Grief looks different for everyone. It’s as unique as our fingerprints. I will grieve slightly differently than my wife. My children will grieve in their own way. Yet, as unique as it is, it is universally experienced. I am actually helped in my mourning by a brother or sister who is also mourning. The load is shared. Nick Taylor, North Wake member and part of the worship team, sent me these thoughts as he processes his own grief over the passing of Stephanie Jackson. It encouraged me and I pray it will help you as well.
It’s times like these where words fail me. I find my prayers feel distant, words hard to come by, and emotions are raw. We lost a wonderful sister-in-Christ this week. Gone too soon, her legacy yet to be known, the void left behind massive. To say that my soul is aching would be an understatement. And it’s times like these that in my moments of grief I must turn to the one thing that (other than scripture) always gets me through heartache and pain – songs of requiem.
The requiem (Latin for “rest”) is traditionally part of the Roman Catholic Mass for the dead. It is a solemn, melancholy event most commonly associated with a funeral. From a musician’s standpoint, the term has subsequently been applied to musical compositions associated with death, dying, and mourning, even when they lack religious or liturgical relevance. By way of example, Mozart, Verdi, Brahms, and (more recently) John Rutter were all classical composers who each wrote requiems (Mozart’s is arguably the most famous). But sometimes a piece of music that was never written or meant to be used/performed as a requiem gets turned into one. An example of this could be the first movement from Beethoven’s “Moonlight” piano sonata. A popular “requiem” played today (especially after the events on 9/11) is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. These works have a way of filling the listener with emotions full of sadness and that is what drives people to perform and use them as requiems.
If a composer writes a requiem, particularly in modern and postmodern times, often the idea is to produce thoughts of remembrance – music to generate memories of those who(m) the requiem is written for. Some requiems have words and are sung; others are purely instrumental. To use an example from Hollywood, listen to John Williams’ Hymn to the Fallen from “Saving Private Ryan”. Or perhaps Alan Silvestri’s The Real Hero from “The Avengers: Endgame.” You already feel emotional (sad) because of what your eyes are seeing on the screen, but the music pulls at the strings of your heart, wrenching everything out of you until there’s nothing left to do but cry. And that’s okay…
While we don’t know if music was involved during times of mourning in the Bible (scripture doesn’t say), it is probably safe to assume that there was some sort of requiem song taking place in these moments of grief and sorrow. King David, being a musician himself, laments the deaths of Saul and his best-friend Jonathan with a beautiful requiem psalm in 2 Samuel 1:19-27. The Psalms are littered with phrases and juxtapositions of requiem. Sections from the books of Job and Lamentations come to mind.
For us as believers on this side of the cross, our songs of requiem, though sad and mournful, also come with a glimmer of hope. As we mourn the loss of our beloved sister Stephanie, we are reminded that though gone from us physically, we will see her again in eternity and we see this in the songs of lament and requiem sung most frequently at our funerals: It is Well with My Soul, Amazing Grace, Blessed Be the Name. These songs speak of our fallen nature, our need for a savior, how Christ has redeemed us, and they also speak of our future hope. It’s why we need songs of requiem and lament during times of grief and sorrow – songs that bring back memories of our loved ones gone, but also tell of the hope that we will (as long as they are believers in Christ) see them again around the throne worshiping the Lamb with the myriads of saints who have gone before us.
So, in this time of mourning, do as King David did and mourn with music (2 Sam. 12:22-23): while Stephanie was alive, we fasted and prayed saying “Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious…that [Stephanie] may live? But now that she is dead,” though our hearts are heavy, let us worship the LORD (v.20) with requiems that bring back memories of her and give glory to the King she is now seeing face to face. Let scripture guide you. You may find the Spirit moves you to write your own requiem.
By Nick Taylor