Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Art of Comforting

Yesterday our country faced another horrific tragedy when twenty children and six adults were gunned down at an elemnetary school in Conneticut. All of us are affected by this on some level. For parents, we project our lives into the situation and feel the profound pain the families are feeling and selfishly thank God that our kids are ok. Though we hold our own children closer we know life is fragile and there are no guarantees. 

Events like these cause us all to question and search for answers as to why this happens but the truth is no words are sufficient in times like these. I find one of the best models for dealing with grief in the Jewish tradition of "sitting shiva". In short, this is the seven day mourning period where friends and family visit those who are suffering a loss and grieve with them. This is a time to honor the memory of the ones lost and to offer a listening ear and shoulder to cry upon. It is not a time to offer explanations, it is a time to be a tangible comforting presence.

The main idea of shiva is to communicate "we are not alone". According to Jewish scholars this is a fundamental message in Judaism when it comes to death and bereavement.
"Every law and every custom of Jewish mourning and comforting has, at its core, the overwhelming motivation to surround those who are dying and those who will grieve with a supportive community. While some may argue that facing death and coping with grief heighten one's feeling of aloneness, the Jewish approach places loss and grief in the communal context of family and friends."

This communal aspect of mourning reminds us that God also does not leave us alone. The blessing said during mourning is "May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."

In the article How to make a shiva call, "My Jewish Learning" points out the following;
"Ha-Makom is a name of God that literally means "the place," referring to God's omnipresent nature, including at the lifecycles from birth to death. It is only God who can grant the mourner lasting comfort. The comforter comes to remind the mourners that the divine powers of the universe will enable them to heal and go on with a meaningful life. Ultimate consolation comes only from the omnipresent God."

In this season where Christians celebrate the message of Christmas which is " God is with us" , may we find the strength to be present and be compassionate and let others know that they are not alone in their hurt. 

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