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Center for Action and Contemplation

Communal Lament

Friday, April 21, 2023

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. CAC teacher 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.


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

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—McEl Chevrier, Untitled. Margi Ahearn, Exercise on Grief and Lamentation. McEl Chevrier, Untitled. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image. 

On retreat, the CAC staff used watercolors to connect to our collective grief. This is one of the watercolor paintings that came from that exercise.  

Story from Our Community:

Recently, I found myself grieving a loss. I remember a time when a robin built her nest over our front door. A well-intended neighbor kept removing it. However, mother robin was persistent. She rebuilt her home as many times as was necessary. On the day that our dear friend died, tiny babies peered over the side of the nest making music with their chirping. Their music contained every spiritual emotion possible: desperation, faith, sadness, hope, longing, mystery but of course the greatest of all, Love. —Diane K. 

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