Every community finds itself at one time or another facing the very real need for worship that helps us grieve as a corporate body, that offers periods of corporate confession and repentance, serious contemplation, and yes, even lament. There are times in every community when we need to cry together in worship.
Lamentations is the writing of a survivor living in the midst of a crumbled world. It captures the feelings of people in the midst of crisis. It metaphorically references images of people today that we see in the news: people wandering around shocked and lost in Syria or displaced to refugee camps in foreign lands. It references the continuous threat of terrorism, the latest tragic shootings, the floods in Louisiana, the earthquake in Italy, and whatever other disasters of national and international scope that have occurred since the time I am writing this in late August. It is every image of public terror and grief ever witnessed. It is mourning for all that has been lost to conflict, war, or natural disaster: lives, memories, homes, public buildings, jobs, infrastructure, a way of life with all its hopes, dreams, and relationships.
Jeremiah’s vision of a lonely city once full of people as a lonely widow who has lost not just her spouse, but her entire life, is haunting. She cries all night long. She can’t find comfort anywhere. Her friends have all either disappeared or turned away from her. Her entire life has become a kind of exile as she tries to make her way forward in this “new normal.”
How do we survive a disaster? The first step is to name the present reality, with all its pain, all its hurt, all its sadness and anger and loss and grief and loneliness for what it is, without trying to make it better. That is to say, the first step in dealing with disaster is lament. It is admitting to the fullness of the problem we have. It is embracing the horror of the situation.
I have a Lament CD. In includes music by Eva Cassidy, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Simon and Garfunkel, and Willie Nelson, to name a few. For most of my adult life, whenever I have experienced a painful time, a time of grief or loss, that CD has been a lifesaver to me. It is cathartic. I listen to my collection of sad songs, and I cry until I can’t cry anymore. That’s just my process. I know it isn’t for everyone. When I told my my friend Shelli about the CD, she asked, “What? Why would you do that? Why would you not listen to happy music that helps you feel better and takes your mind off of your problems? Why would you listen to music that makes you feel worse?”
While I do understand her comments, I believe I am not the only person who feels the need to weep until I can weep no more at the start of a crisis, and even well into the crisis. Yes, there is always a place for comforting words and music that takes us away from our troubles. But we also need to lament. We need to make space to weep together in our sanctuaries. We need to mourn for the hurting and the dying in the world, because they are out there, every day, struggling just to make it through the day.
We also need to mourn our communal losses as people of faith. We need to cry together for what once was. We need to express our grief and suffering, and even our anger, because it is part of the path toward healing.
- What communal losses need ritualized mourning in the community you serve?
- How can you bring a regular practice of lament into the worship life in your community and church?
- What gets in the way of being able to plan a more contemplative or lamenting worship service?
- How can music assist in our need for lament?
- What good could you envision coming from providing a patterned ritual for the expression of grief and suffering in your community?
- What are some creative ways you could use to help people see the benefits of lament in worship?
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