Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall have comfort. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. Who goeth forth and weepeth, and beareth precious seed, shall doubtless return with rejoicing, and bring his sheaves with him. –Brahms Requiem, 1st movement
As I lay curled in a ball on my bed late Friday night, trying to quiet the sobs that shook my body and had the mascara pooling in dark circles under my eyes, it was difficult to remember the words from a few hours earlier: “blessed are they that mourn…” When the emotional pain envelops you and leaves little room for rational thought, the blessedness of mourning is merely an attractive idea. And comfort is very far away.
It’s difficult to accept the necessities of pain and sorrow and mourning when caught in the middle of it. My general tendency (aside from castigating myself with guilt and remonstrances) is to get angry at God, and this time around has been no different. I’ve been angry at God for awhile now. In my defense, He’s been very directly involved in placing me in a situation that has instigated a lot of intense emotional pain in my life. And as much as I can rationally say things like, “it’s been a valuable learning experience for me” and “last time something like this happened, the benefits from working through the difficulties far outweighed the emotional pain,” these answers are currently not emotionally satisfying. Not when I’m curled up, weeping, which has been happening a bit too regularly for my taste.
Behold, all flesh is as the grass, and all the goodliness of man is as the flower of grass; for lo, the grass with’reth, and the flower thereof decayeth…. So be ye patient. Albeit the Lord’s word endureth for evermore. The redeemed of the Lord shall return again, and come rejoicing unto Zion; gladness, joy everlasting, joy upon their heads shall be; joy and gladness, these shall be their portion, and sighing shall flee from them. –Brahms Requiem, 2nd movement
As I sang through the second movement of the Brahms Requiem on Saturday night, the contrasts jumped out at me. The choir’s somber and intense “Denn alles Fleish es ist vie Gras…” (all flesh is grass) reminded me just how imperfect my embodied existence is, and the words eched a realization from my crying spell the previous evening: the pains of mortality are never far afield.
As the second movement progressed, however, I marked the transition from the death-march-like passages into a fugue on the joy of resurrection. As the “Freude”s (joy) burst from the singers surrounding me every few measures, one of the central messages of the Requiem struck me with a force I have not felt in months: our mortal pains are temporary, and there will be relief. And yes, joy.
Ye now are sorrowful, howbeit ye shall again behold me, and your heart shall be joyful, and your job no man taketh from you. Yea, I will comfort you, as one whom his own mother comforteth. Look upon me; ye know that for a little time labor and sorrow were mine, but at the last I have found comfort. –Brahms Requiem, 5th movement
The program notes for our performance of Brahms Requiem contained the following passage: “In the words of biographer Florence May, the main themes of the Requiem are ‘sorrow consoled, doubt overcome, and death vanquished.’ In contrast to the Requiem Mass, there is no prayer for the dead, no fear of eternal damnation, and only a brief reference to the Day of Judgment–not as a day of terror, but as the day when ‘death shall be swallowed up in victory….Solace comes through acceptance of the fleeting nature of earthly existence and faith in a transfigured existence to come.”
This past weekend, while performing the Brahms Requiem, I had a moment of solace, of transcendence, if you will. It was not the transfiguration promised by Brahms (which I hope and pray awaits me someday in the future). It was a moment of tension: when the constant emotional pain that fills my days subsided enough for joy to exist alongside it. The joy and peace of the music filled my body for an hour and a half, and I was filled with a brief renewal of hope that “thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment” (D&C 121:7).
Since the performance, the alterations to my daily life have been minimal. My pain is still achingly present, my anger at God has not fully dissipated, and I am unlikely to currently accept explanations that my suffering can be consecrated to some higher purpose. Yet, at least temporarily, my perspective has subtly shifted. Perhaps it’s just a realization that there is an existence that is not all-consuming pain and a desire to understand how to more fully occupy such an existence. And as I brace myself for more crying spells, I express a prayer of gratitude for “an opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11): that in the midst of my sorrow, I can still find moments of peace and blessedness.
- 28 March 2007