Over the past couple months, I've been writing posts about the beatitudes. I assumed that I would write about them in a linear fashion, that I would write them quickly, and then I would move on. But reflecting on the beatitudes is like a good science experiment. Once you have an answer to a question, three or four more questions arise. So, I've been pondering this question: Why are mourners blessed? I know that Jesus said that they would be comforted. But I've been wondering if there is something within the essence of mourning that brings blessing. Is there something that we can experience while mourning that produces within us the ability to be comforted? While my thoughts were formulating, I came across this great passage from Parker Palmer's book Healing the Heart of Democracy. While the book itself is focused on how we can change heart issues related to citizenship in America, this passage has a much broader application, one that I think provides insight into how mourning, or heartbreak as Palmer calls it, can shape us for God's Kingdom living. Here's the quote. While it's long, it's worth the time.
"Everyday life is a school of the spirit that offers us chance after chance to practice dealing with heartbreak. Those chances come when we aspire and fail or hope and have our hopes dashed or love and suffer love 'n loss. If we are able to enter into and consciously engage hard experiences of this sort, our hearts will get the kind of exercise that can make them supple. But if we try to shield ourselves against life's teachable moments, our hearts—become more vulnerable to stress.
Under stress, an unexercised heart will explode in frustration or fury. If the situation is especially tense, the exploding heart may be hurled like a fragment grenade toward the source of the pain. But a heart that has been consistently exercised through conscious engagement with suffering is more likely to break open instead of apart. Such a heart has learned how to flex to hold tension in a way that expands its capacity for both suffering and joy.
We all know people whose hearts have been broken by the loss of someone or something they loved. Through no fault of their own, they lost homes to a corrupt economy, jobs to inhumane corporate decisions, children to bad youthful choices, friends and family members to violent or untimely death. In the face of such losses, some become bitter and withdrawn. Others become more compassionate, using the insight that comes in the dark and the energy of grief to heal themselves and reach out to others in pain.
The broken-open heart is not a rarity to be found only among saints but a common feature in the lives of ordinary people, including ourselves. You suffer the death of someone who gave your life meaning. Then you go through a long underground passage of grief when life without that person barely seems worth living. But one day you emerge and discover, to your surprise, that because of your devastating loss, your heart feels more grateful, alive and loving. The heart is an alchemical retort that can transform dross into gold.
We will never fully understand why people respond so differently to experiences of heartbreak: there is an eternal mystery about how the shattered soul becomes whole again. But people whose hearts break open, not apart, are usually those who have embraced life's 'little deaths' over time, those small losses, failures, and betrayals that can serve as practice runs for the larger deaths yet to come. Some people do this intentionally as a function of their spiritual practice or reflective philosophy of life. Others do it because life takes them to places where it is either 'do or die.'"