What is Lament? - Part 2

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Here are some further thoughts on lament - let’s call it an unofficial part 2.

Earlier we looked at how lament is a process that involves stopping. Similar to how we might slow down as a loved one is dying or how we might reflect upon a life well lived following a funeral. Just as there are several steps between the death and of a loved one and their wake, lament is not the first step in the process.

As a follower of Jesus, I believe lament is an ongoing cosmic conversation between us and the Almighty. An awkward, uncomfortable conversation. No doubt there will be times when you will want to raise your fist in the air and scream “where were you?” or “I thought you loved me?”.

And as you do, the God of the universe will sit, and listen, and hold a space for all your pain.

For lament is not a process for his benefit, but for ours.

During the worst of times, tears will form riverbeds down your cheek, followed by yelling through the tears, until you find yourself exhausted.

Exhausted with fighting the pain.

Exhausted, questioning the one who gives you each breath.

And no doubt you will finally crawl under a blanket, prepared to never leave again. And like a loving mother, Holy Spirit will come and wrap her arms around you and hold you in your pain, hold your broken heart, and collect your tears as they stain her dress.

What? Holy Spirit wearing a dress? Tears? Who are you?

Maybe the thought of crying is too much for you. I can remember three times when my father cried in my presence. Perhaps instead you tie your running shoes, or buckle up your helmet and hit the streets and push your body. Faster Further Committed to an imagery record that you strive to break, fuelled by your anger and pain.. Willing to push your body - no, abuse your body - past the point of pain, well and truly past the point of health. Fuelled by the anger and pain within that is trying to escape by any means possible. You’re not a crier, you tell yourself. But maybe this is what crying looks like for you. A coping strategy to deal with the pain.

And when you break, when you finally stumble back into the house and collapse, guess what? Holy Spirit will still be there, ready to wrap her arms around you if you let her.

At the best of times, we would deal with each day’s problems as they arrive. In an amateur move, my pockets have started to fill with collections of precious pieces of rubbish that a seven-year-old finds on the ground. It is easy for us to collect our daily problems like a child, hording our problems as if today might be the last day that we can collect them. I’m sure that you would never have this problem, as the healthy, well-rounded human you are. But I’m guilty of this. As I write this, I can’t help but think that perhaps moments of daily lament would help to stop this hording.

This doesn’t sound very ‘Christian’, I hear you ask? Shouldn’t we have a fear of the Lord? Shouldn’t we be ‘together’ when we approach him?

Maybe, maybe not.

On that note, let’s look at Taylor Swift.

“Really, you like Taylor Swift?” Her enthusiasm puzzled me, her love for this pop/country artist whom I had passed off as another shallow popstar. But it was at that New Year’s Eve BBQ in my backyard where my assumptions were challenged and my journey for learning to listen and understand Taylor’s music started. Taylor has had a generation of fans grow up with her. She writes her music about her life experiences, most of which are universal experiences among her fans. Pain, suffering, joy, moments of each. Unique, yet universal. Universal experiences transcend time. A painful loss is a painful loss whether it’s 2021 C.E or 800 B.C. While the ancient Israelites might not have carried a thousand songs in their pocket, it doesn’t mean that their life was void of music.

There is a book of the bible that I’ve heard quoted mostly only at funerals. It’s a book that asks ‘How?’ That painful question that we often reach for when life gets challenging. Our English translations name it ‘Lamentations’, but in Hebrew it’s better translated to ‘How’. This book is a collection of 5 songs of pain. I wonder if in Hebrew it is read as a question, as in How could this happen? or How can we get through this?

Sadly, in some circles, the teaching encourages congregations not to ask such questions, not to venture into the dark part of the soul. If you’ve spent most of your time in such a faith community, it might come as a surprise that other faith communities have a theology to help deal with pain and suffering. For instance, Jewish synagogues devote time to the text of Lamentations each year.

While not on the same level as the ancient Hebrew text, modern musicians have a way of cutting through the noise and exposing the ugly, raw side of our emotions. Taylor is just one of the latest singer song writer to do this.

Slowing my understanding that a well ‘balanced’, ‘healthy’ spiritually - if it’s kosher to use such words to describe spiritually - presents itself in people who can hold the paradox of tension within themselves. This ability allows them to hold situations up to the light and examine it from multiple angles. These people are neither led and controlled by their emotions, nor do they hide their authentic emotions like a stereotype of a British stoic. Absence of feeling is not the aim, but to process events, giving events due weight, and not hording them for another day. I have discovered that you can’t turn off one end of the spectrum. Suppressing feelings acts more like the binary options of a light switch, rather than the infinite gradual opening or closing of a tap. To fully enjoy the joy of life, we also must learn to walk through the pain.

I find it hard to comprehend that in a world of performance metrics, that God doesn’t require ‘performance’. We don’t have to be ‘together’ when we approach him. God can support our tears of joy and our tears of sorrow. The Almighty can support us when we ask our ‘how?’ questions of him.

What question will you ask?

Further Reading on Spiritually:

  • Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (pete?)
  • Falling Upwards by Richard Rohr.
  • The Shack by William P. Young - a helpful read if need your preconceived notions of God shaken up.