Grief and religion

One of the things that religions have in common is that they offer answers to human suffering. It may be in the form of strategies to relieve that suffering by living in certain ways. It may be through stories of divine oversight, grand plans, or afterlife recompense. This is one of the ways in which I’ve always found organised religions problematic. Not least because so often, those consolations don’t turn out to be that helpful for people experiencing grief and trauma.

When you have to ask why your God wasn’t there for you and why terrible things were allowed to happen, you either undermine your faith or start having to believe that terrible things are somehow part of a grand plan for your own good. It’s a bigger issue for omnipotent Gods who are supposed to be benevolent.

We suffer in so far as we care. Love and grief are two sides of the same coin. Everything in our world is finite, and will end, or die and if we care about that, or about ourselves we are bound to be hurt by this. To care is to be vulnerable to loss.

In my late teens, I first encountered existentialist thinking, which responds to the grief of life and the apparent meaninglessness by owning it. We may have to make our own meaning. There may be no other meaning. It was the first approach I’d found that genuinely comforted me and it did so because it let me own what I was experiencing. This may be all we have. There may be no grand plan. Everyone dies. If you care, it hurts.

Rather than follow a path that has anything to offer by way of more conventional comfort, I’ve lived with this on my own terms. I see loss and grief as part of life. I see them as intrinsic parts of my caring and loving. I’ve not sought a path that would free me from pain, rather, I’ve tried to embrace it as part of what it means to be human. I find more comfort in the idea that there isn’t a plan, that terrible things happen for no real reason at all sometimes, and that we certainly do not get what we deserve. I think it’s kinder not to assume we get what we deserve.

When we try to protect ourselves from pain, we may close our hearts to what’s around us. We may delude ourselves. We may not do today the things we will no longer have chance to do tomorrow. When you live knowing that everything and everyone is going to die and you let that colour your world view, it becomes more necessary to live fully. It becomes more important to tell people you love them. It becomes more important to try and sort things out here and now, and get them right in the first place.

I’m never very sure what I believe when it comes to deity and afterlife. What I am sure is that it works better for me to live as though there is nothing else but this life and this body I have to experience it with. To love as much as I can and to accept what that means and to embrace grief as an aspect of love makes the most sense to me.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “Grief and religion

  • Nicola Thompson

    Very insightful. I’ve quite enjoyed studying existentialism when it comes to dealing with pain. I had a teacher who said he studied Nietzsche during times of grief, but I find that the drive for Authenticity to be more comforting. I think another thing that many people often neglect to take in is what they can learn from a negative experience, or what js left behind that they can honor and be grateful for. Everyone dies at some point, and in death they leave behind memories of those who were around them, and those memories can be cherished.

  • Eliza Ayres

    Reblogged this on Blue Dragon Journal and commented:
    Nature works in cycles. Incarnations are part of those cycles, birth, growth, death. A study of Nature assists in gaining a detached understanding that those whom you love will return to you in another incarnation cycle. Meanwhile, they reside in your Heart until you meet them next.

  • neptunesdolphins

    When I had my brain injury happen, I believed (still believe) that the universe is random. Hecate and Anubis came to me during my coma and decided to have me be one of their “helpers.” Helping the newly dead go where they need to be.

    What I did learn from my grief which still rears its ugly head is that there are Gods who grieve, and who are willing to grieve with you. Hercules, who killed his family whilst insane, helped me with my brain injury.

  • Ellen Efenricea

    I found Thich Nath Hanh’s zen buddhist writing really helpful around embracing grief and suffering as part of life.
    No flowers without compost (that doesn’t do his work justice by itself – but he does use that analogy).
    Conversely though, I found the form of Tibetan Buddhism in our local Buddhist centre required far too much focus on deservingness of suffering due to the bad karma of previous embodiments and on trying to escape suffering in the next life (ie too close to the christianity that I was brought up with).
    Existentialism also appealed, but when it came to major grief I found Thich Nath Hanh more accessible and easier to work with because it required less intellectual engagement and drew me in better on an emotional level

  • rainbowsandstormclouds

    precious ,honestly
    I felt a little peaceful inside reading this 💖 and one of the best pieces I’ve read all day

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