Four Steps Of Lament

Four Steps Of Lament April 11, 2014

In recent weeks, I’ve been sharing on lament: how I fought it for fear it would worsen my burnout and how I’ve been naming all the helplessness, inadequacies, and hopefulness I discovered when I began to lean into lament. In all of the weeping, praying, mourning, I have finally found my hope and vision restored.  I’ve come to a deep conviction that lament is an imperative practice for effective reconciliation work and a healthy reconciliation worker.  This should not be surprising, given that lament was present in both the life and death of Christ before resurrection followed – Christ, the ultimate reconciler.  In reconciliation work, we, like Christ, are always looking towards the literal and figurative resurrection of all things and people, even as we sometimes find ourselves in Gethsemane begging God to “take this cup” from us.

As Lent draws to a close so also does our lamenting – at least temporarily.  With Easter’s arrival we usher in celebration.  We celebrate the already part of the already-but-not-yet Kingdom.  As we make this transition to beauty from ashes, I’d like to offer some final reflection on four characteristics of lament, which usher in the Reconciliation and Restoration we seek.  In summation of many of the points I’ve made in my previous posts on lament, I offer this:

“Lament is not despair.  It is not whining.  It is not a cry into a void.  Lament is a cry directed to God.  It is the cry of those who see the truth of the world’s deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace.  It is the prayer of those who are deeply disturbed by the way things are.”  (Reconciling All Things p. 78)

It’s worth noting that my thoughts on lament, especially those offered here, have largely been shaped by works by Miroslav VolfEmmanuel Katongole & Chris Rice, and Richard Mouw (follow those links and immediately add those books your Amazon shopping cart).

For lament to do it’s work in us and in the world, it must be characterized by four key ingredients: rest, remembrance, repentance, and restitution/recompense.

