The word has been on my mind, in my heart, since I first heard the name
Sutherland Springs, Texas. It wasn’t shock. Sadly, I’m no longer surprised. It wasn’t just anger – though there is plenty of that. It wasn’t pity or sympathy or even anxiety (Could that happen here?). The emotion was much deeper than any of those feelings. After the details emerged, reported almost simultaneously with all the ridiculous political naming and blaming, a new, deep sorrow came over me. The emotion was deeper, more soul-searing than had accompanied my response to Virginia Tech or Columbine or Aurora or Sandy Hook or Las Vegas…
Lament. “A passionate expression of grief or sorrow… To mourn…”
All people, in all places and times have lamented. Some animals lament, too. (Have you witnessed a dog, broken spirit, moping around a house after the death of a companion – either another canine or a human one?) Intrinsic to our spirits, born out of our essential need to love, is the capacity to lament.
The wisdom of our biblical tradition is that it holds together the horizon of human experience, the mountain tops and the valleys and all the long and windy road between, the sometimes desolate stretches of wilderness, exuberant encounters with a physical or spiritual oasis. None of the experiences of human life, neither joy nor pain, neither affirmations nor deep doubt, is withheld from the pages of our scripture. What a gift!
One ancient writer, perhaps grieving over the destruction of his beloved Jerusalem, penned five poems of deep grief, and these “Laments of Jeremiah,” stand as a testimony to the importance of facing God with the honesty of our pain.
Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow… My eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me… my stomach churns, my heart is wrung within me… (from Lamentations 1).
Scholars disagree over when to date these texts, but they agree that their message is timeless. Lament is necessary. And it is powerful.
I believe we need a national movement of lament. No angry political sniping. No posturing, left and right. Just a soul-deep acknowledgement that our society is broken. While powerful guns are at the heart of these tragedies, the tragedy is far deeper than any weapon. There is soul-deep sin in the heart of our nation. We are increasingly angry – but don’t talk to us about going to church, about the need for God, some time for silence, an hour in worship. That’s silly.
We are increasingly over-medicated – but don’t talk to us about increasing funding for mental illness. That’s a liberal agenda item. We are increasingly militarized – but don’t talk to us about us about gun control. This isn’t a gun problem. We are increasingly polarized – but don’t talk to us about turning off our favorite media sources. We want to be fed by the propaganda machines that tell us what we already believe.
We are increasingly violent – but don’t talk to us about peace. That’s too wimpy. We are increasingly divided – but don’t talk to us about racism. We’re tired of political correctness. We are increasingly abusive – but don’t talk to us about men and sexual abuse. We don’t believe those woman, anyway.
It’s not just about Sutherland Springs. It’s much deeper than that.
The wisdom of biblical lament is that it is soul-deep and honest and reflective – and it points us to God, who alone can heal our sin.
We need a national movement of lament. May it be so.