Trenched by sorrow, tracked by joy

Is assurance believable in the face of trauma?

by Ken Sehested

How is it that the heart, trenched by sorrow, can be, at the same
time, enlarged in its capacity for empathy and compassion: the
qualities that trigger the work benevolence and the labor
of advocacy?

Grief can be lethal, of course. Survival typically requires the
tender stroke of many comforters: hands in hands, around
shoulders, full embrace, skin on skin; whispered
encouragement in the face of grief’s wake; assurance of the
sun’s resolve to arise despite the fright of darkest night.

Grief does not always transmit to grace, and grace to
generosity. But it can, if proper care is taken. Such care, of
course, is the assurance that misery is not the last word, is
not terminal, is not irreducible fate, is not beyond proper
requiem, proper remembrance, proper reverence. The
hallowing of grief can, like composted organic matter,
create the kind of fertile humus essential for life’s

Even beyond death, there is a Lamb’s Book of Life, with
names inscribed by One whose benevolence o’erpowers
all wrath, whose remembrance scoops up the abandoned,
the forsaken, the forgotten. There is a cherishing more
resolute than death’s grip. On this side of the sepulcher,
it can even be true that the ability to open one’s heart to
a neighbor’s pain is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

It is this assurance, this trustworthy covenant, that, in
the last appraisal, joy will transcend and amend grief’s
injury. The heart will be enlarged, enough to faithfully
abide in the midst of tragedy, sufficient to provide solace,
fierce advocacy, lavish assistance, resolute companionship
in the face of mortal threat.

Certainly, none of us can take it all in. It is not our job to ensure
history turns out right. We each sing in a chorused cloud of
witnesses—whether living, dead, or yet-to-be-born
accompanied by an orchestra of angels, directed by a Maestro
whose might is manifest in mercy, whose strength is
sufficient to defeat and dispel death’s dominion.

Such are the terms of our calling. Lean into this insurrectionary
summons. Fear not. Be of good cheer, despite the travail.
Compose requiems that mock the powers of vengeance. Linger
in the soul’s stilled point in the midst of howling storm. Nothing’s to
be lost save our shackling dismay, fear’s unbinding, sorrow’s
confounding. Though trenched by sorrow, know that you are
tracked by joy. Another world is not only possible; it is, even
now, hastening on its way. Offer prayers as flares to mark
the rendezvous.

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26 October 2023