  1. REST
    To lament, we must stop.  It was Katongole & Rice who first taught me that learning to lament means unlearning speed, distance, and innocence.  Lament requires us to settle in and notice the current state of things, allowing it to sit heavy in our spirits, to alter our innocence as it transforms those of us who are willing to draw near to the broken and hurting.  Taking time to allow positivity and optimism to fall away, to recognize what we are up against, is the only way a rooted hopefulness can grow in the face of despair.  We can only do this properly through Sabbath, through rest, through quietness of heart and mind in the midst of tumult and chaos.   Rest is “not an invitation to become unconcerned about the conflict and chaos in the world but to imagine that the salvation of the world does not ultimately depend upon us…knowing in the midst of action when it is time to be still…even as the whole world is falling apart, spending time with the God we love.” (Katongole, Rice)  Rest enables us to cease from grasping, grabbing, striving for the harmony and peace that only God can give.  When we rest, we remember our helplessness and receive it with gratitude, knowing that we are not the Answer, yet ever being drawn to the One who Is.
    We enjoy and easily participate in recalling happy memories, but are reticent to remember moments which have dehumanized or undignified ourselves and our neighbors.  It was Miroslav Volf who taught me in “The End of Memory” that lament requires us to remember these wrongs in a morally right way, where we do not perpetuate wrongdoing, even towards those who have first wronged us.  This is the message of Christ, the Good News in the truest sense, that wrongs can be remembered and memorialized, while not used as weaponry to perpetuate evil.  This type of remembering sounds like Jeremiah 6:14 “They dress the wounds of my people as though it were not serious.  ‘Peace, peace,’ they say when there is no peace.”  Remembrance honors those who have suffered injustice, and in remembrance we can find a way to recognize the ferocity of evil that has been inflicted. This type of remembrance never relishes in the victimizations which have occurred, but mourns even the bitterness they tend to produce.  Museums where you can enter a model gas chamber to remember victims of the Holocaust, city corners marked as locations where slaves were auctioned off like cattle, vigils where names of slain are read and sung – these remembrances are a vital piece of lament and a key step towards reconciling with God and neighbor.  In lament, our hope can only grow deeper in light of a true gaze at the state of disrepair, knowing that as profoundly as we may be wounded, his resurrection power is all the more profoundly capable of restoring.  We must remember dehumanization in order to carve out a space for God’s hope and total restoration to be properly seen for its completeness when it comes.
    In lament, we mourn during remembrance and rest, and it is in the mourning that our spirits recognize our contribution to the suffering.  Lament requires we recognize our humanity, our failings, and our limits – both individually and corporately.  Lament demands our repentance for those we have violated through explicit action and those whose suffering we have ignored through complicit inaction.  Those who lament well protest the tendency to rationalize, explain away, or to spiritualize the ways we have treated others unjustly.  During the Rwandan genocide, Katongole and Rice explain that a friend mourned, ‘’The church was here when all of this was happening.  Christians-even priests-joined in the killing.  But where is the church to which God entrusted the ministry of reconciliation?  Where is that church?’”  Our faith has not always resulted in violence being squelched, but justified.  A faith which perpetuates violence defiles our sense of God personally, communally, and universally.  Repentance is a task for oppressors, even, and especially, when the oppressor has been the Church.  Lament leads those who weep and mourn to protest this mischaracterization of the God who washed our feet so that we might receive his peace in our hearts and in the world.  Repentance is the only fitting response, and it mysteriously produces healing for both oppressed and oppressor who are willing to embrace it.  Wronging the wronger is the natural response of the marginalized.  Though the backlash behavior and the hunger for revenge is more reasonable from the oppressed, it is not more moral.  In repentance, both oppressor and oppressed can come to the foot of the cross where Christ makes all things new, where both violence inflicted upon us and that which we inflict upon others is finally repaired.  In repentance, the Shepherd with the rod and staff of correction and guidance leads us to dine at a table with our enemies, and to drink from the Communion cup in their presence, restoring his shalom in our hearts and in our relationships, even with those whom we despise.
    Repentance requires action, and recompense and restitution is the act of the repentant heart.  When we become disturbed instead of dismissive of suffering, we recognize we must draw near to the marginalized in the same way that God has drawn near to us.  The marginalized are not seen as any less sinful than we, but rather, as more sinned against, Katongole and Rice explain.  Recompense turns our hearts towards the marginalized and asks what must be done to make restitution.  In recompense, we do not assume what the violated party needs.  We ask.  We take the time to inquire, “What is it like to be you?” and “What can we do to fix the breach between us?” and then we respond.  Recompense and restitution is our opportunity to show that our repentance is authentic.  Our rest and remembrance drive us not just to the sorrow of repentance, but to action which attempts to right the wrong, even while knowing that no forgiveness is owed to us.  Recompensatory actions are done in great humility, accepting that reconciliation may not occur, and even accepting that the oppressed do not owe us their trust again, even if our repentance has been authentic.  Recompense acknowledges the importance of justice in the reconciliation process.  A peace without justice is no peace at all, and the completeness of shalom, the coming Total Restoration, will never settle into our communities without the just peace of the Christ who came into the world full of both mercy and truth.  We attempt restitutions because we must – it is an act of obedience, not a means of further dominating or manipulating the marginalized.

Restoration of individuals and communities will never be completed until the depth of brokenness can be absorbed in our moments of rest, until they can be remembered and memorialized and until evil can finally be stopped through repentance and restitution.  Restoration may or may not occur for us in the wrongs we have had committed against us.  We may never have the opportunity to have a “table prepared for us in the presence of our enemies” and a “cup that overflows” on this side of the Restored Zion.  There are no gaurantees that lament will produce the reconciliation we so long for.  But what we do know is that lament produces for us the reconciliation in our own hearts that transforms us more fully into the image of Christ.  Katongole and Rice remind us that “We plant hope, not certainty.  But we plant because we know it is true and right and good.” We are reminded in lament that we are given over to death so that Christ’s life might work in us, so that his grace can transform and renew us, so that his eternity can settle into our bodies and spirits.  We have this treasure in earthen vessels, in our carnal bodies, which waste away daily in the face of suffering, yet knowing we serve a God who said, “Let light shine forth from darkness.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~WHAT DO YOU THINK?~~~~~~~~~~~~

Are there more steps to lament and reconciliation that are missing here?


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