I came home from classes on March 17th to the reality that we were officially moving into isolation – church, ministry, relationships were moving online. Moving away. (That’s what I internalized). In those first days I remember thinking, the Israelites might have been onto something with the whole ‘sack cloth and ashes” thing, that outward expression of the internal response to loss and sorrow: also known as, lament.
It is a word that has been a shadow companion over the last 6 weeks and I realize we are just not very good at it. Perhaps it is our European, farmer stoicism that whispers “let’s not get carried away now”, or our personalities, or a theology that has taught us we can only say the nice things to God, like thank you and praise you. Disappointment, sorrow and anger aren’t nice so we can’t express those to Him. For whatever reason, we tend to avoid feeling and expressing the emotions our current circumstances evoke, but “every emotion, though horizontally provoked, nevertheless reflects something about the vertical dimension: our relationship with God.” Lament is a place for us to pursue God. Lament is an act of faith.
Naming our sorrows, losses and fears “exposes the tragedy of our world and the darkness of our hearts… these feelings expose the illusion that life is safe, good and predictable.” Naming them before God, to God, at God is the invitation of God’s very own words, the Psalms. The 42nd Psalm says: “My tears have been my food day night… I am deeply depressed… Why soul, are you so dejected?” I imagine these words whispered in the midst of “The Lord will send his faithful love by day…Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him.” Lament is not simply complaining about circumstances, it is lifting our burdens, our grievances to the One who, holding all things together, weeps with us. God is not outside of these days, waiting for us to get over ourselves so that we can get on with proper prayer – He is the God who weeps with us. He promised we would know trouble in this world. He also promised to never leave or forsake. Immanuel weeps. We can too.
Sorrow as faith might also be one of the greatest witnesses we can offer in these days to those who don’t yet believe God is who he says he is. To name sorrow, exposes darkness and says we will not hide – not from God and not from each other. It brings solidarity with the rest of God’s image bearers. It allows us to bear each other’s burdens because we know and can name how they feel. When we lament we are loving God and neighbor and in a divine twist, the kingdom of God breaks through. Lament creates sacred space for us to stand together.
There is somewhere in our tears,
a hope still kept.
We feel it in this darkness, like a tiny flame,
when we are told
Jesus also wept.
So, brothers and sisters, come lift up your sorrows.