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Posted Nov. 14, 2012

“Grief Reveals Character of Joy”

By Arelya J. Mitchell


“Grief reveals the character of joy.”

One can view the above quote as (a) very profound (b) very crazy, or (c) one that bears further exploration. Actually, I settled for all three, but the ‘crazy’ reference is as in “crazy like a fox.”


Dr. Charles “Carlos” Gourgey takes readers on what could be described as no less than a glorious journey on “the meaning and discovery of faith,” which also happens to be the subtitle of this thick enriched book, “Judeochristianity”.


I know these days the subject of faith may be bordering on the fad du jour, but there is nothing faddish about faith if you have gone or are going through the quicksands of life. And if you’re looking for a quick link to popularity to intellectualize while socializing then “Judeochristianity: The Meaning and Discovery of Faith” is probably not for you.


But as I said, if you are yearning to learn more or  are trudging  through quicksand then come along for a journey of what my late father would call a work of “deep thinking.”


Dr. Gourgey’s preface nakedly begins with one sentence: “This is a book about faith, what it is and how to find it.”

            To begin this journey you have to strip down to an open mind and expose your inner self.


Gourgey has more than the academic credentials to explore paths of life and death: He ministers in hospices.


Gourgey describes his working in hospices as a “privilege.” However, before I go further, let me say that Gourgey is not a medical doctor. His areas of expertise are in theology and psychology, and his ministry is not sermonic but rather musical, as in music ministry.


When I saw ‘music ministry’, I went ‘mmmmm’—not so much because I thought it was amusing or ‘New Agey’  but rather different ; thus, my curiosity peaked about how a  man with a PhD in psychology and theology  and one who so boldly asserted that “grief could reveal character” could involve himself in an avocation called music ministry?  No, I wasn’t looking down on such a calling, because in the history of my life, I have heard how music is used to help comatose patients or ease the pain of dying patients. It has been proven that music is therapeutic. Besides, anyone who says that it is a “privilege” to work in a hospice immediately has both my attention and respect.


Gourgey makes this observation about hospice residents: “What has impressed me most of all is how faith, for those blessed to have it,  helps people meet just about any tragedy with confidence and a strong spirit. Of course even the spiritually strongest have their fearful moments, but are not defeated by them. Faith is the dominant force in their lives.”


He writes: “ ‘Laf es numero’: Faith is Number One. This is what one of my hospice patients told me when I asked her how she was able to maintain her confidence in spite of having to face illness and death?”



 One of the stories Gourgey tells is how a hospice patient would not let anyone come near her and would not respond to anyone until he began ministering with music. Lyrics and music can be most soothing. Witness it yourself on a more secular level when you’re left holding ‘forever’ on the phone for customer service.  Now you get an inkling on how music can soothe the savage beast in yourself, so let me continue


Hospice. It is a place where most of us do not want to detour before meeting our Maker. No matter how euphemistic the word “hospice” sounds, it still sounds like experiencing death up close and personal. And being human we would prefer to think of death as far away as possible or as happening to Other People.


Before I go further, let me say that this is not a depressing work. If you are brave enough to journey into the realm of faith, you can walk between dying and living with faith bridging two of the most formidable and mysterious abstractions of our being human. ‘Abstractions’ because we still do not fully understand life, let along death.

            Yes, Gourgey looks at the afterlife, the Resurrection, the gurus, reincarnation, Eastern philosophies, Zacchaeus’s faith, how some believe suffering is an illusion anyway,  and other theological, physical, and psychological questions of our existence and eventual non-existence, but does so with a fluidity that still goes back to faith.


In this review I can only surface skim on how deeply Gourgey gets into this quest to provide answers.


I personally believe that every day you live, you die; and every day you die, you live. Of course, from this sentence and unlike the theological dichotomy belief that man can be divided into soul and body, one could very well argue that you are either dead or alive but you certainly can’t be both!  (Unless you’re a zombie, but I won’t go there in case there’s a smarty pants out there). Again, from my highly subjective perspective, I believe dying and living are all happening simultaneously. (So go ahead. Call me crazy. My feelings won’t fry.).  And I believe there is ‘something’ as Gourgey would assert in which you can rejoice in, in both living and dying— in those two mysterious and formidable abstracted states in which we all share. Perhaps it is this plateau (perspective) that hospice patients reach on some spiritual or psychological level to cope—to die—to live while dying.




Gourgey’s examination is sectioned into three parts: Part I - The Path; Part II - Obstacles on the Path; and Part III – Approaching the Destination. According to Gourgey these processes or paths begin an elevation to “a new creation.”


Suffice to say Dr. Gourgey’s framework of analysis of faith is within the Judeo-Christianity perspective. His examination can be described as existential or specifically as existential theology.


Existentialism. Theology. Together both may seem contradictory if not altogether blasphemous.  However, Gourgey looks at the two as a natural amalgamation. He clarifies: “…This means God is participating fully in our existence, including our suffering. This means beholding the God that survives after the God we thought we knew has died in the doubt that our suffering raises…” This paragraph is vital; it is the crux which determines if one chooses faith or if one chooses despair.


Gourgey goes deeper and deeper.  What one can contend from Gourgey’s journey is that existentialism coupled with theology are the blocks to building unending faith. Eternal faith. Blind faith. And faith could very well be what is mandatory as one nears nonexistence of the body. I can only think that this building process produces a kind of theopathy if you believe that your own death is not the end or that your loved one’s death is not the end.


In fact, Gourgey delivers what could be a horrific paragraph or maybe even viewed as “brutish” in the vein of Thomas Hobbes: “Grief is not merely a painful experience; it is a journey. The journey begins with the experience of separation. In this sense the journey of grief is the journey of life itself. The Book of Genesis, with its story of separation from Paradise, encapsulates the separation we experience as human beings.”


Gourgey says that naturally the first of separation is at birth. “Afterwards,” he writes, “through the process psychologists call ‘separation-individuation’, we learn to perceive ourselves as individuals separate from one another.”


But what was hollering in my mind (or perhaps soul) was ‘what about group pain?’ What about grieving as a group where one can feel so much pain--- can be so empathic with another’s pain that he feels both grief and rage in a singularly defined event? I refer specifically to 911 as an example, where rage and grief were so entangled that they left a nation stunned, suffering, and angry.  Perhaps it is this type of tragedy that makes us part of one another-- that does not fully give us separation-individuation.


Gourgey resolves: “A response to grief that tries to escape the darkness of separation will not find true relief. It cannot, because it does not become transformed in love…It is only natural to ask ‘Why me?’ but if we persist with that question, empowering it with our resentment, it will create further division in our minds, perhaps even suggesting that somebody else’s loss would not have been as tragic. Such reactions are a self-defeating grasp for comfort, keeping the energy…”


But that ‘love your enemy’ is a hard pill to swallow—but I move on.


However, Gourgey asserts, there is a bridge from grief to joy. He simply says that “Gratitude is the pathway from grief to joy.”


I know that I have looked at faith and its relationship to grief, but Gourgey’s book expands on so much more that I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this is all there is.   To reiterate, I cannot even begin to get into it all here and wouldn’t if I could and deny you the journey—the paths.  Besides, I can see many of you, patient readers, thinking I need to simply shut up. And now I shall with your utmost curiosity intact to read more and dig deeper into Gourgey’s journey of “Judeochristianity: The Meaning and Discovery of Faith”.




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