Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
This past weekend I saw a newscast where the anchorperson was interviewing Cristina Higgins, an American woman currently living under the COVID-19 lockdown in Italy. Ms. Higgins, married to an Italian, and the mother of two children, lives near Milan. The interview was an amazing insight into what is happening in Italy and what may be coming our way. This young and most articulate woman described how it feels to be confined to the small quarters of an apartment, with her children having now been out of school for a month. She talked about how the Italian government regulates going to the grocery store – she must have a signed form in order to be allowed to go to the store, careful not to interact with anyone, and then wait in line at the store, once again diligent in maintaining at least one meter of distance from other people. Shoppers are allowed into the store at intervals, with the authorities carefully counting to guard against overcrowding. Mrs. Higgins said that the markets are eerily quiet, with people going quickly about their business.
When asked about keeping in touch with others, she said that she and her husband are talking regularly to family and friends. But then she teared up. After gathering herself, she shared that keeping up with friends has a down-side to it, because invariably they hear of one of their friends who has fallen ill. Her sadness in relating this made me recognize even more how painful this time is for so many.
Jesus’ words in this next beatitude speak to a similar circumstance. “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” These are strange words. No one ever said anything like that, but then again, never did any person speak like Jesus Christ. Why do you think he said that? Was it because of the hurting people among his listeners that day? Was it something that Matthew remembered when he was dealing with his congregation later on, the one that was living through such a dark, persecuted time? They were hurting and grieving, and their mourning was acute. Maybe these words of Jesus were of identification. He saw the great pain going on and acknowledged it. In times of mourning, understanding and empathy are gifts of grace.
Speaking of grace, one of the most moving and powerful books that I have ever read is Days of Grace, the poignant memoir of Arthur Ashe. Ashe, as you may know, was a tennis star who played and lived with a grace like few others have. As an African-American he did much to overcome the deadly racism that still stalks our country. He did it in a way similar to his tennis game. He never lost his cool; he was always under control; and he won and lost with such class that he became a definition of the word. Ashe did have his shortcomings and disappointments. He had a bad heart, so bad, in fact, that it made him retire from professional tennis. Even more tragic was the later discovery that during his heart operations Arthur had been given blood tainted by the AIDS virus. He tried desperately to keep his illness private, but it wasn’t too long before a reporter for USA Today uncovered the information and was about to go public. Arthur then called his own press conference where he told about his illness and his reasoning for keeping it a secret. He maintained that it was a private matter that he and his family and close friends were trying to work through. However, because this matter was now public he wanted people to know the truth. He wanted people to know that he wasn’t going to be vindictive to the hospital or doctors. He wanted people to know that this was simply one of those tragedies that sometimes happen. And then, he said, “I wanted to keep this private for the sake of my family . . . for Jean, my wife, and for Camera, my five year old daughter,” but as he said those words, the image of his daughter brought tears to his eyes, and emotion robbed him of his speech . . . he couldn’t go on. His wife had to finish reading his press release. Ashe, who soon would be mourned for, was, in a strange way, comforting those who mourned. I think he is an icon of this beatitude.
In the coming days we will all be affected in some way by the coronavirus outbreak, certainly emotionally if not physically. As we traverse this time together, it is the calling of Jesus for us to look forward, as Arthur Ashe did, and offer comforting words and unswerving hope to those who mourn.
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
- Take time to consider moments of grace, generosity or selflessness of which you’ve been aware during these difficult days, and offer a prayer of gratitude for those evidences of God’s love among us.
- In your prayers, ask God to bring to mind folks you know who need a word of comfort.
- Consider how you personally appreciate being comforted, and allow those thoughts to influence prayer-guided action plans.
A Prayer Guide through Poetry: Pádraig Ó Tuama
Today we invite you to let Pádraig Ó Tuama guide you in your prayers. Ó Tuama is a poet, theologian, and extraordinary healer in our world of fracture. He leads the Corrymeela community of Northern Ireland, a place that has offered refuge and peacemaking during the violent division endured by that country. Pádraig Ó Tuama and Corrymeela extend a quiet, generative, and joyful force far beyond their northern coast to people around the world. Dr. Aaron Tyler introduced many of us to the writing of Pádraig Ó Tuama, and what a gift of an introduction that has been.
“Mo sheasamh ort lá na choise tinne,”*
There are some things
that can’t be stated quickly.
can meet us,
on the day when
our grief greets us.
It is only when I’ve
sailed across an ocean
that I can meet you truly.
And I see
you in me
and the me in you
sees through me.
You are the place of standing
on days when my feet are sore. You are the harbour’s landing
on days of the waves roar.
You are the arms enfolding
when I reject my flesh.
You are my gentle breathing
when I have lost my breath . . .
*An Irish phrase that translates: “You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore.”