Session Three:  Grief

Scriptures:Psalm 137: 1-6, Ezekiel 3:22-27, Ezekiel 12:1-7

Open with prayer.  Ask if any of the participants would like to offer the prayer.

[Note: By this time, you may have a sense of whether all the members of the group are ready to tackle Psalm 137.  It’s ok to skip it if anyone seems too fragile.  You can go straight to Ezekiel if necessary.]


“By the waters of Babylon”, Psalm 137, Preraphaelite oil painting (between 1882 and 1883)

We’re using the ancient scriptures about the Babylonian Exile as theological resources to talk about your own experience of Babylonia, in Iraq.  We acknowledged that these scriptures are not a perfect match for your experience.  You went to Iraq as members of a volunteer army, and you volunteered knowing that you might be sent into battle, which is very different from the experience of the defeated Israelites who were taken against their will into Exile.  But perhaps we can recognize the truth of our own experiences through engaging with the emotions and experiences of those ancient people.

Today, we’re going to talk about grief, about the grieving you saw and the grief you have felt about your experience of war and its aftermath.  Some of the scriptures we’re going to talk about today may be difficult or painful.  Biblical scholar Denise Hopkins writes that “We want to hide from God our true feelings of anger and doubt.  We don’t think that those emotions have any place in our relationships with God.”  But you know what?  God can handle whatever we have to throw at him. Grieving and being angry with God is a way of acknowledging that God really matters to us.  Do we love God enough to tell God what we really feel?  It takes courage to grieve honestly.

Psalm 137:1-6 (NRSV):

1By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.  2On the willows there we hung up our harps.  3For there our captors asked us for song, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”  4How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?  5If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!  6Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

I read that passage from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).  Do any of you have a translation of the Bible with substantially different language?  If so, could you read that for us?  Do the differences in language matter to our understanding of that passage?

Discussion questions:

  1. Is Psalm 137 really about grief?  Are there other emotions being expressed? (anger, importance of memory, sense of place, love of home)
  2. There are definitely other emotions, but let’s try to focus on grief.  Did you grieve or experience sadness while you were in Iraq?  Are you grieving now that you’re back home?
  3. Where is your grief leading you?  To other emotions (anger, etc.)?  Or to a deep focus on your grief?
  4. Did any of you read the rest of the Psalm?  It expresses a real anger and hatred toward the Babylonians/Iraqis.  Are you angry with the Iraqis?  Are you angry with God?

Let’s go back to our old friend Ezekiel and see whether he has any good stories for us today.

Ezekiel 3:22-27 (NRSV)

22Then the hand of the Lord was upon me there; and he said to me, Rise up, go out into the valley, and there I will speak with you.  23So I rose up and went out into the valley; and the glory of the Lord stood there, like the glory that I had seen by the river Chebar; and I fell on my face.  24The spirit entered into me, and set me on my feet; and he spoke with me and said to me: Go, shut yourself inside your house.  25As for you, mortal, cords shall be placed on you, and you shall be bound with them, so that you cannot go out among the people; 26and I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be speechless and unable to reprove them; for they are a rebellious house.  27But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord God”; let those who will hear, hear; and let those who refuse to hear, refuse; for they are a rebellious house.”

I read that passage from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).  Do any of you have a translation of the Bible with substantially different language?  If so, could you read that for us?  Do the differences in language matter to our understanding of that passage?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What happens to Ezekiel in this passage? (He is tied up so that he cannot move and he is struck dumb, so that he cannot speak.  Ezekiel doesn’t really speak very much until the fall of Jerusalem, when he gets the news that his wife has died.)
  2. Why do you think he would be struck dumb?
  3. Have you ever experienced something that you felt you could not talk about? Why?
  4. Is this story a helpful metaphor for your experience of war?

Ezekiel 12:1-7

1The word of the Lord came to me: 2Mortal, you are living in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, who have ears to hear but do not hear; 3for they are a rebellious house.  Therefore, mortal, prepare for yourself an exile’s baggage, and go into exile by day in their sight; you shall go like an exile from your place to another place in their sight.  Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house.  4You shall bring out your baggage by day in their sight, as baggage for exile; and you shall go out yourself in the evening in their sight, as those do who go into exile.  5Dig through the wall in their sight, and carry the baggage through it.  6In their sight, you shall lift the baggage on your shoulder, and carry it out in the dark; you shall cover your face, so that you may not see the land; for I have made you a sign for the house of Israel.  7I did just as I was commanded.  I brought out my baggage by day, as baggage for exile, and in the evening I dug through the wall with my own hands; I brought it out in the dark, carrying it on my shoulder in their sight.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What happens to Ezekiel in this passage? (God tells Ezekiel to pack his bags, dig a hole in the wall, and exit through the wall.)
  2. Why do you think he was told to dig a hole through the wall?
  3. What kind of baggage are you carrying?

Close with prayer that includes the concerns they brought up during discussion.

Next time: Hope

Other Sessions

Session 1: Introduction
Session 2: Suffering
Session 3: Grief
Session 4: Hope
Session 5: Restoration
Session 6: Homecoming