Grief Is Like… A Morgul Wound
Analogies of Grief
Whenever we are going through difficult or perplexing experiences, analogies are helpful. As meaning-makers, pictures and stories are natural ways in which we seek to make sense of what we have experienced (or continue to experience). The pain and stress of these experiences are typically not relieved by this, but the process of naming and defining them can provide some needed closure and clarity on the road to healing. We do this all the time. “You know, it was kind of like…” Or, “The more I think about it, it was a lot like…” We need these analogies to find meaning in our experiences — particularly those of pain, suffering, and loss.
Of particular interest to me at the moment are analogies of grief.
Grief is a broad term for the feeling associated with (or emotional response to) the experience of loss. In terms of the range of human emotional experience, it is in the sadness or sorrow family. It is a response to suffering, pain, and loss. It is the experience and process of mourning — longing for someone or something lost; or that something painful happened. The occasion of grief could be the loss of a loved one to death, a broken relationship, an old or chronic emotional or physical wound, the death of hopes and dreams, unfulfilled expectations, or something else similar. Grieving can be done well or poorly. It can lead to growth and joy, but it also can cripple, hinder, and dehumanize us. We can try to avoid it. But since pain, suffering, and loss are an inescapable part of living in a sinful, fallen world, grief is a fundamental, shared human experience of that world. Because of this, grief is also a place of universal connection.
A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.Proverbs 15:13
Since grief is big, emotionally overwhelming, often perplexing and long-lasting, and a universal human experience, it is important to be able to understand it for what it is as well as for how we ought to respond to it. Great benefit and personal growth can come through the process of loss and pain grieved well. Meaningful connections can be made interpersonally through the opportunities that grieve provides. Thus, as visual and storied meaning-makers, we need analogies of grief.
Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.Ecclesiastes 7:3
In this post and (hopefully) a few more subsequent posts, I want to share and reflect on several analogies of grief that I have run across. I would love to hear some of yours as well. The first comes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy: grief is like a Morgul wound. Full disclosure: I shamelessly stole this analogy from my counselor (he’s not offended).
I shared this analogy in a recent sermon on the book of Job, but I wanted to develop the idea a bit more here. You can watch/listen to the sermon here (the sermon starts at 22:40; the Morgul wound illustration starts at 59:12).
A Morgul Wound
In the first book of Tolkien’s epic tale, The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo and his hobbit companions are guided by Strider (aka Aragorn, aka King Elessar) on the initial part of their journey out of the Shire. At Weathertop, the group is ambushed by the Nazgul and their leader, the Witch-king of Angmar, corners Frodo in pursuit of the One Ring. As the Witch-king presses in, he stabs Frodo with a short blade called the Morgul knife. Though not a fatal wound, Frodo cries out in agony as Strider intercedes and eventually drives away the Nazgul. You can watch the film adaptation of this scene below:
The Witch-king’s knife is a unique weapon with dark, evil origins that has a poisoning effect on its victims. In Tolkien’s books, the Morgul-knife breaks off in the wound and the shards travel toward the victim’s heart. Eventually, it has the effect of turning the victim into a dark, shadowy wraith like the Nazgul (to read more of the lore behind the Morgul-knife, you can go here). As Aragorn indicates in the film, only elvish medicine can heal this particular type of wound.
Thankfully, Aragorn is able to get Frodo to Elrond, the great elf lord, at his fortress in Rivendell. Though Elrond is able to treat Frodo’s Morgul wound by removing the blade’s shards, Frodo continues to feel the pain of the wound intensely from time-to-time, particularly on the anniversary of the attack at Weathertop. In the end, a permanent cure for Frodo’s wound is only found in his departure to the West, to Valinor and the Undying Lands (an experience that only a select few non-elves had experienced).
Some wounds “never” heal. In this scene at the end of the film version of The Return of the King, Frodo reflects on his continued pain from the wound:
Our Morgul Wounds
Like our hobbit friend Frodo, we too have our own Morgul wounds. The losses, pain, and sufferings of life — big and small; acute and chronic — ail us and press us into the experience of grief like a wrestler pinned face-first to the mat. Our grief lingers. It reappears with new strength at anniversaries and at the sights, sounds, and smells of that which was lost or the pain that was experienced. Even the best medicine of the Means of Grace, the spiritual disciplines, counseling, healthy habits and personal boundaries, intimate relationships, etc., leave a remaining ache in us — body and soul. Like Frodo, we too have pain and loss that will be to some extent unresolved until we enter the Undying Lands (and praise be to the Lord Jesus who makes the way for us through His Resurrection).
It is in the unresolved nature of Frodo’s Morgul wound that we find a helpful analogy for our grief today. Because, even if we know and believe with all our hearts that Christ will bring us to the Undying Lands in due time, our wounds still throb. The tears still pour from our eyes. We hurt. We grieve and we grieve and we grieve.
Grief is a process. It is a process that is part of being a sinful human being in a fallen world. In it and through the gospel of Christ ministered to us by His Spirit and in the fellowship of the Church, we find substantial, yet not full, healing in this life. And it’s in seeing, understanding, and embracing this unresolved tension in our grief and loss that we are able to make some meaning out of it all and persevere with real hope and joy here and now — on our way to full and complete healing in our own, true Valinor in the New Heavens and New Earth.
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”Revelation 21:1-4
Analogies illuminate, but they don’t fix or heal things. Only Jesus can do this. In the meantime, He gives us His grace, His Word, His promises, and His people. Jesus gives us His very self. And though we grieve, He is with us. And though we suffer, it is not the end of the story. All He has promised, He will fulfill.
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.1 Thessalonians 5:23-24