The Trouble with Lament by Lisa Hunt-Wotton
Lament is messy, its awkward, it’s uncomfortable, it needs a response, it needs to be comforted. It requires time, silence, listening. Much too confronting. Happy is much easier. In this world of pain and conflict, who is doing the comforting?
Earlier this year I attended a leaders breakfast at the MCG on the eve of The Justice Conference Melbourne, Ken Wystsma the key note speaker was talking about how lament is a fundamental part of acknowledging justice. We can’t work for justice and ignore lament. How can we have compassion and relate to suffering if we do not know how to lament. Ken then opened up the floor for questions. I nervously raised my hand. My question: “My life experiences have made me lean into lament. Suffering and trauma take you there. However, how do we raise the focus of the need for lament in a pentecostal space. I mentioned how difficult this is to do in the pentecostal space where the leaders want up, up, up”.
Everyone at the breakfast looked at me very strangely. Needless to say I was one of two pentecostals in the room. Stumped for words he replied, yes I’m sure it would be hard to move into a time of lament with a rock band and spotlights blaring.
This was the catylst that led to me digging deeper into the topic of lament.
I don’t believe that this is just the problem of the pentecostal church of course, it is deeper than that. It is related to societies disconnection from grief, pain and death. These are contrary to our ‘successful, powerful and blessed’ images.
- Let’s not go there.
- Let’s just stay happy and pretend that everything is okay.
- Let’s avoid awkward situations.
- It’s too uncomfortable and we don’t know what to say or do.
- And gosh, are you STILL sad?
- Aren’t you OVER that yet?
- Come on, clap clap clap, shake yourself out of it.
- Think happy thoughts? Its not that bad. Up, UP, UP……
- Why have we lost our tradition of tears?
- Why are we so disconnected from pain?
- Why do we get uncomfortable with lament and reflection?
- Why do we seem to be on a quest for happy and boppy?
“Other than the vestige of Celtic and Oriental spirituality, with their rich emotional component, most of our tradition of tears has been lost, all of our grief seems to turn to anger and accusation…
“Blessed are they that mourn for they will be comforted”.
Who is doing the comforting?
Believe me, when you are going through the valley of the shadow of death, you need all the blessing you can get.
We need time to process, time to grieve, time to soak up the presence of God, time to sit with our grief. We don’t always need to be prayed for or over, or told to be positive or told any other number of cliches.
It is what it is and we just need to rest in the presence of God and be held in that space of lament. It’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to be disillusioned, to plead and cry and question. It’s okay to shake our fist at the sky and be furious at God.
These responses are healthy and part of the healing process. We should allow each other the time and space to do this. Otherwise we internalise and repress these feelings and its a very unhealthy space to be in. I believe that a lot of the anxiety and depression that we are seeing in our communities today is because of the lack of recognition of the need and the space to lament.
Incorporating lamentations into our public worship is risky business. It is as Ellington asserts, risking the ‘Truth’ by threatening our identities, robbing our sense of securities, of the goodness of life and of the justice of God.
It is to admit that things have gone horribly wrong, to enter into the unknown and possibly find oneself rejecting the standing answers.
Lament reaches toward the hiddeness of God, rejecting every pious platitude that insists that everything is as it should be and raising fundamental questions about God’s faithfulness and justice (Ellington 2008:x11).
When the Biblical writers lament, they do so from within the context of a foundational relationship that binds together the individual members of community of faith and that community with their God.
Lament has a public aspect to it. Prayers of lament are offered out loud, standing up, and in church. Community that presents its cries before God and it is the covenant relationship between people and their God that provides the context for prayers of lament. The covenant relationship with God is the foundation on which to stand in approaching God for answers. It is also the place to explore the dynamic of the covenant relationship, as it seeks to recover communion with God. Lament, therefore, is a cry over a relationship in crises (Ellington 2008).
The journey back for the Church is mammoth and requires much courage. As Ellington notes:
Lament must often go against the majority voice and in so doing leads to a deeper isolation for the one who prays it.
Lament compels us to turn loose of support systems and the framework that we use to make sense of our world, for though they offer a degree of security, in the extreme moments of life such systems prove to be dysfunctional (Elington 2008). Lament is also, though, an act of hope. In a courage born of desperation, those who lament create a space for the possibility of newness. Such newness is not achievable as long as denial is maintained and the status quo guarded.
Lament is offered in the conviction that the silence of God can be broken (Ellington 2008: 185-186).
Risking Truth: Reshaping the World Through Prayers of Lament
By Scott A Ellington
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Ellington, S., (2000), ‘The Costly Loss of Testimony’, Journal of Pentecostal Theology. V. 16.
_____ (2008), Risking Truth: Reshaping the World through Prayers of Lament, Pickwick: Oregon.
_____ (2011), ‘Can I get a Witness: The Myth of Pentecostal Orality and the Process of Traditioning in the Psalms’, Journal of Pentecostal Theology, V. 20.