Lament: Proclaiming the Reign of Christ in Every Circumstance

31 03 2015

Recently, Columbia Bible College published their Spring 2015 of “Columbia Contact,” their bi-annual magazine. The focus of the issue is faith in the midst of suffering and pain. On page 7 is an article I wrote entitled “Lament: Proclaiming the Reign of Christ in Every Circumstance” in which I discuss why we need lament in our gathered worship, and how biblical lament can be implemented in a way that reflects reality while also revealing real hope and joy.Lament article

A few excerpts:

If we don’t lament in our congregations…

“we promote the idea that our gathered worship is reserved for the happy and well-fed. That those who struggle with sin or grief or poverty should just stay home. We declare them unwelcome in our midst. (This makes an interesting contrast to Jesus’ declaration that all who do not welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked are, in fact, outside of his kingdom–Matt. 25:41-43.) By failing to lament in our gathered worship, we propagate a circumstantial faith–faith that is dependent on things going well–rather than faith that is dependent on the character and actions of God.”

Continuing…

“Thankfully, implementation of biblical lament is easier than it might seem. Sometimes, lament will be a simple expression of trust in the midst of an honest expression of circumstance…. Lament might be as simple as praying “I don’t know” in a circumstance that doesn’t make sense when considered alongside the goodness of God and his promises of love and mercy. Because I don’t have to have the answers, not to eh big ‘whys.’ What answer can I give my friend who recently lost a child? What answer can I give to those living with constant fear? There is, sometimes, very little to be said. What is needed, instead, is the ability to climb down into that dark corner and whisper with them, ‘I don’t know why. But I do know that God is good. I know that he loves you. And I will sit with you here in the dark until we start to see that light.'”

To read the full article, which explores the implications of lament for our world, as well as further ideas for implementation in our gathered worship–and to read other great articles in this publication–follow this link.





Holy Saturday – Facing the Darkness: Chapter 24 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

7 04 2012

Holy Saturday is one of the least observed days in the liturgical year – mostly because nothing happens. “There are no public ceremonies, no particular liturgies to interrupt the sense of waiting and vacuity that mark the day” (p. 152). It’s a day for growing – an activity we don’t usually take the time to notice, or consciously engage in. “Holy Saturday faith” says Joan Chittister, “is not about counting our blessings; it is about dealing with darkness and growing in hope” (p. 153).

Once again, I find that I cannot engage with the liturgical year, or write about it, without delving into the personal. How can I speak about facing the darkness unless I’m willing to bring my own darkness into the light? So let me tell you first that the surgery I had three weeks ago (for severe endometriosis) was unsuccessful, and now we wait – again – this time to see if funding goes through for me to travel to Oregon for another surgery (which may or may not be successful). There is a very real chance that my husband and I will never be able to have kids.

So when Chittister says “Someday we will all know the power of overwhelming loss when life as we know it changes, when all hope dies in midflight” (p. 153) – I know what she’s talking about. This Holy Saturday I will wait in the darkness, cradling a broken womb.

You see, Holy Saturday places us in the position of the disciples, who watched as their dreams were strung up on a cross – and buried. “No doubt about it: this is the day of going down into the tomb – our own as well as Jesus’” (p. 155). This is the day that all the dreams that have died, and all the losses we have experienced, rise to the surface and shake our faith.

But, as Chittister says, it is also a day for “growing in hope.”  “The important thing about Easter Saturday” she says, “is that it is precisely when its emptiness sets in that we begin to understand there is as much voice of God in emptiness as there is in anticipation. It is now, when we feel the absence of Jesus most keenly, that we can find ourselves listening to Him most intensely” (p. 155).

Now, more than any other time in my life, I find myself in constant dialogue with God. I always thought that a “life of prayer” was a complicated and difficult thing reserved for the spiritual greats among us, but this constant internal voice calling “help, help, help” is effortless. When a friend asked me what my relationship with God looks like in the midst of everything, I found myself using a somewhat cheesy, but very apt image. I’m like a tree in a wind storm. I can feel my branches whipping around my head – and I can feel myself bending (sometimes it’s almost unbearably painful) – but I know that I won’t be uprooted. And I know that the storm will eventually pass.

And that’s what hope is. It’s not being miraculously lifted out of your circumstances – it’s knowing you can get through them. It’s knowing that God’s faithfulness is not shaken by circumstance. That the all-powerful God of everything is willing to sit with you in the silence of a tomb. “There is hope that we can begin, finally, to see the world as God sees the world and so trust that God is indeed everywhere in everything at all times – in the abstruse as well as the luminous, whether we ourselves can see the hand of God in this moment or not. To be able to come to that point before the beginning of the Easter Vigil, before the cantor sings the Exultet into the darkness, is what Holy Saturday is really all about. Then loss is gain, and silence is a very clear message from God” (p. 157, emphasis mine).

