In companionship with the bereaved, as Alan D. Wolfelt says in Companioning the Bereaved: A Soulful Guide for Caregivers, a most meaningful principle is being still; it is not about frantic movement forward. This is something I have yet to learn well, even though I acknowledge its truth. We might fruitfully compare the mourning of death with the mourning of sin; and this not only because the wages of sin is death, but also because many people today are averse to mourning of both kinds. It is far harder to sit with an awareness of one’s own sin, and to acknowledge that things are not all right, than to strain forward toward God-knows-what; the same is true when one feels a piece of his heart broken by the death of one he loves. Who wants to own himself incapable of righting something wrong with him, and to acknowledge his own dependence on someone to save him? Much rather would he say it pro forma, to ease his own feeling of the moment enough to just move on. Even he who does so by reason, then, is loath to sit with the thought, and with the feeling, to sit on the ground with the truth about himself. We fear being crushed by the truth, and yet we need the truth to open our hearts to the purifying love of Christ, and this truth is what the Holy Ghost whispers in the stillness of Mount Sinai.
Yet the Chinese once knew that nothing but time, dedicated time, would be sufficient. Mourning for the dead cannot be hurried. In the idealized past, a Chinese scholar-official whose father or mother died would take leave from his post and mourn for three years, eating nothing but gruel, avoiding delights of the world, and every now and then wailing in a shack behind his house. For other relatives, within the five degrees of mourning, he would do similarly, though for a shorter time and with finer sackcloth. The ritual was systematic, even if it was an ideal to which not everyone would practically attain. We may not do exactly the same, but we may practise these things in spirit as much as we can.
To our loss, Christian Chinese seem to have given these things up. Perhaps in the rush to modernize by the latest Western standards, and to leave the old behind, we have forgotten the wisdom of the ancient paths. To be ruled by someone else’s race, rather than to be like the pole star, fixed in the heavens, is to forget where God is. What does God say? ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ To cease from striving, to know one’s abjection and yet to rest in God’s love, is to find the presence of the God who has always been here. This is the presence we share with those who have lost those they have loved, and this is the presence we desire them to know with us, and us with them. Man fears time, and time fears the pyramids; but after all things have passed away, even the pyramids, do we not find our value in being loved by God, and in loving him? When we give ourselves the space to mourn, and when we give others the space to wear sackcloth and mourn for three years upon the death of a parent – to turn their harps to mourning, and their organs into the voice of them that weep – we show respect for their pain, that they may allow themselves to acknowledge in their hearts, and before the face of God, what they have lost and how desperate they are for God. To dwell in the moment is good. We live in light of the Resurrection, and because of it we are justified, but to God the time of death is real as well. To see the light of Christ in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death is not to be out of that valley, but to be encamped there and dwell in the hope of God’s healing and deliverance; for we walk by faith, not by sight. For this reason we cling to the holy Cross. We pause in the unresolved dissonance. By putting on sackcloth for our own mourning, we are not forgetting the grace of Christ and turning back to pagan sorrow, but we are remembering the meaning of mourning as those who are doomed to die and mourn with hope. Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.