Spiritual Disciplines—On Lament
“Now, you women, hear the word of the Lord; open your ears to the words of his mouth. Teach your daughters how to wail; teach one another a lament." (Jeremiah 9:20)
We live together in a beautiful yet broken world.
Life is fragile and finite. Sickness, disease, and ultimately death, affect us all. The bonds of love which bind us to people, places, and practices inevitably are severed. Therefore, try as we may, we cannot avoid grief and loss.
Creation, despite its many wonders, groans through weather events—heatwaves, floods, and wildfire wreaking havoc around the globe. The natural world longs for its redemption from humanity’s lack of care and worse, abuse of its resources.
And the more things change, the more it feels like they stay the same. Political divisions eclipse political solutions. Religious differences separate us rather than bring us together. Longheld prejudices based on variances in skin color, ethnicity, and gender prove hard to break or put aside. Corruption and injustice repeatedly mar humanity’s best ideas and efforts in the name of progress.
Before the polarization of communities, the isolation of individuals, and the untended wounds of creation, there is the temptation of disengagement. Perceiving the immensity and complexity of it all, we can choose to step back. And should we surrender to the rising sense of futility about the future, our apathy soon weaves itself into a self-protective cocoon of cynicism.
Before all the brokenness around and the festering questions within us - ones, we cannot answer—there is another way we can choose to respond. We can choose to lament. To lament is not to hold back but to openly express our grief and sorrow. It is to articulate the frustration. To vent the anger. To raise the questions. To confess our doubts even as we challenge the status quo.
Lament is an exercise of spiritual agency—an expression of an active, engaged faith rather than a passive, resigned one. It is to cry out in the conviction that this life is not the way it is supposed to be. It is to defiantly believe in a better world that is not only possible but promised to us. It is to look beyond the limit of ourselves and reach out to the God who takes the responsibility for setting things right. It is an articulation of hope—that loss, suffering, injustice, and death cannot and will not ultimately have the last word—hope in the God who beckons to look inside an empty tomb and view everything through the lens of resurrection.
Oftentimes the greatest threat borne out of suffering and loss is not only the physical pain it produces. It is the way grief and loss make us feel like powerless victims, destroying our sense of personal integrity and moral agency. Many work hard to deny, to hide from, to try to kill this deeper pain we experience within. But to do so is to sever one of the most sacred links of relationships to people and to place - that we are all in this together.
The practice of lament enables us to go beyond feeling sorry for ourselves and to recognize our solidarity with our brothers and sisters. Rather than grinning and bearing the toils and snares of this life alone, we choose to stand with each other. We seek to embrace the people before us who are hurting, frustrated, confusing, and questioning like we are and to protest and push back against the suffering, injustice, and brokenness in our lives and our world.
For lament isn’t cursing the darkness as much as facing the darkness with the Light that is greater—the Light that darkness cannot overcome. To lament is to begin to follow that Light in not condemning the world but choosing to redeem the beauty amid all the brokenness. To lament is to love—not to shy away from the fear and the hurt—but to enter into both honestly and hopefully. It is, in and through our vocations, offering a vision of a better world—of what might be, of what could be, of what someday will be.
Photography: Daniela Paola Alchapar