Zelophehad’s Daughters

Blessed Are They That Mourn

Posted by Seraphine

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.

19 Responses to “Blessed Are They That Mourn”

  1. 1.

    (if I knew where you lived I’d bring you a bunch of yellow and pink tulips)

  2. 2.

    I lack context for this post. I assume that you’ve lost someone dear to you?

    Chris Rock said something profound the other day on TV when referring to the death of his father: “You never get over it. You get USED to it, but you never get over it.”

    That has been my experience.

  3. 3.

    I really appreciate this post. I’m not one who understands emotional pain very well, at least not the kind that my wife and others who live with depression experience, but I’ve lived through it along with my wife and the desperate hope for peace, even if it has to come mixed with sorrow, is something I understand. In the throes, all is dark. When my wife is struggling (which, thankfully, hasn’t happened as much lately) I try to help her see a bigger picture, but it seems impossible for her, even though we have been through the same thing before and come out just fine. I’ve learned that trying to fix the problem doesn’t work very well. All I can do is offer support and love. So I’ll offer this: hang in there, sis.

  4. 4.

    Deborah, thanks. I love tulips.

    annegb, sorry for the lack of context. I haven’t lost someone, but I didn’t want to be detailed about circumstances because my emotional pain (aside from involving my depression/bipolar disorder) involves events in my life that also involve other people (and which I don’t really feel comfortable discussing the details of in a public forum). Thanks for your words, though.

    Tom, thanks. You’re right that it’s hard to see the big picture when you’re in the middle of it, but support from loved ones does help. It sounds like you do a great job offering support and love to your wife when she needs it!

  5. 5.

    If it helps at all, thank you for sharing. I know from experience that it is NOT easy. I find encouragement from your posts.

  6. 6.

    I also find encouragement from your posts, especially ones like this. I have always been a completely upbeat person, the regular cock-eyed optimist. These past two years however have pushed me to the breaking point again and again, and I find myself having too many days where I can do nothing but sob and wonder why I am where I am.

    I feel better knowing I am not alone.

  7. 7.

    Thank you so much for your post. For some reason it is comforting to know I am not the only one angry at God for my emotional pain and many struggles. While I have seen blessings they have come incredibly slow and feel insignificant in comparison to the heartache and sorrow that last 7 years have held.

    I hope that the future brings you some element of peace and relief.

  8. 8.

    Seraphine–it’s 6:28 a.m. and I haven’t slept yet tonight/this morning because my journal writing (just before bed) got me thinking about how the big picture simply cannot lessen pain. Faith offers the hope for pain’s dispersal, but not the dispersal itself. And while that may have more value in a teleological sense, that means little when your heart hurts beyond reckoning. Sure, joy cometh in the morning–but when it’s dark you still can’t see. And that simply sucks.

    I wish I could offer you something–daffodils from my garden, a companionable hike, pastries (my self-medicating standby). Your description of the music and your struggle touch me deeply; sharing pain is brave, and kind. Thank you.

  9. 9.

    Lizzilu, NeedlessThinker, and Tanya Sue, thanks for your kind words. I agree that helps to know that one isn’t alone.

    Janet, it’s true that pain still exists despite hope and faith, and sometimes even grace. And thanks–even if you are not near enough to offer the other things (daffodils, patries, etc), I appreciate your empathy and kindness. (P.S. My self-medicating stand-by is ice cream, but I’m pretty fond of pastries too, especially pastries that come from the German bakery near my house–their cream cheese danishes are the best I’ve ever had.)

  10. 10.

    Interesting about the German Requiem, Seraphine. I can still remember how I felt the first time I heard it, especially the part you quote, with that rolling tympani. When it comes to music, I am not a doer, but a hearer only, and every time I hear that part I get goosebumps.

    I wish I knew what to say or do, but I don’t. One of the essential facts of our existence is that we are individuals, and individuality enforces a sort of separateness, or aloneness. I think it is safe to say that for many people, maybe the majority, loneliness and pain are part of life and outside circumstances have little to do with either causing or ameliorating them. But I think your insight is correct, even though we’re in deep pain, joy can also be present. I want to say I know just what you mean, but I’m not sure I can. For starters, I don’t know how it feels to cry until my mascara pools up. :)

    But I will say this, and I hope I say it in a way that conveys what I mean. Internet sympathy is cheap and easy, Seraphine. In a sense, you and I are strangers – if we passed on the street, we wouldn’t recognize each other, and for strangers to feign sympathy is to make that sympathy into a mockery. But in another way, and I think a more important way, we’re not strangers. You know things about me that most people in my ward don’t know, and what you have revealed here about yourself is very authentic and I would say even somewhat intimate, because it helps me to see you as a sister and fellow struggler. So, I hope it does not seem inappropriate for me to say that I wish there were a way for me to share your burden. I would gladly do it.

  11. 11.

