What Does it Mean to Lament?

This post is a follow-up to Saturday’s post on Lament and the Aurora Theater shooting.

Over the last couple of days, I have realized that lament is such a foreign concept for many of us as Westerners that I might have been making too big of a leap in assuming that people knew what I meant by lament.  So, I offer a few more thoughts here about what lament is and what it might mean for us to lament the recent theater shooting in Aurora.

To lament is to come alongside those who grieve, to sit with them (literally or figuratively) in the silence and to recognize there that in God’s interconnected creation, their pain is our pain.  We might, in the silence, consider how it is that we share in the same pain.  To lament is not to offer words of comfort; it is not to try to fix the problem or to prevent it from ever happening again.  I have heard many people voice their disgust about how quickly the Aurora tragedy was politicized, by both major political parties.  Diving headlong into a debate about gun control is not lament. I’m inclined to think that Western culture is obsessed with violence, and that gun control is one way of giving us pause about our cultural love affair with violent force, but now is not really the time to discuss that.

For those of us who are further removed from tragedies like the one in Aurora, lament is a time for the hard work of searching our own souls, for the the sorts of rebellion and violence that if untended could burst out in violence toward others.  I am reminded here of the words of Thomas Merton:

“Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”

In the open sharing time of our service at Englewood Christian Church yesterday, one our of dear sisters told a fitting story of how she had bought a used car earlier in the week, only to have the transmission go out within days of the purchase. She confessed the various sorts of rage that she had felt in this situation, and also told of how the situation was resolved (nearly miraculously) without her having to express her rage to the seller. It was refreshing for her to make this confession because this sort of rage and desire to force our will upon others — whatever the cost — lurks inside of all of us.

There is more that I would like to address about lament, about how healthy lament eventually leads to conversation, and about how we how very little imagination for peace and reconciliation, but these will have to wait until later this week…

  • Michael D. Bobo

    Beautiful. You are so true.

  • Gary Lynch

    One of the passages of scripture, that I think of when it comes to lament is Luke 19:41-44.

    I like your defining of lament here, it is something best and more visibly done in the confines of community, it is better defined and more visible in community. Community I believe gives a clearer projection of lament, it adds a voice to lament that is otherwise not heard.

    But with that being said, I also believe that lament has to be and must also be something very personal, it is something that we feel in our bones and in our heart, it is each person expressing deep sadness and contrition over a particular event or even the state of life itself. It is in the coming together of a people lamenting that the cause of our lament can be more clearly defined and addressed in a God like way.

    Lamenting for me is very personal, I even sometimes lament that I feel as though I lament alone. But in community I am never truly alone, am I?

  • http://www.facebook.com/yopastorearl Earl D. Smith

    I appreciate your definition of lament: “To lament is to come alongside those who grieve, to sit with them (literally or figuratively) in the silence and to recognize there that in God’s interconnected creation, their pain is our pain. We might, in the silence, consider how it is that we share in the same pain. To lament is not to offer words of comfort; it is not to try to fix the problem or to prevent it from ever happening again.” It is certainly a very Hebraic (Eastern) understanding!

    It is the last clause that I would expand upon. I believe in regards to an initial lament, this must be true. I do see, however, the necessity for protest to be a necessary part of the lament process. (I use the word “protest” cautiously, acknowledging that it can imply actions that I do not intend.) Part of the imago Dei is the dissonance we experience in the presence of injustice. Christ in me compels me to speak, work, and act to bring injustice under the reign of God, and that need is quite pronounced in times of tragedy.

    While we agree that the Aurora shooting has been too politicized (as nearly all such tragedies are), someone does need to, at some point in time, take steps that will help prevent further injustice. Those steps to set things to rights are, I believe, part of the lament process. It ought not be the first form of lament, but often it does need to happen before the lament is complete.

    Just my cent-and-a-half. I’m willing to dialogue more, if you’d like.

    earl


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