If you have been stranded on a desert island since March of 2020, this headline might be jarring. But for the rest of us who have been marinating in pandemic stress, uncertainty, and anxiety, the fact that a major airline had to remind its crews not to use duct tape to subdue passengers seems…well, sadly understandable. Our perspective about so much in life has altered, and we have become well-acquainted with many of the causes of this change.
Tears and rage.
So much of the formerly outlying behavior we see among us (and too often, inside us) is being driven by deep grief over all that has been lost, deep anger over all that we cannot control, and sometimes fierce rebellion against others who, we believe, are taking away our control.
Church boards have a lot with which to contend right now. Plans are being re-written in face of the Delta variant. Worries are re-emerging about who is returning and who is not. And many of our pre-2020 concerns are back on the agenda. Amid all this, please do not move too quickly past the deep grief (and anger) that is still active in our communities and is certainly also afoot in your congregation.
Christian faith, building on Jewish tradition, has the resource and gift of lament. Lament directly takes up the deep sorrow of loss. Unattended, such sorrow can too easily turn into anger and rage. Addressed to God, lament slowly, painfully, yet steadily turns tears and rage toward new paths of faithfulness.
For example, a portion of Psalm 79:
Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and forgive our sins,
for your name’s sake.
10 Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants
be known among the nations before our eyes.
11 Let the groans of the prisoners come before you;
according to your great power preserve those doomed to die.
12 Return sevenfold into the bosom of our neighbors
the taunts with which they taunted you, O Lord!
13 Then we your people, the flock of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
from generation to generation we will recount your praise.
In many of his writings, Walter Brueggemann addresses the gift of lament – and helps us understand that this gift alone permits newness. In his book, Prophetic Imagination, he writes:
Jesus knew what we numb ones must always learn again: (a) that weeping must be real because endings are real; and (b) that weeping permits newness. His weeping permits the kingdom to come. Such weeping is a radical criticism, a fearful dismantling because it means the end of all machismo; weeping is something kings rarely do without losing their thrones. Yet the loss of thrones is precisely what is called for in radical criticism.
The fact that Jesus weeps and that he is moved in spirit and troubled contrasts remarkably with the dominant culture. That is not the way of power, and it is scarcely the way among those who intend to maintain firm social control. But in [John 11:33-35] Jesus is engaged not in social control but in dismantling the power of death, and he does so by submitting himself to the pain and grief present in the situation, the very pain and grief that the dominant society must deny.
A top item for your church board agenda, then: numbness must be banished. Lament needs to be put front and center right now in the work of your board and your congregation. The work of lament – and really nothing else as deep or potent – will nurture a new season of purpose and faithfulness in your community.
In her own poem of “Lament,” American poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) guides us along a path of sorrow and loss, with a poignant ending.
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I’ll make you little jackets;
I’ll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There’ll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank;
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.
What do you make of the last line in Millay’s poem? Why does the mother end her lament with “I forget just why?”
How does Psalm 79 end? What is the journey the psalmist takes us on to get us there?
How would you compare the laments of Psalm 79 and Millay’s mother?
How might you, together, write a lament for your congregation or community or society or globe in this moment? Where would you start and how would you end?