    Mark IV, while I am the first to recognize that internet friendships are different than real life friendships (both of the serious romantic relationships I’ve been in have started on-line, which is a topic for another day), I agree that on-line does not necessarily mean inauthentic. So, I guess that’s a long way of me saying that your final comment was very kind and not inappropriate.

    And the rolling timpani (along with many other parts of the Brahms Requiem) give me goosebumps too.

  12. 12.

    Seraphine, I have two experiences from my own travails with mental anguish that may help. I offer them in a spirit of love, from my soul to yours, and hope they manifest themselves to you as helpful or at least sincere, rather than meddlesome and misguided.

    First is the remembrance of what Christ suffered in Gethsemane, and an acknowledgement and acceptance of the way in which my agony echoed his. I began to see my suffering as a tribute to him, or even to fantasize that somehow it lessened his infinitely deeper suffering, the fact that I suffered too alongside him. I realized that time is unimportant, that Gethsemane is always now. I remember thinking that I would have at least stayed awake with him. So I did that, I knelt beside him in Gethsemane and prayed.

    As I imagined that my suffering could help Christ somehow, I began to feel that I almost wanted to experience it, because I am strong to bear it, from long practice. If nothing else, I’m good at surviving extreme anguish, and making it through to the other side with breath still in my body. So I began to offer it willingly, in some twisted masochistic way, as a sacrifice to him. Within a year of beginning to do this, the suffering vanished entirely for me. I don’t know why. I think I was miraculously healed.

    Secondly, I began to feel that my suffering could somehow spare others. An irrational feeling that is also somehow true. I imagined that there was possibly a child somewhere who was going through the same thing as me, and by my suffering I could alleviate hers in some way. And I began to mentally try to do that, and to try to take on the hurts of those I loved as well. When we willingly take on the pains of others, if they willingly give them up to us, in some way and for some reason that I don’t understand, it works. And it works in both directions. We call it painsharing, my closest friends and I, and now we do it all the time. We mentally concentrate on taking each others’ pains and they are made light (literally).

    Other people’s pains never hurt much. They’re a privilege to bear and not an anguish. The trick is both ends of the link have to be willing to give their pain to the other. It doesn’t work in only one direction. The link will wither and die if both ends aren’t willing to take and also to give.

    It’s wonderful how literally true things are that I’ve been taught, that I thought were metaphorically true, or maybe true in some arcane way, but never dreamed they were just the plain and simple truth.

    Please, I hope you don’t think I would make light of your extreme suffering. Nor do I think anyone can truly understand the feelings of another. Because I have no idea why or how I was healed, I look at it as a miracle, and not something I did. But I pray that you will find access to the same miracle, and to the same healing. Maybe you are that unknown child whose sufferings I can, in some tiny way, help to bear.

  13. 13.

    Tatiana, I generally hesitate to conceptualize my own suffering as noble (as compared to the suffering of Christ, for example), but I do like the idea of thinking about how suffering can bring us closer to God (whether through our humility or viewing it as a sacrifice to him, etc). I, unfortunately, often have the tendency to let my suffering do the opposite. Thank-you for the reminder to do otherwise.

  14. 14.

    As I was reading this post I was reminded of the book “The Giver,” by Lois Lowry. In it, one individual holds all the pain of a community, leaving the community shallow and empty (and pain free). It helps me to remember that pain has a way of broadening our perspective, giving us empathy for others, even enriching our lives. Although too much anguish is just obviously that, too much, I think pain has a very important role in our lives. I don’t think I’d give it up, as difficult as it can be sometimes. I think having no pain would be much worse.

  15. 15.

    There are many who don’t know serious, life-absorbing pain that you know. Some of us know it only for a short time. I don’t know why you have this pain for so long and so intensely. I believe there is a great spectrum of maturity among souls in this world. Not many can bear the pain you describe. Perhaps your suffering somehow deepens and expands your soul in a way that you will look back on and cherish.
    Until then, my thoughts are with you.

  16. 16.

    Rilkerunning, I definitely agree with you. I do believe that pain serves a necessary purpose in life. I know that my own experiences with mental illness have made me much more empathetic, and a much more rounded individual.

    Jessawhy, I don’t really see myself as all that unique. I think that quite a lot of people have periods in life where they have to endure quite a lot of pain (because of the death of a loved one, infertility, depression, etc). But, as I mentioned above, I am grateful for the things pain has brought to my life. (Though the gratitude usually occurs after the pain has dissipated.) :)

  17. 17.

    Oh I hate it that it came across like that. :(

  18. 18.

    Tatiana, don’t feel bad–we all have comments that come across in ways we don’t intend! And I did really appreciate the overall sentiment of your comments (about using our pain to draw closer to God). I’m still thinking about the whole issue of pain and sacrifice because of your comment, so thanks.

  19. 19.

    [...] and I realized that the vast reservoir of pain that I’ve been carrying for months years was so diminished as to be almost non-existent. It was quite a shock. There was no single moment [...]

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