There is a lot to feel anguished about in our world today, a lot to lament. Outpourings of public lament appear as flowers and candles at the sites of mass murders, as encampments of the Occupy movement, and as protest gatherings that follow acts of violence and oppression. And yet, there are many who dismiss these acts. Some of us cannot lament. Why not?
In order to lament, you have to get it.
You have to get that something horrible is happening, that the system in which you participate, often to your advantage, caused it and perpetuates it, and that you yourself have a hand in it. Your hand is in there, even if all you are doing is benefiting from an oppressive system, and even if you cannot name the benefits.
How can your eyes be opened so you see your hand? How can your heart be turned, so that you get it?
One way is to take the prophets around you seriously. The prophet’s job is to point out the injustices, the atrocities, and the imbalance in a way that people get it – to repeat and rephrase, to tell the story until there is a sharp intake of breath, and a look of shock in the community.
You will have to listen with more than your ears and absorb the words with more than your intellect. We are trained to reject anything that needs more than our rational minds to understand. We fail to absorb that which we cannot observe and measure. We reject prophetic language as “gloom and doom”.
But when we listen with our imagination and intuition, as well as our intellect, there is a recognition, a light bulb moment, in which the people say, “Oh my God, what have we done?”
The Old Testament is full of stories of the Jewish people finally understanding, in their collective gut, what the prophets were telling them. The reaction was always one of individual or corporate acts of lament: tearing their clothing, covering their heads with ashes, making sacrifices. The words of Psalm 51 are reputed to have come from King David’s finally getting it, after the prophet Nathan nailed him (See 2 Samuel 12). “Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” These are words of lament.
Until there is that moment of recognition, there can be no lament.
We need prophets. Our spiritual communities must nurture the prophets that arise in them, and support the prophets in the larger community. Matthew Fox has said that it is the job of the individual Christian parish to support its members to become prophets and mystics.
But what Christian community will do that? The church has so domesticated itself that words of prophets are no longer heard clearly. It seems more interested in perpetuating the institution than in challenging the existing order (especially its own order) or speaking truth to power (especially its own power). It is time for it to prophetically examine that shortcoming, to re-wild itself, to expand its imagination, to take a chance, to dare to challenge the comfortableness of its members, to risk losing big donations.
We need to feel our feelings. As long as we keep our grief and anguish far from us; as long as we are unwilling to feel our own pain, we will not “get it”, and we will not have the capacity to lament. Yet, the church keeps reassuring us that all will be well, as if feeling pain is undesirable. God will take care of you, God will take care of it, God will make all things new. We come close to helping each other feel our pain and anguish when we say that God is in the midst of our suffering and pain. But always, the message is, “Feel better. Be of good cheer.”
Well, let’s stop being of good cheer, so we can lament. Let us collectively feel our anguish. Let us name it out loud, shout it, cry it together and hold on to each other as we do.
Let us share that light bulb moment, when we see our own hands enmeshed in the anguish and violence of the world and cry, with pain in our hearts, and tears streaming down our faces,
“What have we done? What have we done?”