“To learn to lament is to become people who stay near to the wounds of the world, singing over them and washing them, allowing the unsettling cry of pain to be heard.” — Chris Rice / Emmanuel Katongole RECONCILING ALL THINGS
Continuing our reflection on what it means to lament, I want to focus now on locating lament. Generally speaking, where and how does it happen? I want to start with an insightful comment that my friend Gary Lynch left on yesterday’s post:
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.
Gary is spot on here, lament begins inside us, as we wrestle personally with grief and contrition. But the journey of lament cannot end there. Eventually, as Gary observes, we will be ready to share our personal laments in the local church community. Often this sort of sharing will come in the form of confession. Confession, like lament, is not a particularly familiar practice for most churches today. Offering confession may be a more familiar practice in some churches, but the flip-side, a congregation receiving, extending grace to and restoring the one who confesses is, I imagine, mostly a foreign practice to us. A group of us from Englewood have recently finished reading through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. One of the most challenging parts of the book was the final chapter on confession and communion. Bonhoeffer writes:
The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinner. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is found among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!
The journey of lament, though it may be initiated by an external event (a tragic shooting, a social malaise — e.g., the recent focus on the tragic preponderance of PTSD and suicide among soldiers–, etc.), as it proceeds from the personal through confession to forgiveness and restoration, ultimately serves to deepen the fellowship — from the biblical Greek word koinonia, literally common life — of the congregation.
In Reconciling All Things, Chris Rice and Emmanuel Katongole describe lament as the means by which we unlearn speed, distance and innocence. By this definition, it should be clear that lament is an essential part of what John and I have been calling Slow Church. As we are slowed by lament, we come to see not only how deeply broken we are, and all creation is, but also that in Christ, we have been given a way out of this huge mess (and when I say “we,” I mean not just us as individuals, or as Christians, but all humanity and indeed all creation). The way begins in our hearts and eventually leads to confession in our local congregation (or some subset thereof), and then to the extension of grace and forgiveness by the church community. At this point in the journey is where, in conversation together, we might begin to strategize about how we can enter into a situation, whether it is personal struggles that a brother or sister might face or a larger social problem.
As I have argued in my recent book The Virtue of Dialogue, we need spaces in which this conversation can unfold, for such spaces are where the politics of Jesus can begin to take shape (our congregations are, after all, manifestations of the body of Christ). Returning to the above definition of lament, our typical approaches to politics are politics without lament, politics fueled by speed (and efficiency), distance (addressing an issue, without engaging in it), and (the appearance of) innocence (especially in contrast to members of the opposite party, whichever that might be). Maybe we need to lament the sort of politics that we called Christian –whether we are inclined to the right or to the left — and in so doing, begin to imagine new sorts of politics together in our churches that are locally-rooted in our particular congregations.
Image via Wikimedia Commons