When Roy died I found myself initiated into a special club. A club that none of its members want to join, but we find each other nonetheless. Those I meet from the club are kind and gentle, sensitively attuned to the pain they know I am enduring.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, became a sort of leader of the club when her husband died suddenly of a heart attack in 2015. She has since written a book Option B, about her journey. I read somewhere, maybe an excerpt of the book, or maybe a FB post, about her experience noticing women wearing necklaces with gold rings dangling from them. Not just any gold rings, special gold rings. Wedding rings. A sign of membership.
I purchased a ring when I was recently in Italy and I now call it my widow ring, a fitting contrast the that "other" ring that I chose to take off and now wear, from a gold chain, around my neck. Both rings are symbols of how love shapes and shifts, an energy that never dies. I wear my widow ring on the fourth finger of my right hand. It's a hard symbolism to accept. Yet each time I look at it I am gently invited to accept this reality, gently asked to explore the seeming opposites of letting go and holding on. Gently invited to see my own life and Roy's life as part of a larger expression of love and suffering. A larger expression of grieving as receiving, as transformative.
Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, writes about this as a spiritual experience.
"The prophet Zechariah calls Israel to “Look upon the pierced one and to mourn over him as for an only son,” and “weep for him as for a firstborn child,” and then “from that mourning” (five times repeated) will flow “a spirit of kindness and prayer” (12:10) and “a fountain of water” (13:1; 14:8).
"From that mourning...will a flow a spirit of kindness and prayer, and a fountain of water." (My emphasis)
We would now call this “grief work”—holding the mystery of all suffering, looking honestly right at it, and learning from it, which typically leads to an uncanny and newfound compassion and understanding.
I believe we are invited to gaze upon the image of the crucified to soften our hearts toward suffering and to know that God’s heart has always been softened toward us, even and most especially in our suffering. This softens us toward ourselves and all others who suffer.
Transformation means to change form, move across, or “shape-shift.” To be transformed is to look out at reality from a genuinely new source and center, seeing things in a larger and more holistic way.
Those who agree to carry and love what God loves, which is both the good and the bad of human history, and to pay the price for its reconciliation within themselves—these are the followers of Jesus—the leaven, the salt, the remnant, the mustard seed that God can use to transform the world. The cross is a very dramatic image of what it takes to be a usable one for God."
I believe we are invited to gaze upon the image of the crucified to soften our hearts toward suffering and to know that God’s heart has always been softened toward us, even and most especially in our suffering. This softens us toward ourselves and all others who suffer. (My emphasis)
I believe this too, and I'm thankful that Richard Rohr expresses it so eloquently. Who would choose to look honestly, right at suffering, if we didn't have to? I know I didn't. But as a result I have experienced deeply how God's heart has always been softened toward me. And how she wishes for my heart to be softened toward the suffering of others.