This past week, along with ten other members of our Leadership Team and Church Board I attended a two and a half day Transforming Church Retreat outside of Chicago. The retreat was led by well known author Ruth Haley Brown and was a powerful time for each one of us who attended. It was impactful both individually and corporately. We all felt blessed to be there. One of the most impactful times was on Tuesday night when we attended the evening Fixed Hour Prayer service. The theme was on “Healing” and there was a time offered to be prayed for and anointed with oil. During the service they emphasized the spiritual practice of “lament”. To lament is to express and experience grief, sorrow or mourning over loss and pain. We would not often think of this as a spiritual formation practice but the Church for centuries has honored and invited people into this process. It may involve areas such as self surrender, humility, recognition of pain, confession, compassion, trust and renewal. Instead of seeking God to remove our pain or take us out of it, we invite Him into it. Our grief become not something to be removed as much as it helps to create space for God to work in ways that we never would have imagined. Not that we want or desire the pain and loss but we accept and embrace the God who is greater than all of our pain and disappointments. It is not an easy road but when we view it as an opportunity to be formed by God we may see it differently.
Jeremiah was called the “Weeping Prophet”. A whole book in the Bible is called “Lamentations.” Even a casual reading of the Psalms will reveal a plethora of Psalms of Lament. Hear the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 22:1) that were echoed by Jesus on the cross: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Throughout Psalm 22 you hear the cry and grief of the Psalmist. It is not always pretty. We have lost a bit of the “songs of pain” that was familiar for those who wrote the Psalms. Our modern day contemporary Christian songs and worship services are filled with “praise and worship” that are mostly celebratory in nature. Bono, the lead singer of the band U2 once commented that he didn’t like many of the contemporary Christian songs because they were not real enough for him. Instead, he liked to read and sing the Psalms because it was “like singing the blues.” And anyone who knows the blues know they are a journey of pain. Christian author Soong Chan-Rah writes: “Lament recognizes the struggles of life and cries out for justice against existing injustices. To only have a theology of celebration at the cost of the theology of suffering is incomplete. The intersection of the threads provides the opportunity to engage in the fullness of the gospel message. Lament and praise must go hand in hand.”
Lament offers space for God to work. It is a mystery but He lifts those who are low and blesses the poor in spirit, the mourners and the persecuted. Psalm 22:23-28 ends this way:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him-
may your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.
During this season of Lent, during this time of reflection and repentance, it would beneficial to remember, as dark as it seems, that God is at work. As you enter the lament of Psalm 22 you will progress to the open space of inviting God into the pain…“Praise Him…Honor Him…Revere Him…Turn to Him…Bow to Him.” Why? Because you will see that He has not hidden His face, He does indeed listen to your cry, He will bring satisfaction because all the earth belongs to Him.
We were away at the Retreat when we received some very bad news regarding my mother’s health. Susan and I experienced grief and sorrow over our pending loss of her. Our prayer for healing was not answered. But space was opened and God came in to that pain through the love and support of the people we were with at the Retreat. Our church family, the body of Christ coming together to support the hurting…who happened to be us. It wasn’t the words spoken as much as it was the heart that was shared. The hugs, the prayers offered, the tears shed, the genuine care and shared pain. The burdens carried. The load made lighter. Space was opened up and God entered in. We felt His Spirit.
Loss…grief…lament…open space…God’s love. It doesn’t take away the pain but its not supposed to. It reveals God who is there in the sorrow and carries us through the dark nights of the soul.
What do you think?
How does it make you feel?