32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
When winter’s darkness brings bitter cold to wetlands an ancient instinct awakens in turtles. They know exactly when it is time to brumate (hibernation for cold-blooded creatures.) They listen to this instinct and they go deep. Deep down beneath the surface of the water, down into the mud that has been filtered out and collected there, where they will rest for the winter. This is not a peaceful winter’s sleep. It is painful for the turtle to go deep, but they choose to because they know that they must. There will not be enough oxygen in the frozen wetland to sustain them through the winter, and so they steel their bodies against the urge to breathe. This will be an extremely painful process, but it will keep them alive. The turtles settle into quietude, and they wait. Lactic acid will begin to pool in their muscles, including their hearts, and it will begin to burn. And then that acid will demand to be neutralized, and so they will begin to pull calcium from their strong bones and shells.
For the past two years I have had the privilege of exploring winter wetlands with at-risk youth at NorthBay, an environmental education center in North East Maryland. These kids teach me about empathy, they teach me to slow down and feel, they teach me to be more like Jesus. I teach them about brumating turtles, and then I ask “During times of adversity, what areas of personal strength can you pull from to keep your heart healthy?” These kids know grief, and they have learned to survive it.
When Jesus met Mary and Martha at Lazarus’s tomb he chose to grieve at the loss of his friend, even though he knew he would shortly raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus paused specifically to weep. He chose grief because he chose empathy with Mary and Martha, and empathy with us. Jesus understood that grief was necessary work that was worthy of his time. Grief is defined as “deep sorrow.” Richard Rohr says that when we avoid grief, “we avoid God, who works in the darkness-where we are not in control.”
If we do not listen to the voice of God calling us deep to grieve, as Jesus did when he wept with Mary and Martha, we will succumb to winter. We must choose to sink into grief and wait there and feel the pain in order to find within ourselves the strength to rise to the surface and breathe again. If we do not slow ourselves down, relinquish control and rely on the intuition God has placed within us to “Be still and know,” we will not survive our current oxygen depleted environment.
As Dr. Hilary McBride, author and therapist advises, in order to survive this pandemic, “We are all going to have to get better at grief.” All of us. There is grief all around us right now. Some as devastating as death. And it is going to get worse before it gets better. However, we can not ignore our own grief in the face of the more profound grief of others. Comparative suffering is not a healthy response. Empathy is not a finite resource, in fact it multiplies.
We, like Lazarus from his tomb, like the turtle who waits for spring, will rise again. We will breath deeply and the oxygen will restore our bodies. This too shall pass, if we choose to trust that God will meet us in the deep.