Discover more from Zebraview
to be human is to lament
to lament is to be human
“Somewhere along the way, we modern Christians got lament wrong: we began thinking of it as optional instead of a required practice of the faith… When we lament, we declare that only God has the power to truly mend the world’s pain and brokenness… To live without lament is to live an unexamined life.”
Those are the words of Dominique Gilliard, a minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church. Clearly he is addressing those of the Christian faith, but I think there is power and wisdom in lament applying to all of us simply because we are human.
[“Job Rebuked by His Friends” by William Blake]
A psalm that is all about lament is Psalm 88. It’s a dreary one! If you’re looking for something to cheer you up, you’d best look elsewhere. It begins on this note: “O Lord, God of my salvation, at night, when I cry out before you, let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.” It goes downhill from there.
Here’s how it concludes: “You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me; my companions are in darkness.” That’s from the New Revised Standard Version. But the New Jerusalem Bible is even bleaker: “You have deprived me of friends and companions, and all that I know is the dark.” All that I know is the dark. What possible use are these words? What possible help can they provide?
I’m reminded of an incident when I was a young man at an Assemblies of God college in Lakeland, Florida. For two semesters, I was part of a street ministry team travelling to Tampa on Friday nights.
On my very first night, the very first person I encountered was a gentleman clad in shabby-looking clothing. He appeared to be in his fifties. Not knowing what else to say, I told him, “Jesus loves you.” As soon as he heard that, he began crying and telling me how he had lost his family and his career. I don’t recall if it was drinking or gambling or something else, but he recited a litany of his mistakes, his many laments.
When he had finished listing his failures, he asked me if I would forgive him. At the time, I was thinking, “It’s not my job to forgive him. I need to direct him to Christ.” So I told the man Jesus forgives anyone and anything. But it didn’t work. It seemed like he needed to hear the words, so again he asked me, “Do you forgive me?” I relented and said, “I forgive you.” And with that, he shuffled away into the Tampa night.
All that I know is the dark. And also, the grace that surprisingly can come with it.
Is there anything to the statement that living without lament is living an unexamined life? Perhaps we are familiar with the assertion attributed to Socrates, “An unexamined life is not worth living”? That was his response when accused of impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens. Is it then sound to say, “To live without lament is a life not worth living”?
We have ample scriptural testimony in the book of Job, the prophet Jeremiah, and even Jesus on the cross—though that didn’t last very long. There is expressed a holy affinity, a holy connection. Side note: the book of Job is one of the world’s great pieces of literature.
It is an expression of love when we attend to lament. But let’s not imitate Job’s friends. Hearing of his troubles, they came to be present with him. That is a wonderful act of support. However, when Job began to vent, and to do so in uncomfortable ways, they chastised him. When someone is at the bottom of the pit, argumentation (as well as unwanted and unsuitable advice) hardly serves as a lifeline.
Lament provides a language for loss. And as odd as it sounds, lament is a form of worship. Too often, we assume worship is limited to painted-on, saccharine smiles. Say “hallelujah,” even if you’re dying inside!
When we hold each other up, we honor the One sent to share our griefs and sorrows.
St. Paul says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” He doesn’t say if we feel like rejoicing or weeping. Just do it. A huge chunk of the psalms are laments. We avoid songs of lament. I direct this to myself as much as to anyone else. Do not avoid lament. My being human depends on it.
Thanks for reading Zebraview! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.