A Walk Through Sorrow

By Anika Smith Published on May 7, 2018

Former Stream editor Anika Smith posted the following reflection on her Facebook page. She’s graciously allowed us to share it with you.

I do a lot of walking these days. My mom loved a good walk, as did her mother, and I would often join them in peregrinations around the lake or just on the road that went past our house and eventually led to logging turnoffs. There’s nothing so rural where I live now, but there is a branching stream of the Anacostia and a trail where a dozen deer, two beavers, at least one crane, and several ducks enjoy the questionable water.

This is where I come when images and emotions flood my imagination. Words I have read and conversations I have had provide handles to grab and hooks to hang thoughts on, bringing a sense of order and calm to my confusion and distress. Reciting poetry feels especially satisfying, the memorized lines running in their delineated places as sure as the V chord resolves to the I.

My favorite is a series of five sonnets from C.S. Lewis that has a few images that resonate:

The silence of one voice beats upon our ears
Like the waves; the coloured morning seems
A lying brag; the face we loved appears
Fainter each night, or ghastlier, in our dreams.
“That long way round which Dante trod was meant
For mighty saints and mystics, not for me,”
So Nature cries.

But as I’ve repeated the poem to myself, cycling through the lines like beads on a rosary, one image — with an adjuration! — bothers me, not for any philosophical or theological qualm, but for the simple fact that it’s contrary to my experience.
After a terrifying word on Dante, Lewis warns the bereaved reader:

Of this we’re certain; no one who dared knock
At heaven’s door for earthly comfort found
Even a door — only smooth, endless rock,
And save the echo of his cry no sound.
It’s dangerous to listen; you’ll begin
To fancy that those echoes (hope can play
Pitiful tricks) are answers from within;
Far better to turn, grimly sane, away.

And Lewis isn’t the only one. Jerry Sittser writes about his great loss and says it made God seem “terrifying and inscrutable, as a towering cliff in winter.” Another poet writes of God as a rock face, a massive cliff, unmoved by the sea that shatters into spray and mist when it meets Him.

Each of these authors is wiser and better than I, and I trust the truth of what they say. But as I am thrown against God in my grief, He is not “smooth, endless rock” nor is He a towering cliff. I do not break like the waves; I throw myself at Him and am held close in strong arms. He is a father, giant and gentle, holding a very small girl who, in her confusion and terror and pain, flies at him with her fists. She punches and kicks and screams, and he lets her, absorbing every hit until her rage is spent.

He waits until she is exhausted and will lie still. He said nothing while she fought him because you can’t reason with a child in that state, and she would not understand. Once she is quiet, her face wet and limbs shaking, he will whisper something, repeat a phrase of wounded love.

I don’t know why I get the experience of a raging child to a father and others have the experience of a raging sea to the cliff. Nothing about any of this is fair, and it doesn’t go by any rules that I can figure. Maybe the weaker and lesser get the softer treatment. But I have given up understanding, and my rage is (for the moment) spent. I will lie here a little longer, still confused and hurting, but quieted by His love.


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