So I did it. I not only swore at my pastors, but totally went hulk, erupting first in a wave of rage, frustration and pain at the church, at God, and at all the folks who have hurt my dear departed love. I am able as one who found faith among Pentecostals to do this in the most inappropriate of ways – in full Pentecostal preacher voice, resounding through the halls of God’s house. And when that was finished, when I realized what I just had unleashed upon these dear people who were so sweetly loving and embracing me without judgment, I put my head in my hands and wept for hours.
There’s been a lot of this. I find myself suddenly angry, angry at everyone who has hurt me, who has hurt my wife, angry at her illness that took her, angry at the grief and pain I feel. I see myself saying horrible hateful things to people to whom I would never speak that way otherwise, and about people in ways I don’t believe I should talk.
As a chaplain, I know this is natural, normal, and healthy. But it angers me to feel this way. And I find knowing through my work the pattern and shape of grief only makes things worse. Now I am one of those earnest people sitting with me giving me advice to make things better who, quite honestly, make me want to throw up my hands and curse. It’s enough to get me angry at my own self.
One of my best supports is a group of good Christian friends best depicted by this T-Shirt:
I have had quite a bit of what I call “cuss therapy”, sitting having a few beers with them, friends hurting also with the grief of losing Kat, just letting it fly. Saying every cuss word imaginable about every aspect of my pain.
This morning, I woke contorted in emotional pain. I could not sleep last night. When I did, I would roll over in bed to reach for my wife to hold her for comfort, and come jarring awake with a rich variety of swears I did not know I knew. Yet very quickly, I was amused and laughing, having just spoken to a friend the night before who is organizing the church’s spring musical. When speaking with him, I imagined and suggested to him a new Broadway production. It is all stereotypical, with the brightly colored costumes, bright lights, and oh so cheery singing. Its title? “Fuck Death and the Horse it Rode In on”. Its songs? Well, ones that fit that title, which cheerily proclaim with every swear word in the book and some swear words invented just for this show how truly wretched death, illness, grief, and loss are.
I find myself cringing when I have to spend time with the sort of earnest good Christian folk I used to be when new to faith, folk who love Jesus but could never wear a t-shirt saying they cuss. I feel I have to protect them from pain and, for God’s sake, right now I can barely keep myself going. I don’t have the energy to censor myself for them or anyone.
This experience reminds me of a hymn I viewed as awful when I was a child, which was sung at the Adventist church in the Church of God tradition my parents raised me in as a little boy:
This song is a very sanitized rendering of one of the imprecatory psalms, psalms that rail against the world’s pain, that question how a good God could ever let things get so bad, psalms that call God to punch the lights out (or worse) of those who’ve hurt those that the psalmists love. Psalms that pray boldly without fear of embarrassing or offending others with words just like I rail off, swear-words and all, in the midst of my grief.
My experience in the pit of grief which I find myself in unexpectedly confirms what my work as a chaplain has taught me. I have begun to believe cussing can be holy, as can anger, tears, and pain. I’ve begun as a chaplain to equate people’s cussing during grief not with some moral failure but instead with prayer: with imprecatory psalms like the one in the hymn above, in the book of Lamentations, and the cries of Job. God can take it, people. You do not need to censor yourself for everyone, let alone to the One who knows your thoughts even before they are on your tongue. That One can take it and will not condemn you for being broken and poured out like bread and cup on table. That One will ever embrace you in love, tears upon Her cheeks for your sorrow. And the truly holy among us are not too thinned skin to bear it. No, they can take it too. They can accept without judgment people in all the ugliness of their pain. Thank you for those doing so with me. I hope to be one who is able on the other side of this darkness to be such a holy person for others, damn it.
Not yet having any room in my life to whistle dixie at all today,
Your progressive redneck preacher,