Psalm 25: 16-21
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart
and free me from my anguish.
18 Look on my affliction and my distress
and take away all my sins.
19 See how numerous are my enemies
and how fiercely they hate me!
20 Guard my life and rescue me;
do not let me be put to shame,
for I take refuge in you.
This isn't turning out to be the traditional prepatory Christmas advent practice, is it? I'm not sure what I was expecting, but Okoro did have the word "Surprising" in her book title. Why should I be startled when we're taken places we wouldn't otherwise go?
Lament, in today's world, seems quizzical, no?
On the one hand, Scripture is full of laments and groans and of people laying themselves bare before God and one another. We are encouraged to emulate this honesty and passion. Yet when we do, we are biblicized with feel-good verses… theology that tells us to "step out!" of our ailments or griefs… or we become uncomfortable with our pain… we become REALLY uncomfortable with other people's pain… we scramble for the Tylenol bottle without a moment's thought… we feel guilty for bringing such petty troubles to a great, big God… we make others feel guilty for not being stronger… or not thinking positive thoughts… or not believing that everything happens for the best… or we mock people for turning to a fairy God in the sky; heck, we mock people because everything's a big joke… or…
We really don't like the presence of laments.
"Lament happens when we take relationship seriously and find ourselves disappointed by others or even by our own actions… To cry out for help, to acknowledge the disappointment and challenge of our situations is not incompatible with faithful waiting. As we wait, we express deep faith by continuing to speak out to God and one another of the things that are not as they should be." (Okoro, pp.19-20).
I can't begin to fathom the Christmas the family of Michael Brown will have. Or won't have.
In the same way, I can't imagine what atmosphere is brewing in Darren Wilson's home.
But I have seen and read the vitriol all over social media — people of Love and the Word ripping one another to shreds. I feel sick.
I can't understand why my country (Canada) has chosen once again to enter into armed combat. The First World War promised "Never again", but it's a promise my country has broken so many times over. The civilian casualties we cause… the damaged veterans we brings home and forget… the blood shed over political divisions and resource bickerings. Why?
Our town lost 3 people in 3 days last week because of horrid road conditions, snow and all that goes with it. Funerals, wakes and viewings are dotting our communities.
Black Friday awakens in me such a fury over what Christmas is being forced into! Yes, it might provide extra income for those who really need it. But tell me why (again) we're forcing low-income folks to work during a time they could be home with their families too? Yes, it might provide low-income folks with basic necessities at truly affordable prices. But remind me (again) why we're engaging in a horrific display of gluttonous consumerism that forces low-income folks to trample down crowds for socks once a year?
Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.
Hope doesn't enter the picture here. Not yet.
At least, not in a manner I am supposed to sense or see or touch or smell. If God Emmanuel is ever with us, then hope is alive and moving. But the power of lament lies in our willingness to embrace it, to feel it, to cry it out, to name it, to reveal it, to shovel down God's throat if we have to.
But in our world where the power of positive thinking has become so insensitive to reality, we see ourselves trying to think happy thoughts at the expense of actually facing the laments in our lives. We gloss over the true anguish, label it "negativity", race away from it, creating a sort of protectionism from it. We gloss up our lives but refuse to lay bare anything we define as negative energy.
Help! I've got gangrene and I'm being given Benadryl for it!
Hope is quiet yet.
Lament must be honest first — open and heard, Henri. Open and heard.
We will make each other uncomfortable; we will stumble and mistake intentions; we will probably judge each others' expressions of laments; and we'll certainly keep trying to sweep our lives under the divine carpet.
But like Elizabeth and Zechariah likely cried out to you… as did the Psalmist… we must be fully honest in our laments in this time of darkness and waiting. We cannot know who or what hope is until we face the depth of our hurt. Anything else is a facade.
Until tomorrow, Henri.