Yesterday I had the pleasure of viewing the on line Mid Week Service that Rev Shirley led and I was very struck by her words regarding lament. It’s an odd word isn’t it, not one perhaps we use very much these days, yet it conveys so much raw emotion.
The official definition of the word “lament” according to the Cambridge English Dictionary is “to express sadness and feeling sorry about something”
The Old Testament contains a whole book known as Lamentations , which is believed to have been written by the prophet Jeremiah. The book contains five laments and although other books in the Bible also include laments it is the only one to contain solely this type of prose and it was written in response to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. I won’t pretend that it’s an easy read with its graphic description of devastation, slaughter and even cannibalism but there is something very cathartic in it’s honest and brutal expression of sorrow.
I don’t think we’re very good at lamenting these days. Our culture does not encourage loud displays of emotion – how many times have you heard the phrase “stiff upper lip” in response to bad news.
Other cultures and faiths are far better at the public acknowledgement of grief. For Jewish people, the death of a family member causes them to literally tear their clothes in sorrow and they spend the following eight days ‘sitting shiva,’ a time of lament, when they sit on low chairs doing nothing other than express their grief while others come to offer their condolences, to share in their sorrow. In some cultures death is accompanied by very public displays of sorrow as those who knew the deceased loudly cry and call out their grief.
In the course of my ministry I have conducted a fair few funerals but it has only been on rare occasions that I have seen those gathered engage in raw lament. That is not to say that the grief of the loved ones attending is any less heartfelt but there is generally a reticence to display sorrow in anything other than a contained way.
Over this past year many of us have had cause to lament. Some because of the loss of loved ones, both to Covid and other illnesses. Others are lamenting the loss of livelihoods. Most of us are probably lamenting those times when we have not been able to gather with our families and friends to celebrate significant occasions – weddings, baptisms, birthdays and I think all of us would share the lament for those simple pleasures we have taken for granted – going for a walk with a group of friends, cheering on our favourite team from the vantage point of the touchline, popping out to the local cafe/pub for a catch up….the list is endless.
We tend to downplay that which we lament as being unimportant, unworthy. “Worse things happen at sea” we say. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s not so bad” we shrug.
But there is no hierarchy for lament. Anything that touches our hearts and causes us sorrow is lamentable. It is not for us to judge what anyone should or should not consider something to lament.
Now I’m not advocating that we should be constantly bewailing our lot but I think that sometimes we do need to acknowledge the rawness and pain of loss, whatever that loss relates to and perhaps in this pandemic season that is even more important.
I am hopeful that we are slowly going to emerge from this season but in order to move forward positively we need to have the opportunity to reflect on what has passed, what and who we have lost, those people and events that can never be replaced.
As well as the Book of Lamentations, I find that the Book of Psalms contain some of the most beautiful and heart rending examples of lament. The psalmists were not afraid to cry out to God their sorrow and perhaps taking some time to meditate on their words may give us the opportunity to cry out our own laments to God. He wants us to do just that, He longs to comfort us in our grief.
As we approach Lent many of us will be thinking about how we might mark this solemn period in the Christian calendar. Maybe one spiritual practice you might like to consider is reading a different Psalm each day and reflecting on whether the psalmist’s words give voice to the grief you may carry within your heart. It might even inspire you to write down your own lament.
One of my favourite Psalms is 40 – “I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry” it begins It is a psalm of lament but it is also a psalm of thankfulness for God’s provision “though I am poor and needy, the Lord cares for me. You are my helper and deliverer; my God make no delay”
Lament is a personal response and we will all make that response differently. My prayer for us all is that we feel able to share those feelings of sorrow, if not with others, then with God because He is always there, waiting, ready to uphold us as only He can