Communal Lament — Center for Action and Contemplation
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Communal Lament

Crisis Contemplation

Communal Lament
Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Psalms of lament are powerful expressions of the experience of disorientation. They express the pain, grief, dismay, and anger that life is not good. They also refuse to settle for things as they are, and so they assert hope. —Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms

Most of us have not been told that we could or should “complain” to God, but lamentation might be the most honest form of prayer. It takes great trust and patience to remain stunned, sad, and silenced by the tragedy and absurdity of human events. My CAC colleague Barbara Holmes sees lamentation as a healing practice in the midst of crisis contemplation: 

Communal lament is important for several reasons. It wakes us up and, in doing so, makes us mindful of the pain of our neighbors, who no longer can go about business as usual when the women begin to wail. Their keening rattles both marrow and bone. Who can remain in a stupor with all of that yelling?! But lament is important for another reason: The collective wail reminds us that we are not alone. The sheer power and resonance of a grief-stricken chorus reminds us that we are beings of quantum potential. We still have agency in every cell of our being, enough to survive—even this!

Lament is risky business. . . . The reasons that lament is risky are because it challenges power structures, it calls for justice, and it makes demands on our relationships with the “powers that be,” one another, and God. Once lament is released, it cannot be recalled. Lament is risky because we never know until the act is done whether or not we have gone too far.

Lament allows the pain to escape and stitches us to our neighbors. We are called to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Our tears are our prayers when we can’t speak, a baptism of sorts, a salty healing, a sign of our vulnerability, and a liturgical response to violence. . . .

Lament is a collective response to tyranny and injustice. When we are confronted with the horror of our violence-laden society, our mindless killing of innocents, we shift from individual sob and solitary whine to collective moans. . . . In similar fashion, the Holy Spirit groans prayers on our behalf. In the Epistle to the Romans (8:26, NIV) Paul states, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit . . . intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

Throughout Romans chapter 8, Paul writes of sacred utterances of creation and humankind in crisis. We don’t know what will emerge from this time of tarrying, but we do know that something is being born. Like a woman in labor, there is expectation in the darkness, anticipation amid the suffering, hope permeating the pain. Something new is being born and something old is being transformed.

Reference:
Barbara A. Holmes, Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Global Village (CAC Publishing: 2021), 95–96.

Story from Our Community:
As a theology student many years ago, I did my thesis on transformative transformation. Recently I revisited it and realized I only included points that confirmed what I already believed and made me feel good and “inspired.” The past 35 years have confronted and challenged my previously held assumptions; the Spirit reveals new truths and more ultimate meaning about myself and the workings of Christ in my life. With each day I find Spirit challenging me to shed biases that hold me back from experiencing and embracing all life presents with open eyes, ears, and heart. —Dennis K.

Image credit: Oliver, River Steps (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: Water on stairs brings up questions that the angle of this photo cannot answer. Are these waters rising or receding? We are navigating in this place of tension, in the eye of the hurricane, unsure if where we stand will flood. Water and Stone: Where is safety? Where is danger?
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