Monday, October 22, 2012

Grief and Gentleness

One of the things I have been processing this month while on sabbatical is grief. I don't know that I have great insights into grief right now, other than to share a bit from Wendell Berry's insights in his novel Hannah Coulter. Hannah has been married to Nathan Coulter for a number of years now. She is an old woman, reflecting back on her life, and she reflects on some of the difficulties and challenges of marriage. In this one part in the book, Hannah reflects on the things that would come between she and Nathan as a couple. Hannah shares, "we would go apart, Nathan into whatever loneliness was his, I into mine" (p. 109). But then they "...would come into alignment again, the sun and the moon and the earth. And then it would be as if we were coming together for the first time" (p. 109). In those lonely moments in their marriage, Hannah says that what she was always reaching for was "his gentleness that had been made in him by loss and grief and suffering" (p. 109). Nathan had known much loss and grief from his years spent serving in WWII, as well as losing his brother Tom to the war. Hannah writes:

The gentleness I knew in him seemed to be calling out, and it was a gentleness in me that answered. That gentleness, calling and answering, giving and talking, brought us together. It brought us into the room of love. It made our place clear around us.

Hannah says of the importance of the small investments that come from years of preparation and fidelity in the relationship, "... you may have a long journey to travel to meet somebody in the innermost inwardness and sweetness of that room. You can't get there just by wanting to, or just because the night falls. The meeting is prepared in the long day, in the work of years, in the keeping of faith, in kindness" (p. 110).

I think of how difficult marriage can be, yet it is tenderness, gentleness and caring that we seek inside our marriages, isn't it? As I travel into my 40s, I've found myself pursuing older men who are tender, gentle and caring towards the Lord, their spouses, families and others, so that I might learn from them. I don't know all that grief does in us, but I do think it holds the potential of doing something very significant for us, making us soft and tender people.

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