Does the Church provide space to lament?
Recently I have been feeling the need to grieve.
Nothing major just feeling slightly ripped open, bitter, revolted by, tortured by, sick, cut by the ugliness in our world today. I want to cry, go numb, throw things, weep, throw up, groan because of all the manifest damage happening on our planet. I think it started the other day when the Australian Police announced that they had broken through a complex and multilayered, extensive network of child pornography occurring on the international stage. Hurrah!
I thought to myself. Well done police. Good job. But as I listened to the details of what they had found the truth set in that this kind of stuff happens consistently, persistently, relentlessly in our world. Like some kind of cloud covering a sunny sky an undercurrent of evil invaded my fairly safe world and I am faced with the revolting truth in front of me. And then this week like many other Australians I am forced to think about yet again the refugee issue in our nation. Again our leaders don’t know what to do. Again we implement policies that lack compassion, again the boat people arrive with the hope of a new start only to have this hope dashed against a hard surface and destroyed…just like that boat that hit the rocks near Christmas Island some time ago…. human beings full of dreams of a better future are washed away never to be seen again……And then there was the typhoon in the Philippines last week….
So as a result of this and more I have felt the need to grieve
I have found comfort in the Psalms where grief is a natural part of life in a world that is inhumane, unjust, broken and generally warped. I turn to Psalm 88 and I read and hear the grief ‘O Lord, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence, let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.’ In Psalm 10 I read and connect with the injustice ‘Why O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor- let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.’ I read Psalm 73 and I join in the frustration ‘All in vain I have kept my heart clean…I saw the prosperity of the wicked….They scoff and speak with malice loftily they threaten oppression’. And I even turn to Psalm 137 where the Israelites are weeping over the destruction of their city. My eyes focus on verse 9, the verse we usually ignore today when reading the Bible, where the writer of the psalm wishes that the little children of their enemy would be ‘dashed against the rocks’. This is a horrible image, a horrible thought even, this is counter to the ethic of Jesus who tells us to love our enemies, there is no excuse for this kind of action. And yet there it is, unbridled anger at the injustice in our world expressed through a graphic image. And there God is, capable of hearing our groans, anger, broken cries, sobs, even hatred towards the cruelty, unfairness and vileness in our world today.
The Psalms were helpful for me this last week in my grief. But I wanted more.
I wanted to grieve with brothers and sisters in Christ who understand this brokenness and who long for a better world. I wanted a space somewhere in the midst of the people of God for this emotion to be expressed, to be engaged in, to modified by them, to be challenged by them, to be allowed to happen in the safety and community of the people of God. I wanted to groan together for the weariness in this world and for those who are the victims of cruelty, the innocents, the marginalised, the not so fortunate, the ones with little connections who are abandoned with no hope of getting a better start in life. I wanted to mourn for those who are already born into systems, structures, organisations, families where there is no chance of any kind of prospering. I wanted to groan ‘How long Oh Lord’? in community. Do we have spaces for that today?
The other week I read an article about the rise of the persecution of Christians around the world. The figures and evidence are alarming. The question asked by people who are aware of what is going on is; Why are the Christians in the West not talking about this? Why are they not praying? Why is nothing being said? One analyst Liz Kendal says ‘The Western Church is so happy having a nice time in celebratory worship, they don’t want the burden of this knowledge(of what is happening to their brethren). Pastors feel under pressure to have their congregations leave the church feeling upbeat.’ This is scathing remark but is it true? Do we gather as a church merely to escape the suffering of the world and make ourselves feel good about our lives? That is buying into our culture of self therapy isn’t it? The church is a sign of hope in our world, a foretaste of the coming kingdom for sure but isn’t it also called to mourn with those who mourn? Isn’t it necessary to mourn first before the joy comes in the morning? How superficial are we if we revel in a state of joy and do not enter into the real angst and pain that people who are experiencing injustice and cruelty first hand are going through right now? How unloving if we pat someone on the back and tell them it will pass without entering empathically into their grief. We don’t need to stay there but surely we need to enter into it don’t we?
To me it’s a little embarrassing that we do not do this well as a people of God. Walter Brueggemann in his book The Prophetic Imagination says that one form of prophetic critique is to counter the ‘numbness’ that our world exists in. Bodies washed away in the sea, children victims of child abuse, lives, homes, livelihoods destroyed by acts of nature… we sadden for a moment then we move on. As the prophetic people of God we are to resist the apathy of our world and we penetrate the numbness with compassion and empathy in order to hunger for righteousness. We are supposed to be angry not numb about the injustice in our world. This anger must lead us to empathy, prayer and ultimately action. This anger is a medicine to our sometimes unfeeling hearts which tend to focus on our own immediate happiness, comfort and discomfort. How can we better create spaces where the people of God come together to mourn and grieve and when the time is right to speak hope for an alternative kingdom which is already here and will fully come one day?
A while ago I heard about a few leaders from some local churches who every year around the Christmas season hold a gathering for anyone who has lost loved ones. It’s a space that the church has created to mourn with those who mourn, to grieve the loss of loved ones knowing that this is a normal part of this broken world that we live in. I’m thankful that in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season something like this exists. To me this is the stuff of the kingdom of God, we have a firm hope for a better world yet we recognise that while we live here we need to weep in prayer together until God transforms our weeping into laughing.
Where are some other spaces to grieve as a community of the people of God? Originally posted on Karina's blog here