There are times in our lives when things seem very much to have fallen apart. A betrayal, a broken marriage, the death of someone we love, a dissolution of an old but dead friendship, a financial crisis, a diagnosis, a lost job. The list goes on and on when it comes to what humans must endure.
I notice that Jesus generally heals when asked. And though we think God is a warm amniotic fluid in which we float in rose petals, that may be an oversimplification at best and a saccharine treacle at worst.
It is not hard to tell, rather too quickly sometimes, if someone you are talking to about lament has the emotional and spiritual depth and intelligence to join you in lament. Too often people want to placate, fix, solve, or find the silver lining and I do not find that at all helpful when I want to lament just as a fruit plate is unhelpful when I want a butter-cream cake. One can feel the panic of a person unable to cement with you – a person without those skills. It is like standing next to a person who can’t speak your language and is not even sure what country you are from. This is why the work of a priest and the work of a lay minister of pastoral care is so important. People need you to stand with them in their grief and really connect.
I have a list of my friends. Some are for socializing. Some are for a good party. Some are for a gentle time of walking. Some are friendly colleagues – people I work with whom I particularly like and who seem to like me. Some are for making something together – they are creative and bring out my creativity. But a few; a very few are for lament. These are deep souls, people of immense spiritual depth who seem to be souls of great age. This list is very small. And calling on a person for lament who is unable to show up for it is like biting into a cream-filled doughnut only to find you were mistaken – that was not a cream-filled doughnut at all. It was on the wrong shelf. It is empty. As pretty as the others on the shelves but empty. Light. Airy.
So I think that a great human wrk is to find the people in our lives who will lament with us and have the ability to do so. Those who cannot are not bad people. They can be called upon at other times. Call them when you need to pack for a move. Call them the you need to make a big dinner for a fun night. Call them when you want a companion for a movie-night. But do not call them when you want to lament. It would be like asking a blind man to join you for a museum stroll – frustrating for both of you.
For me, laments are appeals for divine help in distress and laments in literature and scriptures have a set format: a call out to God, a description of the suffering/anguish from which one seeks relief, a petition for help and deliverance, a curse towards one’s enemies, an expression of the belief of one’s innocence or a confession of the lack thereof, a vow corresponding to an expected divine response, and lastly, a song of thanksgiving.
And that last one takes some real work sometimes.
But I believe that our lives would be better lived if we were to engage real lament from time to time. To stand, naked in a garden and scream at the top of your lungs to God so that the lights in the neighborhood flick on up and down the street is a good thing. To wail is a lost art and to recover it would siphon off the fear and anxiety which swells our society like the gasses in the corpse of a dead cow on a hot summer day. Jesus feels sometimes like he is stabbing us in the heart with what happens t us. But if we look hard at the wound, we see that it is south of the heart. It is in the gut. And it is releasing pressure from the gut-gasses which build up when something in our lives dies and has been left unlamented.
There will not be many people in your life who have the spiritual and emotional intelligence to lament with you. It is often not even someone close to you who can lament with you. But there will always be someone. Find them. Thank them. Keep them near. They may be an angel unawares.
A lament is like an enema – difficult to talk about, messy to perform, a bit stinky sometimes, nothing one discusses in polite society. And I am convinced that sometimes polite society is the last thing I need around me. Sometimes I am spiritually constipated because a laments stuck in my gut and I am going t the wrong people togged help. Sometimes a lament is just the medicine I need to solve my gut-ache.