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A space for Lamentation

2016 felt like a hard year. A year of unexpected changes and outcomes that caused a wave of disbelief and heartache. It was also a year of great loss, as we turned on the news it felt like another person had died or another disaster had happened. Had 2016 plunged itself head first into a dystopian reality? Or are we living in an episode of black mirror that never ends?

A friend of mine wrote this on twitter which I think summed up the year:

Lament. Cry Out.

It felt like 2016 was a year of lament. A year of grief and sorrow.

Even within the circles of people I know there have been hardships, losses, illnesses and death. It made my heart cry “How long, O Lord?” (Psalm 13).

But this idea of lament doesn’t always sit well with us. Perhaps it’s a cultural inclination to not show emotion or a fear that such vulnerability would expose a deep longing in our hearts?

Yet despite how awkward it feels, it is also a necessary process, a part of being human that enables our minds and bodies to heal. And part of that, is to cry out to God.

This reminds me of a powerful moment in The West Wing where President Bartlet confronts God after the death of a dear friend. We can feel the air in the room charged with anger and pain at the suffering that had just occurred. He speaks in a mixture of English and Latin, and it’s the Latin part of his speech that really strikes at the heart of his anguish:

“Am I to believe that these are the acts of a loving God? A just God? A wise God? To hell with your punishments. I was your servant here on Earth. And I spread your word and I did your work. To hell with your punishments. To hell with you!”

It might make us wince a little to hear this, particularly when he begins with in English “You’re a son of a bitch, you know that?”.

Yet it was probably the most authentic moment in the show, where Bartlet truly shows his emotions to God and confronts him in all his fury. It may seem like the most unholy act to us and yet it’s pretty close to what we see in the bible.

In particular the Psalms are filled with anguish and lamenting. They question God, they confront him in their pain and they feel like he has abandoned them. They weep and they cry.

Sometimes we are too quick to move to the next verse, the one that says they praised God. Sometimes we rush those who are lamenting, to move on and start being thankful before they are ready.

But let us sit here in the lament for a while, let us weep and wail and cry out before we are too quick to stand and praise. There must be time to heal through the process of crying before we get to the praising.

And we are in good company when we cry out. We sit with Job, Moses, David, Jesus…

We [the church] need to welcome this type of lament, where if one part of the body hurts, the whole body cries out and we can see it as clear as wearing sackcloth and ashes.

We need people to write songs of their lament, so that as a church we can sing and cry together, shedding tears because it reveals the longing and heartbreak of our hearts.

We need space to confront God and ask: “Why, Lord, do you stand far off?” (Psalm 10).

And we need to not be afraid to do this ourselves or allow others the safe place to lament. There will be a point where we will take off the sackcloth and arise to praise. For some that may be much quicker than others. But first we sit and we weep, we ask God where He has been, we ask why it feels like he has forsaken us, we cry out for our nation and we mourn for the losses we have had. And we do this together.

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