The Beduin Hunter and the Valley of Suck

A Beduin set out one day with his son to graze his camel and look for wild herbs to bring back for his wife to cook.  On their way home,  a herd of gazelles appeared in their path.  Quickly the father stopped the camel and slid from her back.  Warning the boy not to stray, he moved toward the gazelles, which streaked off as soon as he stepped toward them.  But the Beduin was a keen hunter, and he eagerly followed on their trail.

As the child waited alone, a She-Ghoul, that monster of the wilderness who feeds on human flesh, spied him and with one leap sprang upon and greedily devoured him.

The father hunted long but could not catch a single deer.  Resigning himself, he returned to his camel to find that his son was gone.  On the ground he found dark drops of blood. “My son! My son is killed!” he shrieked. And in sadness, he led his camel home.

On the way, he passed a cave, where he saw the She-Ghoul dancing, fresh from her feast.  Taking careful aim, the Beduin shot the She-Ghoul dead. He slashed open her belly, and in it he found his dead son. He laid the boy upon his cloak, pulled the woolen cloth around him tight, and so carried him home.

When he reached his tent the Beduin said to his wife, “I have brought you back a gazelle, dear wife, but as God is my witness, it can be cooked only in a cauldron that has never been used for a meal of sorrow.”

The woman went from tent to tent for the loan of such a pot.  But one neighbor said, “Sister, we used the large cauldron to cook the rice for the people who came to weep with us when my husband died.” And another told her, “We last heated our big cooking pot on the day of my son’s funeral.” She knocked at every door but did not find what she sought.  So she returned to her husband empty-handed.

“Haven’t you found the right kind of cauldron?” asked her husband.  “There is no household but has seen misfortune,” she answered.  “There is no cauldron but has cooked a meal of mourning.”  Only then did the Beduin fold back his woolen cloak and say to her, “They have all tasted their share of sorrow.  Today the turn is ours.  This is our gazelle.”  (from “The Spirituality of Imperfection”)

No one gets out without grief.  It is not going to happen.  In our lives, we are going to know sorrow.  However, we must choose if we will invite it in as a guest or a friend or turn it away as a stranger or enemy.  We do have the choice.

As I have journeyed as a pastor with many and have befriended others along the way, I have seen both responses.  Our society and culture however, tends more often to confuse the two.  Culture assumes we will grieve, maybe take a week or two and then we will be done with it - back to work we go!  Some will stand stoic, rigid even, and such behavior will be seen as “troopering through.”  In the traditional sense of the grief cycle, this is step one - denial - and sadly many stay there and are applauded by both church and society.

But there is another option, and it is welcoming sorrow and grief as our guest.  If we welcome well, grief may even become a friend and, in due course, a trusted companion.  The valley of suck and the shadow of death is the time when sorrow, suffering, and grief will knock.  We may deny the presence (it is outside the door - we don’t have to ‘see’) but the knock is the giveaway - we hear it.  We can ignore it but it will not stop...ever.  It might get dulled by time.  It may blend in like a dripping faucet, but it is there as an enemy.  Or as our friend.

Walter Brueggemann offers a simple schematic of how we often view our faith life and in turn, our relationship with God:
  1. We are securely oriented,
  2. being painfully disoriented, and
  3. being surprisingly reoriented. (‘‘Praying the Psalms”)

I smirk just a bit as I read Brueggemann’s description, “the mood of much of the middle-class church,” is grounded in a theology of secure orientation.  God is where God is and not bothering us.  We are settled.  If we do the right things, then God blesses us.  My dividends come in.  My kids do, basically what I want them to do.  My debt is manageable.  I give and it God blesses.  Sorrow has no place in this world.  It cannot be from God.  I don’t like to feel sorrow so I must not be growing if I have sorrow!  God wants me happy.

We often take growth for granted - that it is a given thing.  Do the right things and growth naturally occurs.  Things will grow for sure, but generally, it is out of control and makes a mess of things along the way.  Or it too is stymied.  Withhold nutrients of sunlight, water, and air, plants will die.  Harvard Professor, Robert Kegan writes, “All growth is costly.  It involves the leaving behind of an old way of being in the world (215, “The Evolving Self).”  

It was just over 18 years ago that Heather gave birth to our son.  She wanted to do natural childbirth only she began having back labor.  While the sounds of a baby’s first cry can bring joy to ears, I can tell you that Heather’s cries were anything BUT cries of joy.  But from them came a new life.  

Heather’s cries still bring new life.  Our journey through the valley of suck was and is a time of being painfully disoriented.  For me, it is a time, even now, of being overwhelmed, feeling nearly destroyed; humiliated and being brought down broken to my knees.  You don’t get to the good news of dawn and a new morning without first…

“...every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. (Psalm 6:6)”

Jesus was pretty adamant that there is a very serious, a very REAL death we must come to experience if there is to be true salvation: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:25).”  There must be crucifixion before we can know resurrection.  This is what C.S. Lewis termed “the deeper magic.”

Like the classic story of the man who tried to help the butterfly out of its chrysalis too soon, we deny and hurt one another by advocating or encouraging a denial or an aborting of what real growing looks like both as humans and as followers and seekers of God.  

Do not...tell people to get over it.  Do not try to skip to a resurrection without a crucifixion.  The human journey is marked with sorrow and to deny this is to deny both covenants of the Bible.  The Table of Thanksgiving is what it is because of sacrifice and by our own willingness to die and to follow.  

Today marks one month since Heather’s death and I continue to eat from the cauldron of sorrow.  I am still disoriented but not so much in despair.  Dying and denying our separated by only two letters.  Dying now welcomes suffering and offers new life.  Denying now offers only dying later.  One of the unexpected offers in the valley of suck is that when you become friends with grief and sorrow, you have a connection with all those who also have eaten from the cauldron of sorrow and then they too, become friends.

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