Editor’s Introduction: Grief, Mourning, and Distress and the Search for Spiritual Care

[1] The Latin word salus, which means salvation, also means health, safety, and security. It is the word from which the English word salve comes. And it is a salve that so many seek. A salve for the souls that are in such dis-ease. Yes, we know that we are saved eschatologically, but right now, many of us want healing and ease from anxiety and pain.

[2] This issue of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics speaks to this current crisis in mental un-ease by naming some ways the church might help individuals caught in grief, trauma, and stress. None of the essays suggest how to protect ourselves from grief, trauma or stress; they assume the world is as it is. But these authors explain how we might learn to name trauma and grief, to look at our pain patiently and gently, to mourn the losses in our lives, and to begin to open ourselves to the power of the Spirit.

[3] The first essay, by Matthew Best, speaks of the importance of mourning both when grieving the loss of a person in death and when grieving other types of loss. Using the Gospel account of Jesus weeping at the death of Lazarus before resurrecting him, Best explains the importance of naming a loss and grieving it fully before moving forward. He concludes with an exercise those who are grieving a loss can use.

[4] The second essay, by Heather Schmidt, explains the practice of spiritual counseling as a way to deal with pain and trauma. She, like Best, also names the importance of calling a thing what it is when we are grieving, of not rushing to get back to work. She suggests we must look at our hurts and losses openly and honestly. She speaks of her confident trust in the Holy Spirit to bring healing to painful wounds.

[5] The third piece is designed as an opportunity for congregational discussion about living in difficult times. Anna Marsh speaks of the danger of our current cultural spin on vocation. She wants to make sure we do not blame people for their burnout. She asks us good questions for each of us to consider as we think about how we are called to serve our neighbors.

[6]. The book reviews in this issue, also, point readers to books that speak about grief and mourning as well. Richard Perry reviews Courtney B. Vance’s The Invisible Ache which discusses black men’s mental health concerns.  Also, we are re-printing a previously published review of a collection of Rainer Maria Rilke’s letters on grief, The Dark Interval: Letters on Loss, Grief, and Transformation. Finally, Nancy Arnison reviews Christian Wiman’s creative Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair. 

[7] As the days move us from the darkness of winter into the lengthening light in Lent, this issue helps us reckon with the reality that we are people who suffer. Naming our suffering, not ignoring it, and presenting our lamentations to God are ways God invites us to begin the healing process. Sometimes it takes a sorrows list, not a gratitude list, to begin our journey to healing.

Jennifer Hockenbery

Jennifer Hockenbery serves as Editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics .  She is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Humanities at St Norbert College. She attends Grace Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI.