Wednesday Quotes
Acquainted with Grief
December 24, 2014


“He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”
Handel’s Messiah, Air from Part II, quoting Isaiah 53

Being acquainted with grief does not fit the season. Or so it might seem.

Last Sunday I was in the third row from the front, drinking in every recitative, air, and chorus of Handel’s Messiah. It was an occasion to experience the power of music to convey and enhance the meaning of words.

At one point I noticed a change; I could feel a difference in the music. Perhaps I was starting to doze, but it seemed that the same line was being repeated over and over again, slowly, deliberately. The mezzo-soprano’s voice was working its way to my innards. And the words?

“…a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”

Hearing the whole Messiah at Christmas-time you get more than bargained for: the whole drama of the Messiah, beginning to end. The Hallelujah Chorus, interestingly, does not mark the birth, but the resurrection. But this line of the mezzo-soprano—it seemed to be repeated almost mercilessly–left the most lasting impression. It dawned on me that Handel might have captured more than I realized.

In many ways, the older I grow, the more acquainted with grief I become. It’s all around me; it’s in me. Sometimes it seems to overwhelm. Everything.

Grief seems so un-shareable, so unbearably singular; so mine. But it need not be so. The truth of that line begins to dawn. He was acquainted with grief.

Perhaps this is not the normal fruit of listening to Handel’s Messiah. But this year when I gaze at a baby lying in a manger, cold and uncomfortable, I will hear a mezzo-soprano’s voice singing those words. And I will be grateful.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) composed his Messiah over the course of a few weeks in 1741.

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  1. It is always interesting to me when the seemingly “unfitting” things become causes of deep reflection during these great feasts. Will we ever reach the depths? For myself this year , the nativity scene seems to be wispering “can ye drink of the cup that I shall drink?” After feeling like this advent completely got away from me it’s a tough question to answer but is probably exactly what I need to reflect on. Have a blessed Christmas and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    1. And thank you Corey for sharing yours. Surely our very celebration of this great feast–regardless of what has gone before–can be an occasion for deepened insight, and fuller life.

  2. What a great post. In June, our parish priest was murdered. The grief was unimaginable. The pain in my heart gave me a glimpse of Mary’s sorrow at the foot of the Cross. I am grateful to share in this. My sorrow was in the loss of a man who showed us all a bit of Christ. I miss Father Walker. Now I yearn with a greater understanding to see our Lord one day.

  3. Thank you Margaret for sharing. Isn’t it remarkable how beautiful things can continue to flower from a life well-lived?

  4. I am most grateful for Jesus’ Nativity that he became one of us and that we share in his grief to only by the amount that we can hold. I think of his glory at the Transfiguration which is my cause for hope. I am thankful for your post Dr Cuddeback. May God bless you and your family. Merry Christmas!

    1. And God bless you Bob. Thanks, and Merry Christmas.


    John, Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts. Something I try to convey to many hospice patients and their families enduring their own particular and poignant journeys of grief is that they are not alone. Aloneness in grief can be so acute and so exhausting. “But it need not be so” as you rightfully point out.
    It is amazing how many folks out there are suffering tremendously… Right now. Rather than being depressed about it all, we might take solace in doing what we can to empathize, to support, to pray for, or simply to be there for others. Let them know they are not alone.
    If memory serves there is a beautiful aria whose subdued melody follows immediately after the famous and unbridled “Alleluia ” chorus entitled “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth.” Our Good Lord became aquainted with grief freely, and we might become aquainted with the certitude reflected in those confident words- the certitude of his eternal life, of his desire to share this life with us, and of his undying and infinite love for each and every one of us no matter our circumstances. Merry Christmas!

    1. Jim, Thanks for your insightful and inspiring words. Merry Christmas to you too.

  6. I also have become more acquainted with grief — in many forms — as I grow older. As with so many things in life, I somehow didn’t see that coming. Guess that’s a mercy. And now: a poignant Christmas, the first since the death of our mother.

    And yet: He, too? He too. Comforting words. Thank you.

    1. Claire, Thank you for sharing. I indeed know what you mean–so much we do not see coming. There is so much for us to learn…

  7. Grief properly used is fertilizer for the growth of the soul. I remember something my Mother taught me when I was seven attending my first funeral, my Grandfathers. My Grandfather was a pastor and In the middle of the service I nudged my Mother and whispered, ” Why is everyone crying, didn’t Grandpa go to heaven?” My Mother, wise lady that she was, answered, “yes he did but we miss him here on earth.” I instantly understood that you never die, your body just ceases to exist. I was happy he was reborn into Gods heavenly kingdom, but I would miss his stories, like when he courted grandma on a bicycle with wooden wheels, and I would miss the chestnuts he occasionally roasted for me.

  8. Cken, Wise words indeed. Sorrow is real, even as joy can transcend it. Thank you for sharing.