How have you experienced God’s presence in the darkness?





Suffering: Chapter 19 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

12 03 2012

by Ian Walden

“With or without our permission, with or without our understanding, eventually suffering comes. Then the only question is how to endure it, how to accept it, how to cope with it, how to turn it from dross to gleam.”

How, indeed? Chittister helps by laying bare our more usual, rather less Christ-like, responses to the pain, the disappointment, the anxiety, the rejection and emptiness life throws at us.

Suffering anticipated leaves us paralysed in fear – content to settle for stasis, for comfort, for the illusion of control – rather than attempt anything worthwhile or important or spiritually necessary, for fear of the pain that will (make no mistake) accompany it.

Suffering experienced leaves us crushed in despair – content to survive and endure, to switch off from the life of the world beyond our pain, to allow darkness to fill our horizons and hide our hope – rather than continue to love our (equally hurting) friends and world in whatever ways are left to us.

Coptic Icon“Lent is the season that teaches us that darkness may overtake us but will not overcome good as long as we doggedly refuse to give in to our lesser selves…” Chittister is clear that following Jesus through Lent is about imitating his choice of the worthwhile over the easy, imitating his missional drive (that accepts pain and death as its corollary), and imitating his forgiving, inspiring love for his Father’s world – even from within his own various agonies.

Because as Stacey said last week, until He comes again, we’re it. We are the only presence of Christ on earth that many will ever know. Even if we hurt so much, or fear so much, that that’s barely possible to believe.

Have you recently witnessed anyone’s choices to live, to risk, to step into a new and difficult arena? Have you found strength to love while in pain yourself? If so, I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to hear your story. We all need to know pain isn’t the end; that it does not always, cannot always, must not always, have the last word.

Amen. Lord have mercy.





Joy Is Not the Opposite of Pain

26 01 2012

Have you ever wondered what the opposite of pain is? If you type the question in to the wonderful world of Google, you will read a variety of answers including: pleasure, getting high, bliss, good health, wellbeing, and joy. I’m not going to harp on most of these definitions, but I do want to query the idea that opposite of pain is joy – not because it is likely driven by the Rob Base song “Joy and Pain” (sunshine and rain), but because I think this idea sets up two different concepts as opposites: lament and praise.

While lament seems to be a difficult concept for the modern church, it was a common Hebrew expression of faith. We see this in the proliferation of lament psalms used in Hebrew worship.  Most modern psalters and hymnbooks, however, use only pieces of these psalms. The tendency is to neglect the honest portrayal of pain, confusion, and struggle in favour of what is all too often called the “praise resolution.”

Psalms of lament generally have four parts (they can be broken down further, but these are the basic components): an address, in which the author names the person he is speaking to; the complaint, in which the author honestly, and often vividly, describes his painful circumstance; a request, in which the author asks for specific assistance from the person whom he is addressing; and an expression of trust, in which the author states his confidence in the one he addresses. What we so often do is skip over the more difficult bits, chop off the “expression of trust,” and use that as a song of praise.

This approach, however, does not really result in praise. The psalmist reaches that “expression of trust” through his circumstances – whether or not they are changed. When we divorce praise from the real contexts in which we live, we foster a weak, circumstance-based, superstitious religion in which our praise is dependent on whether or not things are going well. That is a façade – not a faith.

Allow me to use a personal example. I am currently, as mentioned in a previous post, struggling with the possibility of infertility. Viewing lament and praise as opposites would lead me to believe that because I am currently in a state of lament, I am therefore unable to praise. Viewing praise as part of lament, however, allows me to lay my soul bare before God (i.e. yell at him for a while), and also to rest in my confidence in his goodness and power. If I didn’t believe that praise is a part of lament, I would fall in one of two directions: I would sink into despair; or I would feel unable to express the depth of my anguish, and end up wearing a mask. Instead, my lament draws me into the presence of God (because that is who I am addressing); it allows me to express the full extent of my suffering; it prompts me to ask God to change my circumstance, knowing that he is able to do so; and it allows me to push past my circumstance and into praise as I focus instead on the character of God, and his presence in my life. My heart breaks at the thought of not being able to bear a child – but no matter what happens, I know that God is good. I know he will help me to work out my calling toward motherhood in one way or another. That is the basis of my praise: not whether or not he does what I want him to do. And I could not honestly reach that place of praise, unless it was an integral part of the lament my heart is currently singing.

So no, praise and lament are not opposites. And neither are joy and pain. No, the opposite of pain is comfort. We are not called, as Christians, to live a comfortable life. Not in this world – not if we are called to participate in the transformation and redemption that Christ began and finished and will finish. We are not called to a life of comfort, a life free from pain, but we are called to a life of joy. We are called to a life of deep painful joy in which we see the truth of God’s character alongside the suffering of the world.