Friday, January 25, 2008

Much Madness Is Divinest Sense

Pilgrim Press sent me a copy of Kathleen Greider's new book Much Madness Is Divinest Sense: Wisdom in Memoirs of Soul-Suffering. Greider, professor of pastoral care and counseling at Claremont School of Theology, studied a number of memoirs and chronicles of depression, mental illness and other forms of emotional anguish. One of the books in her study was my book Grieving a Suicide, which I wrote a few years ago after losing my dad to suicide. I'm honored to have been included in the study, and I'm a little amused to be described as a "memoirist," since we pretty much avoided describing the book in that way.

It's interesting to read a book like Greider's and see what struck her about my own work and how my thoughts contributed to her analysis and conclusions. For example, in a chapter on "Healing Work," Greider picks up on my comments about the practice of lament and says,
Grieving for his father, Albert Hsu wished for something like a Christian version of the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva, where lament is shared--and ameliorated. Lament was powerful for Albert as he sought healing after his father's suicide, because it felt to him to be an expression of love, some balance to the anger that was also predominant in his expression of grief. 'The agony we undergo is the score on which our love ballad is written.' Lament is a part of healing insofar as it serves as an outlet for the pain of loss that would otherwise undermine our capacity to do the work of rebuilding our lives.

. . . Sometimes cultural tradition provides us such mechanisms: as he mourned his father, Albert Hsu realized anew the comfort provided through the Chinese custom of having at the funeral and afterward in the home a prominent portrait of the deceased. Whatever their specific forms, age-old practices of lament and remembrance provide structures that help make the expression of grief life-giving and not only a reckoning with death. [pp. 240-41]
I'm grateful for Greider's work. The kinds of books in her study were of great help to me in my own grieving process, and this all reminds me again of the power of personal story and the ministry of books, that sometimes books can articulate for us what we are yet struggling to understand or express.


L.L. Barkat said...

Interesting. Do you think there's an American version of true lament? Or an Evangelical version?

Al Hsu said...

Well, Michael Card and others would say that evangelicals have largely forgotten the practice of lament. That's why Matt Redman wrote the song "Blessed Be the Name" - he felt that 9/11 exposed how contemporary worship lacked a vocabulary for praise in the midst of loss or suffering. I'm not sure about a distinctively American and/or evangelical approach to lament. One possibility is that our lament might tend to be mediated through pop culture - I'm thinking back to how Titanic became such a phenomenon, partly because it was a expression of grief and loss that people could resonate with.

L.L. Barkat said...

Yes, I could see literature and movies counting as a form of lament... as we enter them and allow ourselves to feel.