Grief drives us
to ask for the impossible:
for the world to stop
for time to stop
for answers to every single question
for healing without pain
for our loved ones to come back from the dead.
So begins “The Impossible Ask” by Larry Morris, a former pastor of Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Kirkland, Wash. For Morris, these words come together as a poem, a way to grieve and to share.
“Good poetry is like good art,” Morris said. “It is more than just words on the page. There’s a spark. There’s a spirit.”
Morris began his spiritual journey through poetry about 12 years ago, after the death of his father. He began writing whatever came into his heart and mind as he grieved.
Those asks are all impossible,
on some level, but ask anyway.
Some of them are silly,
on some level,
but ask anyway.
“One of the things my wife would laugh about is when I told her I was done writing, and then, three or four weeks later, I would start again,” he said.
What Morris didn’t know is that he was just beginning an unthinkable path of loss and sadness. In 2014 his wife, Suzanne, was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. She fought the disease nearly five years before dying last July. Then, six months later, his 25-year-old son died unexpectedly.
Our hearts need to speak
and to cry out
and to demand
and to be heard
These cascading tragedies drove Morris closer to the written word, his feelings spilling out onto the page as a way to cope. In addition to writing, he leaned on his faith.
“Faith is a fundamental part of who I am. It comes out in the feelings of grief, sadness, anger or the deep sense of love I feel when I’m writing. I see these things walk together in what I write. We’re not alone, no matter what our circumstances. God is with us and, for me, especially as a griever, that is a very powerful message and a powerful experience.”
we will again find the ground
and a light
and a path
and a hope.
let those of us who grieve
ask for what we need.
Although Morris has found poetry necessary for his grieving process, his emotional and personal verse also serves a collective good. Before Suzanne died, he said, she encouraged him to read his work aloud.
“I remember the first things I wrote after she was diagnosed,” he said. “I read them to her, and her first words, after crying, were ‘People need to hear these.’”
So Morris started to post poems on his Facebook page. It didn’t take long for friends, both in and outside of ministry, to reach out to share his works and their own stories.
“We’re not alone”
“So many in the church know what it’s like to walk through devastating loss,” said Katy McCallum Sachse, a pastor of Holy Spirit. “And while each experience is different, many in our community have felt seen and understood because of Pastor Larry’s writing.”
Morris found himself in a position he wasn’t expecting when he started writing: one person after another shared with him that his poems put into words what they know only by experience.
“When people shared with me, it showed me we’re not alone,” he said. “What they were doing, without even knowing it, was inspiring me.”
Morris started a writing group at Holy Spirit, where he would become known as the “poet pastor.” The group met for seven years and published five books together. Sachse described Morris’ words and presence in the church as “deeply comforting,” giving people “permission” to open up about their grief.
“Talking with so many people over the years, my world has gotten to be so much deeper. Painful, but beautiful at the same time.”
“I really believe the church should be a place where we can talk openly about things that truly matter, and Larry is a wonderful example of that,” she said. “I recognize some of my own losses and struggles in his words. I also appreciate his humor and his gentle spirit.”
Now the Facebook page Morris first started sharing poetry through has thousands of followers from around the country, and his work is used in sermons and in church newsletters.
“By talking with so many people over the years, my world has gotten to be so much deeper,” he said. “Painful, but beautiful at the same time. For a long time, you grieve alone, but there are still stories to be told and grief to be shared.”
Now he will share those stories with church groups across the country. This summer he plans to travel for a series of guest preaching events, reading from his poetry collections and books. He hopes to reach people who might benefit from a ministry that has already helped many.
“Grief is grief. This is not a competition,” he said. “I hope people can learn other people are [also] going through things, and God is with us.”
And may Grace sit with us
and hear us
and sigh deeply with us
until, that someday comes.
Blessed are they that mourn,
for they shall be comforted.