the practice of lament

Lauren was at a training session for work last night, so I decided to settle in and watch a movie, In the Valley of Elah. It’s about a US soldier who returns home from active duty in Iraq and subsequently goes missing. His father, with the help of a local detective, attempt to get to the bottom of his disappearance. I won’t get too much into the details, but what comes out of it is the notion that the soldiers who have gone over there to fight come home completely detached and desensitized, and that we, as a society, are in a state of disarray and despair. The movie left with me a feeling of deep sadness for the way that things are in the world today, with the reality that this is not the way that things are meant to be ringing in the back of my head.

Which brings me to the idea of lament, the silence of the sufferer being ‘heard into speech’. John Swinton describes lament as ‘a mode of resistance that can help us overcome the hopelessness and voicelessness that result from evil and suffering‘; it ‘provides us with a language of outrage that speaks against the way things are, but always in the hope that the way things are just now is not the way they will always be.

The church is meant to be a place where the sufferings and questions of others can be absorbed into a loving community. True Christian community, at its best, should offer a different context within which to suffer. The Psalms of lament were shared within the scope of public worship, often in small groups, allowing one to express their grief and pain in regards to how their lives and the world around them is being swallowed by the way that things are.

Lament, however, isn’t meant to rest in expressions of pain – it has a meaningful endpoint, which is ‘reconciliation with a deeper love of God.‘ Lament is both transformative and subversive in that it is a profound statement against the world and the assumptions that drive it. Things do not have to be this way.

Lament is a public protest against the way things are. it enables victims of evil to express anger and disappointment with God and the way things are. Lament breaks the silence and provides a hopeful voice that cries towards the future. Yet it does so in the context of the crucified and risen Christ, knowing that God has not only promised to answer those who lament, but has promised to journry with them until the promise reaches its ultimate fulfillment. [Lament] is a [peaceful] gesture of resistance in the face of evil.

The question right now is whether or not the church accepts things the way they are, or is prepared to engage in the process of lament, the process of reconciliation to God and to neighbor, the process of offering hope in the midst of suffering and living in a way the embodies the reality that things will not always be this way.

I believe the church is called to engage in a lament for the world, to come alongside those who suffer and point to a better way.

[all quotes in this post taken from ch. 5 of Raging With Compassion by John Swinton.]

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