Moving and Mourning: A Practical Theologian’s Values Matrix for Stressful Times  Part 1

Moving and Mourning: A Practical Theologian’s Values Matrix for Stressful Times  Part 1

Moving and Mourning 

Recently, I celebrated my daughter’s 14th birthday in quarantine

Celebrating her life’s unfolding story, we recounted the seven times we have moved since she was born.  

We remember the quirks and beauties, frustrations and funny stories of each living arrangement. 

Each move met a need for our family and brought fresh possibilities.  

Moves also mark periods of mourning in our family stories: saying goodbye, saying thank you, stepping into unknowns. 

What grounds us in wise practices in a life that includes moving and mourning? 

This birthday week, our storiesmemories, and relationships that last across miles help us stay grounded, focused, and wise. 


Theological Imagination

My theological imagination was also shaped by moving and mourning. 

As a United Methodist with its denominational system of pastoral itineracy (pastors move from church to church by assignment), I vividly recall the rhythms of saying goodbye and the very next week welcoming new ministers. 

As a former camp counselor, many summer weeks and then whole summers started with tentative settling into a campground that opened into a whole new world just in time to bid it farewell. 

When I wasn’t at church or school, I was at the dance studio, moving in collective choreography, working up to performances that brought both joy and sadness, building practice through cyclical seasons where beginnings, middles, and endings marked layers of learning and losing. 

I suppose it’s no surprise that my professional life as a practical theologian also includes paying attention to moving and mourning.

The complexities feel thick this year: pandemic quarantines ask folks to shelter in one place while the world seems to be moving and changing at lightning speed. 

The luxury of staying in place and working from home reveals inflexibilities in social economic strata at the same time that often invisible labor is increasingly recognized as essential. 

While mourning is going to be more and more important for all of us without familiar end of life rituals, new life is bursting in Georgia’s spring budding.

While the human community gasps for breath, the earth seems to be breathing deeply. 


What will help us stay grounded while mourning?

Moving and mourning characterize this time of pandemic. 

It’s stressful.  

How should we move through this new reality that presents losses, one filled with fresh mourning every new day? 

What will shape the decisions we make about new possibilities we are moving toward?  

In crisis times of moving and mourning, what can help us stay grounded, focused, and wise?   

keep thinking about a blog I read from Rabbi Joe Black of Temple Emanuel in Denver, Colorado

Rabbi Black made a matrix of values to guide his faith community’s decision-making during pandemic. 

He named seven values that he had used to make decisions so far and that he wanted to continue to use as the pandemic unfolds and more hard decisions will be needed.  

Deeply grounded in Jewish text and tradition, his matrix of seven is as followssaving a life, community, fair treatment of workers, rejoicing, comforting the afflicted, concentration, and role modeling are seven values that serve as “anchors in a sea of uncertainty.”1 


What seven values guide your decisions? 

What seven values do you want your most difficult decisions to reflect? 

Mindy McGarrah Sharp, PhD is an Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Pastoral Care and Director of the Master of Arts in Practical Theology Program at Columbia Theological Seminary.




1 “A Jewish Values Matrix for Dealing With a Time of Illness and Stress,” by Rabbi Joe Black, March 13, 2020,

This post was written in observation of Stress Awareness Month.

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