Erin Weber-Johnson: Grief, Bodies, and Worth

“Listen to the power of your grief.

God is singing. God is singing.”

--Jorge Lockwood 

Relentless. This is the word I often hear to describe the cascading and intersecting crises of the past years. The world, each of us, is experiencing a relentlessness that feels like grief upon grief. 

Grief can be an isolating experience. Certainly each grieving experience is unique, an expression of the cumulative toll of pain and loss one has experienced in their lifetime. We may never fully understand another person’s grief or know exactly how to walk alongside them in it. In our struggle to comfort and understand, or, worse, in our desire to insulate ourselves from the pain of others, we may try to explain another’s grief and pain.

What’s more, we know grief extends well beyond individual experience. Of course we know more clearly than ever in this moment, we also hold collective grief - the pain we all carry after the lives lost to COVID-19 and the endless cycle of systematic injustice. We even experience the anticipatory grief that comes from not knowing what tomorrow might look like, and the loss of the belief that things could be predictable. All of this grief causes us all to reevaluate our lives while experiencing moments of bone deep tiredness, of what the psalmist says requires “sighs too deep for words.”

Grief shows up in unpredictable moments, making itself known at times when we least expect it, reminding us of its existence, bringing to mind all the things we have lost and for which we grieve. Which is why, on our best days, we know we need to acknowledge our grief, experience it, and heal from it and even, if we are so fortunate, to make sense of it. That is to say, in the midst of grief, we sometimes try to engage in meaning making. 

As we consider our multiple losses, as we experience our own mortality more clearly, we are compelled to make meaning from what has occurred. Some opt to create funds in honor of loved ones, others move to a different part of the country, and still others might opt to make major life and career decisions in response to grief and in an attempt to wrestle from it some kind of meaning. I am fascinated, intrigued, and confused by how grief influences or translates to vocation and work. Consider, for instance, how many people quit their jobs during the so-called “Great Resignation.” (1)

The New York Times reports 47.8 million people left their positions to pursue different job opportunities during the pandemic. Taken in aggregate, this shift in the workforce, resulting as it did from the painful experiences, the grief and losses, of the pandemic, is staggering. Yet, these stories also bear witness to the desire to make sense of grief as so many made decisions born of our deepest values learned or relearned through the pain of our collective loss. These answers guided many to clarify their own sense of vocation and to reflect on their own boundaries and limits. The resulting shift of the workforce raised, for me, questions of bodies and worth. I wondered, “What is the value of my body?”, “What is the worth of an individual life?” and “Why do I keep living this way—I can do better, right?”

For those who are currently employed, another trend is afoot regarding - what commentators are calling “Quiet Quitting”. (2)  Here people start to quietly enforce boundaries around work/life balance, no longer working beyond reasonable boundaries or established contractual expectations, refusing to go “above and beyond” or accept “other duties” not clearly in their job descriptions. Many are quietly “quitting”, refusing to work during off hours, resisting tasks beyond the scope of their original position. 

Grief, meaning making, and the resulting impact on the workforce, is also raising questions about productivity. As the exhaustion and grief of the pandemic prompt many to set or reset healthy boundaries and resist the culture of overwork and busyness, we are being asked again to consider a new way to envision the relationship between money and bodies. As we explore again these connections and consider anew what productivity means, we might realize that this moment holds a powerful opportunity for us to imagine and usher in alternative economies. As people of faith we are given frameworks and images of just such alternative ways of being with one another, socially, spiritually, and economically. The kingdom of God calls to us, beckons us to reimagine our worth, our belonging, our bodies.

Jorg Rieger (3) notes that economics has always had a moral dimension. However, alternative economies often struggle in implementation as we do not begin to factor in alternative measures of productivity. The economic vision of the kingdom of God turns our conceptions of who owns money and possessions, as well as our understandings of who has power, and flips them on their head. When we remain concerned about our worth in measurable outcomes and success measures, the framework of the kingdom of God, where debts are forgiven, the poor are given pride of place, the hungry are filled, and as Mary says, the rich are sent away empty, shifts popular cultural conceptions of the what is measurable and what success looks like. 

Our relationship to our money and bodies not only shapes our relationship to God, it impacts our ability to recognize God’s movements in the world. We are unable to imagine the kingdom of God, that is, God’s economics, without decolonizing, recognizing and eliminating beliefs about our worth and work, deeply engrained as they are by a world that values profit over people, currency over connection, and belongings over belonging. 

I am reminded here of advice given to me early on in my career. I was told the key to success at any organization was to accomplish enough early on to be “irreplaceable.” Here my worth, measured by my productivity, ensured my place in the economy and in society.   Recently, in a group of colleagues, we all admitted to no longer feeling drawn to the same intense “hustle” as we did prior to 2020. In the wake of death and injustice, we developed a new appreciation for our own bodies - a deeper sense of value of our own selves against the cost we might assume to pursue these previously held beliefs. The cost our culture assigns to the body is one many no longer are willing to pay to meet career objectives and false ideas of success.


I seemed to be drawn

to the center of myself

leaving the edges of me

in the hands of my wife

and I saw with the most amazing


so that I had not eyes but


and, rising and turning,

through my skin,

there was all around not the

shapes of things

but oh, at last, the things


--Lucille Clifton (The Death of Fred Clifton) (4)

What if this moment calls us to the surprising reality of our worth? This notion of worth shifts our priorities and understanding of productivity, the body’s worth, not in the ‘shape of things’, but with new, focused sight, our grief giving voice to what our souls need. What if, rising and turning to God in our own bodies and skin, we see ourselves not in mere shapes or as hollow vehicles for productivity, but at last as beloved, whole.



  3. Jorg Rieger. No Rising Tide: Theology, Economics, and The Future. Fortress Press, 2009.
  4. Gupta, SudipDas. "The Death of Fred Clifton by Lucille Clifton". Poem Analysis, Accessed 22 September 2022.


Erin Weber-Johnson is Senior Consultant at Vandersall Collective, a faith based, woman-led consulting firm and Primary Faculty of Project Resource. In 2017 she co-founded the Collective Foundation, which worked to address the gap in giving characteristics in faith communities of color. In 2022 she co-founded The Belonging Project, a movement designed to reimagine belonging across the ecclesial landscape. Previously, Erin worked as the Senior Program Director at the Episcopal Church Foundation, as a grants officer at Trinity Wall Street in New York City, and served as a missionary for the Episcopal Church. She holds a BS from Greenville University, a Masters of Public Administration for NYU and is currently completing a second masters in Religion and Theology from United Theological Seminary. A published author, she strives to root her work in practical theology while utilizing her experience in the nonprofit sector. Her co-edited book, Crisis and Care: Meditations on Faith and Philanthropy is available through Cascade Books.


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