Stories Seldom Heard
235th Edition - February 2019
5: 4; Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard. I would especially like to
welcome parishioners of St Albert The Great, Dallas, Texas and
“Women In God’s Spirit,” Oakland, California.
When many of us were growing up we studied the
Baltimore Catechism. The Catechism both asked questions and gave
us answers which we dutifully memorized. But over the years, like
many of you, I have found new ways to articulate the basic mysteries
of our faith. One of these mysteries is grace. Grace, according to
the Baltimore Catechism, is a free gift given to us by God
through the merits of Jesus Christ. Grace helps us become the
people God desires us to be. However, because of my new
understanding of grace, I can more readily recognize its presence in
my daily life. Some of the following insights about grace have
helped open my imagination and enabled me to better speak of my
experience of grace. Perhaps the following quotes might also be
helpful for you.
“Grace stands at the door and knocks without ceasing. She always
runs ahead and awaits our arrival to offer us help.”
“Grace means we're in a different universe from where we had
been stuck, when we had absolutely no way to get there on your
"After we jump into the darkness of the unknown, faith (or grace)
lets us believe that we will either land on solid ground, or we will
be taught how to fly" (1).
What is the relationship between grace and grief? Loss never feels
like a blessing. None of us would ever say to a grieving parent,
spouse or even a stranger who has experienced the death of a loved
one, “how blessed you are.” Losses can be devastating. They are
life changing. There is always a gap that will never be filled.
However, we who have gone through losses know some of their secret
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Letters and Papers from Prison
says, "...nothing can fill the gap when we are away from those we
love, and it would be wrong to try and find anything. We must
simply hold out and win through...leaving the gap unfilled preserves
the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap.
God does not fill it, but keeps it empty so that our communion with
one another may be kept alive, even at the cost of pain...the dearer
and richer our memories, the more difficult the separation. But
gratitude converts the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy"
There are many kinds of loss: physical separation, sickness,
betrayal, loss of memory.
May was a psychiatrist and theologian who wrote a well-known book
entitled The Dark Night of the Soul (3).
The title of May’s book alludes to the theology of
Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, but May puts a
slightly different lens over our eyes as he examines their
insights. He begins with a brief story about his own sufferings and
the blessings they brought him, even though they were not at first
evident. As he tells his story, he invites us to reflect on our own
experiences. Like Gerald May, none of us have been sheltered from
life’s struggles, disappointments and even tragic loses. All of us
have felt, at one time or another, that we have had to start all
These experiences can make us fearful, angry and/or
despairing, but these difficult situations can also lead us to new
life and deeper joy if we give them the careful attention they
need. In fact, they can be a grace in disguise and an unexpected
blessing as they were for May.
May gives a poignant example from his life. Seven
years before he wrote the book he was diagnosed with cancer –
clearly bad. The experience, however, brought him closer to God and
the people he loved the most. He knew that would never have
happened had he not been so ill. There was the chemotherapy –
terrible. He felt awful. He lost his hair, became totally
dependent on others. It was an extremely difficult period in his
life, but he counted the insights he gained about himself as a
blessing and a great gift. In a profound way, he began to realize
that the most important things in life are not in our control. He
also realized another truth: we don’t have to look for spiritual
lessons with every struggle that comes our way. There are spiritual
lessons to be learned, but they usually come to us in brief insights
in the course of our lives.
I wonder if any of this resonates with you? It does
with me. Yet, we know that not everyone who suffers from a serious
illness as Gerald May describes or who has experienced serious
set-backs comes to life-affirming insights. Yet, it is in this void
that grace begins her usually slow and tedious, but life-giving
work. Grief can break open our self-centeredness. It can help us
realize that we are not self-sufficient. Because grief catches us
off guard, it gets our attention. It is like a gardener who shakes
loose the dirt to which our shallow roots cling. When that happens
and our tender roots are exposed, by necessity we examine what
sustains us and holds our lives together.
Wendell Berry puts it this way: “It may be that when we no longer
know/What to do/ We have come to our real work/ And that when we no
longer know/ Which way to go/ We have begun our real Journey/ The
mind that is not baffled/ Is not employed/ The impeded stream/ Is
the one that sings.” (4)
Even though grief is painful, the opposite of
mourning is deadly. If we are numbed to pain, indifferent to the
sufferings of others, we are not living life fully, let alone living
the life of Christ. Mourning leads to prayer, to deeper
understanding and listening, not just to God, but also to others.
Because grief reveals our frailty and our loves, it helps us
understand how easily we can destroy, through careless actions and
words, the hopes and dreams of others. Grief enlarges our hearts
and expands our vision so that we can see other people’s sufferings
with new eyes and respond with compassion. According to Meister
Eckhart this is the sign of true prayer. “The end of all prayer is
Ann Lamott is the author of many fine books. In Plan B: Further
Thoughts on Faith, Penguin Group, New York, New York. 2005.
2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from
Prison, New York: The MacMillan Company. 1967.
3. The Dark Night of the Soul, Gerald G.
May, M.D., Harper San Francisco. Page 47. 2004. Gerald May also
wrote Addiction and Grace.
4. Wendell Berry, “The Real Work”, poem.
"Stories Seldom Heard" is a monthly article
written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister
of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian
community to enrich one's personal and spiritual life. The articles
can be used for individual or group reflection.
If you would like to support this ministry, please
send your contributions to: Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, c/o
Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P.,
2517 Pine Street, San Francisco, CA
94115 Thank you.
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green, and Maria
Hetherton who have helped in editing this article. To make changes
or remove your name from “Stories Seldom Heard” mailing list,
please contact me at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you. Bob McGrath.