What grief teaches us about God (Theological memoir #4)

August 18, 2019—Ted Grimsrud

As I reflect back on how I have understood God, I have recently noticed a connection that I had not thought of before. Though I have not thought of there being a lot of continuity between how I thought of God fifty years ago and the present, the moment that got me started back then turns out to be closer to what I think now than I have realized. The key connecting point is grief.

Questions and faith

I grew up in Oregon in rural Oregon. Though conservative and very rural, it was quite a non-church oriented environment. As a kid, I always had questions; I always wanted to understand better. That quest led to a Christian conversion when I was a teenager that dropped me into a fundamentalist Baptist congregation that, ironically, didn’t welcome questions. But I began a long process of learning and opening up, and I moved on quickly from fundamentalism. I eventually found Mennonites and had a career as a Mennonite pastor and theology professor. I have continued to “open up” and have moved right to the very margins of the Mennonite world.

I started my journey in my mid-teens with a sense of the presence of the divine that came to me in the midst of grief—as I was attending the funeral of a friend who had died in his late twenties of cancer. In a time of prayer, I felt that God was real and was with us. I had been thinking a lot about whether I believed in God or not, and from that point on I affirmed that I did. I find it interesting now, that what could have been an insight into the characteristics of God (as one especially present in sharing our grief) essentially passed by me. For years, I would look back at the moment and say that my sense of God was pretty vague and needed my education in Christian theology (such as it was in those years) to understand who God is. Now I think it is too bad that I couldn’t have pursued the insight about God’s close connection with grief.

From that funeral on, I was trying to understand what to believe about God. The Baptists gave me some answers. I never quite felt comfortable with what they told me, but they did help me begin. I have gone in directions I would never have expected back fifty years ago. Now I think grief is one of the best ways to get a sense of how to think about God. Continue reading “What grief teaches us about God (Theological memoir #4)”

Fatherly companionable silence (Theological memoirs #1)

Ted Grimsrud—June 24, 2019

It is a kind of truism that we tend to see God in ways that echo how we see our own fathers. For some reason I was thinking about that the other day. I would tend not to think that way, but I was wondering if this truism is at all true in my experience. I would start by saying that in my sense of my own life, my mother played a much larger role than my father in my theological formation.

However, as I thought about it, I actually do think there may be parallels between how I think of my dad and my view of God. Let me suggest a motif. When I think of my dad, one element that comes to mind is what we could call “companionable silence”—the tendency to be in one another’s presence without saying much of anything out loud, but finding it enjoyable to be together. Is that same dynamic part of how I think about God? It seems that maybe it is.

Father’s day reflections

Our recent celebration of Father’s Day kind of snuck up on me this year—I suppose in part because it has been 36 years since I last had to try to remember to offer gratitude to my father, Carl Grimsrud, on the day (he died in 1984). So it was early Monday, the morning after Father’s Day that during a period of wakefulness I spent some time remembering my dad.

I have pleasant memories. In fact, I can’t remember ever having sustained feelings of hurt, resentfulness, anger, fear, or disappointment in relation to him. That’s not to say I never did, just that the negative memories don’t remain. I do have some regrets—mainly that there is so much I wish I could have talked with him about. Also, I feel that I can understand him a lot better now and can actually imagine his inner life a bit, so it’s too bad I can’t engage him in light of that understanding. And I would like to know many things about his life that I never learned about. I never knew his father, but I can now imagine a bit of what my dad’s relationship with his father was like. I would have liked to know more about that, though. Continue reading “Fatherly companionable silence (Theological memoirs #1)”