On collective grief & confession; the lament.

Solomon’s Room. 445am.

It’s 445am and Solomon is feeding. He’s not settling. Which is fine. I mean I’d prefer to be asleep, of course. But it’s ok. I’ll sit here longer and feed. I’ve got nowhere else to be. I can sit here longer and rock on my chair.

I’ve started reading The Handmaid’s Tale. It is confronting in a new way since I’ve watched the series. Not because of the atrocities that the depicted culture performs and condones; this of course is present, but tonight/this morning/lately, the protagonist speaks of what life used to look like, the things she misses and that which she took for granted. I can only read a couple pages at a time: the topic hits much closer to home than it ever did.

That’s my confession tonight. It is not particularly profound: I just miss lots of things. I miss certainty in work. I miss opportunities to occupy outside my home. I miss playgrounds and play dates. I miss the lack of fear and risk that permeates our interactions with other people. I also know that it hasn’t been that long, and I also acknowledge what a privilege it is to have a safe home to be.

But I still feel the lament.

Scrolling social media over the past weeks – which many of us have/are/will do- have you noticed a change in tone? I have. There is still rubbish and information overload, but I also find myself less envious of others’ Instagram posts. I find people are updating statuses with vulnerability and creativity. People are posting far less about #livingmybestflife, or #lookhowawesomeIam, and much more about simple pleasures, aspects of gratefulness, but also their grief for what this pandemic has cost them, or what it is doing to the world, to people they’ve never met. How wonderful. I’ve read more honest stories on social media over the past few weeks than I ever have. I’ve seen less polished performances and more humble offerings of creativity and generosity. It can still be noisy and overwhelming, but the tone is less aggressive somehow.

The collective grief that we’re all experiencing is/may be the singular event of our lives. What other story has impacted every country, economy and family like this? Covid-19 exposes the privilege and poverty of different spaces and places, but it also beautifully reveals the common humanity we have. And the tool that is at our disposal- the true strength of the social media medium- can be a way for us to communicate our collective experience.

There is an incredible spiritual principle of lament* in many faith traditions: the practice of “calling out” our sorrow. It is the deep, guttural “WHY?” when we don’t know the reason or the outcome. As N.T. Wright has argued recently:

It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead

Wright, 2020

Lament, then is a heart cry that connects the personal story of loss to the public narrative of grief. It is the practice of speaking out and giving language to the mess- in order for us to move from sorrow into joy. Speaking out pain brings exposure and healing in a way that silence does not; indeed, as Breugemann writes:

Lament is an invitation to a public practice in a society that has no other text that is adequate to our newly embraced loss…

Brueggemann, 2003

Moreover, one of the incredible aspects of lament is the way that it requires an audience. It is the sharing and hearing of grief that gives the story its healing qualities. In the psalms the audience is God:

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭69:1-3

I have been encouraged time and time again in the way that the scriptures, particularly the Psalms, champion and call us to lament: it speaks of a God who cares about our circumstance, one who Laments with us, and also one who knows the process that healing requires.

While God is often the primary recipient of lament, the audience of confession can also be each other. We are also called to confess to each other to be healed (James 5:16). When we confess to each other, not only are we restored to relationship and connection, but our lament may just give someone else words to voice their own similar story. Confession and lament can be interwoven together in the same grief.

Basically this is my long winded way of saying KEEP confessing. Keep story telling. Start posting. Even if it’s embarrassing and makes you cringe in your vulnerability. Keep lamenting. Even if it feels overwhelming and murky, like a tune that has a discordant chord that longs for a resolve. It’s ok if we don’t know the answer. The point is to speak.

The practice of lament, the celebration of collective and individual confession, is the vehicle of healing and one of the ways that we as a country/culture/world can ride out this storm. X

*many others have written far more extensively on Lament: I refer you to the great N.T. Wright or Walter Bruegemann or Matthew Jacoby for further exploration & illumination of the concept.

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