Meet Me in the River

Meet Me in the River
May 2, 2023 – David R. Weiss

I am awash in grief you might say. It is the sacred ether in which I “live and move and have my being” these days.

If the words sound familiar, they’re from Acts 17:28, where Paul employs them to describe our subsistence within the life of God. In fact, he’s quoting Epimenides, a Greek philosopher-mystic-poet from six or seven centuries before him, who coined the phrase in a poem to Zeus. In both cases, the meaning is that our human existence is rooted in a Reality larger than ourselves—and that we can only navigate our own lives meaningfully in the humble recognition of that larger Reality.

For me, that larger Reality is perhaps best called Compassion. I see this as the driving force in Jesus’ life. Not some abstract ideal, but the animating energy moving through his being yet also in some mysterious way much larger than him. Compassion—literally, “to suffer with”—is the dynamic disposition of the cosmos to promote the birth of whole worlds and the flourishing of ecosystems and communities. In theological verbiage: God.

But today, in this place, in this time, Compassion most often tastes salty. Like tears of Grief.

Our world is dying. The wounds inflicted on the biosphere by our industrial civilization continue unabated. Indeed, what we like to call “civilization” is more accurately described as the relentless malignancy of the life patterns chosen by the dominant societies on this planet.

For at least fifty years the scale of that malignancy—our imbalance with the rest of the natural world—has been public knowledge. “Debatable” only by those whose interests aligned with wealth rather than wellbeing. And yet from the wealthy individuals and corporations who twist politics to promote profit … to the socio-economic structures that constrain the choices available to most of us … to the cultural-religious worldviews that form our appetites and imaginations … we continue to accelerate toward collapse as if there is no tomorrow. Which, come to think of it, there won’t be—on account of that ongoing acceleration.

But still, it seems an act of gratuitous violence to slam ourselves—really, our children and grandchildren—into a brick wall as hard as possible. Isn’t there something to be said for kindness on the cusp of collapse?

Hence, Grief.

Ironically, it’s often experiences of beauty and community that trigger grief for me these days. (See, for instance, my earlier pieces on “Even Beauty Cannot Save Us” from February 2022 or “Two Things True” from July 2022.) Sunday afternoon Margaret and I attended the Apollo Chorus concert out in Plymouth. Listening to a men’s chorus sing with gusto and joy surrounded by a community of folks happy to hear their music. Beauty and community rolled together. And grief. It is a sort of wistful recognition that there are moments in which humanity shines, in which creation gleams. Moments to be treasured … soon to be endangered … if not extinct.

Hence, awash in Grief. And yet, it is a good grief.

Our world is dying. And in such a time as this being as fully connected to the world as we can is our only pathway toward integrity and humanity. Disconnected—whether pretentiously (and falsely) set above or despairingly (and just as falsely) set alone—we are figments of a faulty imagination. We are human, only to the extent we are wed to the humus (and everything else!) in the world around us. And there is no honest relationship with the world that is not awash in grief.

To clarify, there is no authentic relationship with anyone or anything that does not require an openness to grief. To meet any aspect of the world, from fellow creature to entire ecosystem, as a Thou rather than an It, is to be open to curiosity and awe, joy and grief, in relationship. But today, the level of grief that is prerequisite to being connected to the world is so immense as to be daunting. And almost our entire way of life is oriented toward avoiding grief. (The most obvious exceptions being those industries [e.g., funeral homes, burial services] that manage to monetize its inevitability. The most laudable exceptions being hospice and other “pro-death” movements that aim to honor the place of death and grief in life—laudable, but as yet marginal movements in society at large.)

No wonder, then, that our default disposition toward grief is avoidance. By entertainment … travel … shopping … when all else fails, by frantic distraction.

But here’s what comes next in a dying world: collapse and chaos. Followed by brutality and inhumanity. And the only way we can avert these outcomes in ourselves and our communities is by opening ourselves to grief. As never before. On a scale near unimaginable. Grief, especially as communal practice, is the only portal through numbness and into authentic relationship with a world so badly wounded as ours. Grief at what we have done to our fellow human beings … our companion creatures … the Earth itself … the planetary systems that are the very womb of life … and, not least, to ourselves.

There is no way across the gaping chasm of these wounds except to grieve them in full measure. And in that grieving to invite empathy into our hearts (our lives!)—to allow the echo of our buried kinship with all that is to rekindle itself.

Worlds are born on geologic scales that our minds can hardly conceive. It took almost three billion years of one-celled organisms flourishing in Earth’s oceans for the first multi-celled organisms to appear. Worlds die on scales less grand, but often just as inconceivable because their dying begins unnoticed—and because we are keen to dismiss the rumors of their impending death.

But “keenness” cannot confer capacity. And whatever capacity we once had—perhaps just decades ago—to avert this dying, has been forfeited in exchange for continued ROI (return on investment) and for extended “ease and convenience.” And now the dying is a done deal. The details left to be negotiated concern the scope, the devastating breadth and depth of death, and the speed, whether a few decades or a few generations. But the continuity of our “civilization”? That’s off the table.

The goodness in Grief is that it is the only bargaining chip we have of any value. Its value is to birth empathy, to rekindle kinship, to cultivate kindness and compassion, to convene community, and, if possible, to carry humanity from one side of the chasm to the other. Floating, as it were, on our tears.

We will need a river of them. And—we will need to let go of this shore in order to cross. So, this is my invitation: meet me in the river. Let’s cross together.

* * *

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at Read more at where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community SupportedTheology at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s