Then They Wept

Preacher: Julia Baker-Swann

Scripture: Ruth 1:1-18 

Basket of Figs

by Ellen Bass

Bring me your pain, love. Spread 

it out like fine rugs, silk sashes, 

warm eggs, cinnamon

and cloves in burlap sacks. Show me

the detail, the intricate embroidery 

on the collar, tiny shell buttons, 

the hem stitched the way you were taught,

pricking just a thread, almost invisible.

Unclasp it like jewels, the gold 

still hot from your body. Empty 

your basket of figs. Spill your wine.

That hard nugget of pain, I would suck it, 

cradling it on my tongue like the slick 

seed of pomegranate. I would lift it

tenderly, as a great animal might 

carry a small one in the private 

cave of the mouth.

—-

When I read this poem 

I heard the Holy One whispering it in my ears

and I felt how much I needed the invitation

“Bring me your pain, love.”

This has been a year, years of so much loss.

The number of COVID deaths is such a big numbing statistic.

Each of us here in some way knows someone 

who makes those numbers not just a number.

I hear you as a community have lost and celebrated the life of a beloved recently.

And the loss we know is not just death, but ambiguous loss

changed plans, weddings and graduations not attended, 

meals with friends not shared, hugs not given.

Maybe a lost sense of “normalcy” lost sense of ease in public.

Loss of peace.

On this All Hallow’s Eve. Eve of All Saint’s Day.

We remember the lives that have gone before us.

We pause to remember those we have lost, those we love.

And sometimes that remembering, that lament 

is a really challenging path. 

A path that can be hard to give ourselves 

or each other the permission to walk, 

or stumble along in our own way.

As I read the story we heard in Ruth 1 through the lens of this moment,

through my own body holding grief.

I saw the women’s tears in new ways.

I saw the story as a invitation to 

“Bring me your pain, love”

Often this story opening the book of Ruth

is held up as an example of loyalty. 

Ruth’s name means “Friend” 

and she is just that to her mother-in-law Naomi.

We hear her striking words

 “where you go I go, your people my people, your God my God.” 

We praise Ruth, and yes what she does is beautiful,

and we seem to either forget about the other daughter-in-law Orpah,

whose name means “the one who walks away,”

and maybe we even judge her a bit, she did not cling to Naomi.

She kissed her mother-in-law and left.

But what if we look at each woman’s actions in a different way?

What if we see this story as one of permission to grieve as you need?

Each woman, in their desperate grief, was listening to what they 

needed to do.

Naomi was clear she needed to leave her husband’s land and return 

to the country of her people, Moab.

Within herself Ruth heard that she needed to go with Naomi

“where you go I go…”

For Orpah she listened within and heard a different call.

This is still a story of loyalty. 

Loyalty to one’s own needs,

one’s journey and inner knowing, 

loyalty to the process and mysterious unfolding of lament.

I love that for Ruth and Orpah their decisions were made

after a collective weeping, “They wept aloud again.”

Tears as clarifiers.

Could it be that the very act of grieving gave clarity to

what was needed in their grief?

A few years ago I was going through a season of acute grief.

I had left a relationship of six years, I had left a graduate program,

my chronic illness was flaring. I was twenty-eight and moved 

home to my parents house and felt totally lost.

Each morning unprocessed grief 

felt like an approaching thunderstorm charged and churning 

in the distance, the air heavy and buzzing, brewing on the edge of myself.

It was hard to decide what to eat for breakfast, let alone

discern the bigger “what nexts.”

Each day I would move like molasses through the grief

forcing myself stay busy doing 

until I was finally able to give into the tears,

to let the waters of pain rain from me.

Almost always after I was able to cry I had more clarity 

even if it was just what I needed to do that day.

The skies parted a bit. 

Most often the clarity was, 

“oh right, I am grieving…just let yourself feel…”

“Bring me your pain, love.”

——

Isaiah 53:5 describes Jesus as, “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”

To love is to lose

and Jesus loved deeply.

We are given accounts of his free flowing tears of love

and despair at suffering and injustice. 

Jesus wept for his dear friend Lazuraus.

Wept for the city of Jerusalem.

His last words on the cross 

“Father, why have you forsaken me?”

I feel these words as such a model in our anguish.

To rage if we need to rage.

To doubt if we need to doubt.

To yell the big why with hands raised or whispered

within the aching folds of our hearts.

I wonder if part of Jesus’s health was his freedom of tears.

If his clarity, his voice, his presence, his joy, his rage, his love

came from allowing his feelings, whatever they were in that moment, 

to be expressed. 

“Bring me your pain, love.”

I imagine Orpah walking back to her homeland,

embodying her name “the one who walks away”

to grieve is a walking away.

I see slow tears rolling down her cheeks

tears in their free flow

not suppressed or made to walk a path she did not choose.

I imagine Ruth and Naomi walking toward Moab

with slow tears rolling down their cheeks

tears in free flow

not suppressed or made to walk paths they did not choose.

What tears and emotions are you suppressing? 

What does that feel like in your body?

What wants to flow free?

What is blocking that free expression of grief?

During my acute season of grief

I painted a series 

that I called “Painted Tears Bloom”

Bloom is the effect in watercolor 

when water and pigment meet.

It reminds me of when tears fall onto a page

blossoming with salt crystals.

I invite us to enter a few minutes of silence 

while I show a slideshow of the paintings.

Allow colors, flow and bloom

take you wherever you need to be with whatever

is in your heart, 

with what your body is speaking, 

through sensation, tension, heaviness, calm.

We are held in a vast, unbounded Love…

there is permission…

“Bring me your pain, love.”

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