given. Somehow, in the midst of your mourning, the first steps of the dance take place. The cries that well up from your losses belong to your song of praise. Those who cannot grieve cannot be joyful. Those have not been sad cannot be glad. Quite often, right in the midst of your crying, your smile comes through your tears.

And while you are mourning, you already are working on the choreography of your dance. Your tears of grief have softened your spirit and opened up the possibility to say “thanks.” You can claim your unique journey as God’s way to mold your heart and bring you joy...


 There is a secret place in us where the Spirit brings new life. There is a crèche where the Child is born in you. There is the broken soil of your soul where the seeds of grace can grow in you. The Spirit of God within us says: “There is a time to mourn and a time to dance.” The Spirit of healing that makes us mourn is the same Spirit that makes us dance. The mystery of the dance is that its movements are discovered in the mourning.

To heal is to let the Spirit call us to dance. Can you feel the freedom that rises up in you when you have been stripped naked and have nothing to inhibit your movements anymore? You can dance as David danced in front of the Ark. Can you notice in your innermost being the joy of living that comes from having nothing left to lose? Can you see the soft, beautiful smile that appears in the tearful eyes of your mourning friend? Jesus enters into our sadness, takes us by the hand, pulls us gently up to where we can stand, and invites us to dance. And as we dance, we realize that we don’t have to stay on the little spot of our grief but can step beyond it into unknown, spacious territory, until we finally know that the entire world is our dance floor.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. (2010-07-09). Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit (Kindle Locations 870, 874-878, 899-903, 905-917, 924, 927-938, 1088-1091, 1100-1105). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

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