A big part of the spiritual journey is the Via Negativa that invites us to grieve.  Without grieving we can get stuck spiritually with no new life flowing. 

“Candlelight Vigil” Photo by Keith Trice on Flickr

Shared rituals of grief can release this stuckness: not stale predigested ceremonies, but fresh and living rituals arising out of the needs of the people.

The reinvention of ritual matters for many reasons.  My dream is that someday all of our cities will have a ritual center just as they all now have cinemaplexes.   In such a ritual center, real community issues of shared joy and grief, creativity and communion can be realized in an interfaith context.  (Maybe we already have those centers and they are churches that are often abandoned today.)

I have seen, repeatedly, the impact of ritual on grief:

“Winter Tree” Painting by Ronaldo Tuazon.
  • In 2012 I was invited by Sounds True to lead a grieving ritual at their annual conference held in the Rocky Mountains near Estes Park. Eight hundred people were in attendance representing a great variety of traditions, including Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Sufi, goddess, indigenous, and non-believers. I led a one-hour grief ritual which we use in an abbreviated form in our Cosmic Masses, and the response was very powerful. One man said to me, “I have been seeing a psychiatrist for twenty-one years and I am firing her on Monday. This is what I needed all along.” Others told me their lives were changed by that one ceremony.
  • I led a grieving ritual with about eighty socially responsible business people at their annual retreat in Santa Fe several years ago. After the ritual one man told me he had been carrying grief issues for twenty years and felt years younger for having let it go. Another said he had walked away from a creative project around alternative energy three years previously, but now he was ready, thanks to the ritual, to return to it.
“Onslaught.” Anonymous Soul Collage. Private collection.
  • Time and again after the Techno Cosmic Mass I hear stories like: “I loved it all but the grieving was the most powerful thing for me. I grieve alone in my bedroom but no one has every invited me to grieve with others before.” Once a woman came up to me and said: “I am a fierce atheist—so fierce that when I walk down the street and there is a church I cross the street to go by the church. But during the Mass, when we did the grieving part, something happened to me”—and she pointed to her heart—“by the time communion came along I was hungry for some. My whole life has changed here tonight.”

Yes, we are all hungry for the power of ritual, the joy that it can bring alive in us; and the grieving it can assist with processing.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest, pp. 369f.
Banner Image: “Grieving Woman” statue by Friedhof Engesohde, Hanover, Germany. Photo by X1Klima, Flickr

Queries for Contemplation

Do these stories speak to your experiences in grieving?  Remember those times. 

How did you deal with your grief at that time?  What has life taught you about the power of grief?

Recommended Reading

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.

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18 thoughts on “Grief and Ritual”

    1. Gail Ransom

      Thank you for pointing out the importance of a simple conjunction! “With” says so much because it indicates sharing an emotion. Compassion. Passion “with”. A shared emotion. Compassion is the most prevalent attribute ascribed to God in our religions and belief systems. Jesus grieved with the family of Lazarus. God grieves with us, the family of Earth.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

  1. Avatar

    Could you give an outline, of sorts, of your grieving ritual? Or give guidance in this area: where to look, how to create a process, etc.? Thanks.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Christine,
      Thank you for asking about the grief rituals Matt described in today’s meditation. You might begin by going to the website for the Cosmic MassThe Cosmic Mass, or do a search on YOUTube for The Cosmic Mass or TCM. The Cosmic Mass is based upon the Four Paths of CS and usually offers an opportunity to grieve during the Via Negativa section. The important thing to remember is to keep the ritual experiential and earthy – no words of interpretation or theological framing, just something that helps people go safely down into their grief. Rhythmic drumming, singing, moaning, slow limping, meditative dancing – also crushing seeds, breaking rocks, soothing each other’s auras. Just give it enough time to do what its meant to do.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Anne Marie,
      Thank you for writing. Each of these grieving experiences are simple, immersive, and universal. Not a lot of talk, but instead creating an environment to safely sink into the feelings that tug at us from below the surface.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  2. Avatar

    First thing I do each morning is read the meditation
    Helps to keep me grounded while living in our changing world. Thank you

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Peggy,
      Thank you for writing. We are glad that these meditations are important for you and that you tune in every day. With you, and others who share your dedication, our changing world can change in healthier, creation-centered ways.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

  3. Avatar

    Still remember how powerful Keening was together at a conference in the past. Lightened our souls after only ten minutes of keening as a group. It feels like our society really needs to do this together right now in order to move on with clarity.

  4. Avatar

    We groan with the Spirit, we align with Mother Spirit, we make deep connections with ourselves and other humans when we are vulnerable to the raw world around us. We all can be more awesome we can all surrender to the lamenting that has been lost and finding it would intuitively and consciously heal. I too dream of centres where organic grass root connections to our souls can manifest freely and be born and thrive in a network of a third way divine intelligence! Spreading like wild fire!?

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Esther,
      I love your phrase “humans…..vulnerable to the raw world around us” as we intuitively lament. Sounds potent. These grass root connections can happen in new centers, in yoga studios, in church social halls, in living rooms, and of course, like the indigenous, outdoors.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  5. Avatar

    Gone! My wife took her last breath!
    My two daughters and I spent all
    Day at her bedside! We cried. We read the psalm Green Pastures! Mom remained silent all day! Morphine
    Relieved her pain yet slowed down her breathing. Humane dying in her
    Own home. No religious bigots telling us what we can do. No accusations of
    Assisted suicide thrown at us! Institutional religion was pleasantly
    Absent! We sang, hugged and danced
    Her journey into the future. Cremation
    And family only she pleaded. Love was present. God is love!

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear David,
      Thank you four sharing your profound story of loss and grief with us. You kept it simple, personal, and true to our human nature. Beautiful. I am glad that the presence of divine love was so apparent through you, your daughter, and the grace of a gentle passing as your wife journeyed into the future.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      Foe the Daily Meditations Team

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Barbara,
      Thank you for your interest in the grief rituals Matt described in today’s meditation. You might begin by going to the website for the CosmicCosmic Mass Mass, or do a search on YOUTube for The Cosmic Mass or TCM. Creation Spirituality Communities is developing a resource kit for members and their communities which should be ready in a few months. If I uncover any other sources for this material, I will let you know.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

    1. Gail Ransom

      Patricia, thank you so much for reminding us of God’s deep and pervasive compassion that surrounds us. Added to that is the sympathy and compassion we offer each other which are expressions of the divine heart. Grief, loss, and compassion seem to be ass natural a part of creation as joy, creativity.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  6. Pingback: How to seek God in all directions - the Via Positiva and Via Negativa

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