The Neighborhood Liturgies


Grief As Gravity

Have you ever looked out into the stars and made a wish?

When I was a little boy I would wait until everybody else was asleep and I would get up to look out my bedroom window and up into the night sky. I would wish for things that would ease the fears or magnify the hopes of my childhood mind. These wishes were always simple and had no real consequences if they didn’t come true. Honestly, I can’t say I believed in these wishes wholeheartedly and it wasn’t a nightly ritual but, when I felt the need I would make sure to do so. I’m sure if we’re honest with ourselves we can all say that we made these kinds of wishes.

I don’t know what prompted me to start calling upon the stars when I was in need. If I had to guess I think it’s something we can all relate to. Not feeling heard as children.I don’t say this as a critique of my parents because that’s not what this is. It’s simply that our fears were small and felt insignificant to adults. They were problems to solve not conversations to be had. Adult ears are not always trained to listen to the worries of a child. It’s something learned over time for adults. Sometimes children break through but, often times the real problems in the world were too complex to explain or our small problems were easy to dismiss. We had to find places that we could be heard. 

I stumbled across a line in my third grade science book that helped me piece this together.

“we are made up of star dust”

This biological explanation for why I existed helped me make sense of my longing to reach out. It made sense to me that stars would reach out to stars. It was easy to reach out to the stars because they would listen and they had time. Somehow with this in mind, wishing on a star felt less like a childhood naivety. Instead it felt natural. 

As I got older I would wish less and less. I was able to talk through and understand my fears and wants. Not strangely enough I realized I wished for things that I had control over like spelling tests, social anxieties & whether or not I could go places with my friends. I had stopped making my wishes by the time I was 10. That’s when I wasn’t a child anymore in my mind. That was until somebody very close to me died.

When I was 12 my grandpa was suddenly gravely ill. Since I wasn’t raised particularly religious I didn’t have any framework for prayer or how to process grief. Naturally I reverted to my childhood beliefs and made what would be my final wish. It was simple. I wished grandpa would get better. 

A week later I remember looking into his casket and noticing the wrinkles in his hands. It struck me how old he really was. Dare I say it how human he really was. In that moment I wasn’t interested in the heavens and instead I was confronted with the earth. 

Eventually I would start reading the scriptures and identify as a Christian. Some would tell me that God was out there somewhere and I was given language for grief. What I needed to do was pray and God who was somewhere outside of me would somehow intervene and it would be ok. God replaced the stars in a way but, in hindsight God became the stars. God was simply an external expanse that I would throw words to in the hopes that something good would come out of it. Instead of it being a matter of happening or not happening it was a matter of will or not. Not my will but God’s will. This was again an easy undertaking until I myself would be confronted with my own near death experience. 

I prayed and prayed that God would rescue me. This cosmic entity who was supposed to love me never came to the rescue. My physical suffering came and it went without divine intervention. Another moment of God’s will that I might suffer. It wasn’t until a decade later that my emotional trauma surfaced. My unaddressed grief began to crack my faith in the will of God. It began to crumble my thoughts on the causes of suffering and most importantly my relationship with prayer. 

When examining my grief I came to realize how I swapped stars for their creator but my interactions were the same. My hope in the universe as a child became a hope in a misguided hope in God. I functionally prayed to change outcomes that only advantaged me. I prayed that I might avoid suffering. This is when God stopped not only being the cosmos but also the human Christ. In all my years of being a Christian I routinely glossed over the suffering of Christ. I never saw Jesus as flesh and blood God but instead some spiritual being who intervened. 

Jesus is the very person who takes the parts of me that are stardust and mixes them with the divine. Jesus is the cosmos and the common. If it was not for the gravity of grief I would have never been able to receive the divine human Christ as someone like myself. Grief is what helps us to remember that no matter how far we reach into the spiritual that we are still beautifully human. 

Charles PorterComment