16. Dezember 2021

Workshop report: „Was weinst du?“ „Was weinst du?“

Mit Trauer, Trost und Hoffnung in gelebter Spiritualität interkonfessionell und interkulturell sensibel umgehen

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Marvin Gärtner looks back at the workshop "Was weinst du?" - organized by Katharina Opalka and led by Cornelia Richter - in which it was discussed how grief, comfort and consolation function in different contexts.

An article by Marvin Gärtner from TP2

On November 6th, 2021, a group of international scientists, students, experts, and other interested people met via Zoom to discuss how grief, comfort, and consolation function in different contexts, as part of a workshop organized by Katharina Opalka and Marvin Gärtner in TP 2 (led by Cornelia Richter). The most important take-away from that day is that the process of grief, comfort, and consolation is a complex phenomenon. During the day, we explored several aspects to this theme in depth, from a variety of perspectives.

To introduce the participants of the workshop to that day’s topic, Dr. Katharina Opalka talked about her research in the Resilience-Project from a theological perspective and how the issues of grief and comfort relate to it. Further that end, Opalka also explored narratives of comfort, for example, the biblical narration in the Gospel of John, where Maria meets the resurrected Jesus in the garden, and the intricacies of the process of comfort it depicts, which is a halting and protracted process shaped by misunderstandings and regressions. One of the basic assumptions, on which all agreed, was that accepting grief should never lead to trivializing or sugarcoating it: comfort means inherently struggling with destructivity and negativity, an act that encompasses both the person being comforted and the source of their comfort. Being comforted is not just something passively happening to us, but instead it is a mediopassive act as we need to allow us and let us be comforted.

Brother Timothée’s paper contextualized grief and comfort as happening in regard to specific spaces that are designed in specific ways, namely, for the Communauté de Taizé. In the subsequent discussion, we explored the differences between the different kind of places where grieving and comfort take place. While some places are intentionally designed to give these processes space (such as “Trauer-Cafés”), Taizé was never primarily designed to house grieving and comfort-seeking youth. And yet it – especially its church as a place of prayer – is a place where many people become cognizant of their grief and feel it but also experience comfort and consolation.

Another provisional result was that grief and comfort/consolation are closely related to the personal experience of still-being-there, of still existing in the face of dying, of death, and non-existence. Still being there can be a comfort – “I am still standing here” – while it can also be a source of grief, symbolizing the feeling of loneliness, of being left alone in the face of the death of a loved one.

Building on Dr. Engelfried-Rave’s paper on Norbert Elias, we regarded the social dimension of dealing with grief and comfort and how we, in our Western/European society, try to repress the awareness of our own mortality (and that of others) and the effects of it on our way of being and living together.

As grief and comfort are embodied phemonena, we discussed to what extent gestures and practices, such as “letting go of your burden at the cross” in Taizé, may be helpful and whether similar gestures exist for people in agnostic or other cultural contexts: in what way can formerly religious or Christian ritualistic gestures – such as lighting a candle – be translated into other cultures?

In the afternoon, we were joined by Dr. Matthew Ryan Robinson and both former and current international students of the Bonner Master of Ecumenical Studies degree program (Heekyung Jeong, Sam Sunny Anand Sigamani, Hadje Sadje, Che Wai Chan, and David Smith). In an intercultural exchange, we discussed different practices of comforting grievers and the rules and norms around these practices. The ministry of presence – meaning practices of witnessing and listening to other people’s grief without inserting meaning into these experiences, as elaborated – was acknowledged as a form of best practice in professional counsel or care contexts within different cultural settings, but much more variation and diversity was found in communal and private practices of grief. However, there was a consensus that the caregiving person should never solely rely on their knowledge about how grieving, comforting, and consolation functions in the griever’s culture, because culture is not the main determinant of each individual’s grieving needs and comfort.

While talking about private and communal practices of grieving and comfort, we discussed humor, laughter, and lightheartedness as important resources for comfort. The bodily action of laughing counteracts crying and grieving and provides an important and helpful counterpoint. In contrast to other cultures, Western societies deny their members that resource and try to enforce the two norms of 1) being strong in the face of loss and death, and 2) honoring – in the sense of not making fun of someone – the dead.

Concluding the day, we talked about hope and where we can find it. Che Wai Chan, who is also a teacher of history, expounded on how he finds hope by looking into the past and what was and can be accomplished and happen. When we search for hope in a current crisis, we should not look into the unfinished future, but instead cast a glance backward and find what is possible there.

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