Lament like a virgin dressed in sackcloth for the husband of her youth. The grain-offering and the drink-offering are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests mourn, the ministers of the Lord. The fields are devastated, the ground mourns; for the grain is destroyed, the wine dries up, the oil fails.
Devotion by Rev. Courtney Jones
In seminary, I took a class on spiritual practices. One of the most powerful days in the class was the day we studied lamentation. The ritual of lamentation, honoring the reality that sometimes life is really unfair and terrible, is part of what it is to be faithful people: not only is there an entire Book of Lamentation in the Bible, we also recognize annually the connection between the despair of Good Friday and the triumph of Easter. It’s almost easy, I think, especially in Western Christianity, to lean into a kind of cheap optimism and call it faith or hope: “it’ll all be okay.” But, if I may call myself in a bit, when I find myself wishing for that kind of optimism, I usually realize pretty quickly that my Pollyanna perspectives tend to come with some kind of privilege. Sometimes it’s just not okay, and sometimes it won’t be okay, and sometimes it’ll eventually maybe be okay but probably not anytime soon. And THAT has to be okay in order to move through the pain to some kind of deeper liberation.
To be human is to suffer, to shudder in fear, to shout in anger. It’s not a failure or a frailty to weep, to mourn, to express sorrow or outrage over situations beyond our control. Lamentation is how faithful people have made sense of the troubles of this human life for millennia. From donning sackcloth and ashes to sitting shiva to wearing black for weeks or months, the more we ritualize and incorporate our human reactions rather than glossing over them, the more space there is for God to enter the mix and transforming our “mourning to dancing” and our “sackcloth to a garland of praise.” It is right and good and in the tradition of the prophets, including Jesus, to say, “this is not okay.” It’s not okay that the profit of a few is more important than human life, and so we mourn. It’s not okay that humanity is destroying our planet, that greed is more important than the earth’s natural resources, and so the earth mourns. It’s not okay that we are in the midst of a pandemic that we can’t control, that our lives and livelihoods have been compromised, and that we can’t trust science and data. It’s okay to be frustrated and sad, to grieve what we miss and let it go so that we can dream what could be.
O God, I am mad and sad and stuck about a thousand things. I don’t want to feel this way, but I do. Use my righteous anger, use my seemingly bottomless sorrow, and make it useful. Plant your dreams in our hearts in the compost of lamentation, for the sake of Your beloved community. Amen.