Lament – Pursuit Talk

Last weekend Rachael spoke at The Pursuit on lament, for those who couldn’t be there – here it is!

“But please, please won’t you – can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’ Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes.” The Magician’s Nephew

When I think of lament, I think of Diggory. The passage I just read from CS Lewis’ The Magicians Nephew, seems to me the most beautiful picture of not only lament, but God’s response to our lament.

It’s a picture seen in Jesus weeping over the death of his friend Lazarus and sitting on the Mount of Olives despairing over what is to come.

Lament is, in the words poet Dylan Thomas “rage against the dying of the light”. It’s the proclamation before God that this isn’t how it was meant to be, that life hurts and we don’t understand.

Lament is found in over half of our Psalms, from the forsakenness of Psalm 22, to the darkness of Psalm 88.

The Message translates it like this:

1-9 God, you’re my last chance of the day.

I spend the night on my knees before you.

Put me on your salvation agenda;

take notes on the trouble I’m in.

I’ve had my fill of trouble;

I’m camped on the edge of hell.

I’m written off as a lost cause,

one more statistic, a hopeless case.

I’m caught in a maze and can’t find my way out,

blinded by tears of pain and frustration….

You made lover and neighbour alike dump me;

the only friend I have left is Darkness.

Here, in our scripture, darkness seems to get the last word. It’s not the fixed smile of an “I’m fine thanks”, it’s a scream of pain and protest.

And yet the key aspect of lament, whether it takes the form of grief or protest, is that it’s addressed to the Father.

J Todd Billings writes in his book Rejoicing in Lament:

““[Lament can mean] grieving and mourning, such as those weeping for a lost loved one at a funeral’ or it can mean protest, a form of petition – seeking to take God to “court” to make one’s case.”

When we lament, we rage against the dying of the light and all the effects of the Fall and the distance between us and God.

But more than that, we rage in the presence of our Creator and Father.

It’s not a sin to express our pain and despair, it’s the act of coming before God.

“We only fully enter lament when we realise that we’re not just expressing ourselves to a human observer but bringing our burdens before the Lord, the Creator, the Almighty who – in light of our distress – is our Deliverer.”

Lament expresses our need for relief and deliverance, whilst also trusting that God can and will work in us and in our situation.

It was lament as the Jews cried out in their slavery in Egypt.

It was lament as Elijah cried to God from Mount Horeb.

It was lament as Jesus wept in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before this crucifixion.

And it is lament which brings our pain and places in the healing hands of God.

As Richard Foster helpfully puts it:

“[Lament Psalms] give us permission to shake our fist at God one moment and break into doxology the next.”

I love that idea, that we have a God who alongside enjoying our praises, lets us shake our fists at Him and rail at those things which are so far from how He create them to be.

More than that, however, God Himself modelled life and lament in the earthly journey of His Son Jesus.

Jesus uses the words of Psalm 22 “My God My God Why Have You Forsaken Me?” to express his anguish and desperation from the cross.

It seems to me that tears and song can give us the hope and the space to lament before God.

Tears are our bodies way of reacting to pain (or, if you’re like me, joy, anger, frustration and irritation) and the passage I read at the beginning from The Magician’s Nephew shows us just how much power tears hold in lament.

They say the things that don’t have words, they join with the Spirit who translates our groans and intercedes on our behalf. Tears are the wordless language of lament.

“Our own ‘loud cries and tears’ are not those of one blazing new trails into grief; they are a Spirit-enabled sharing in the suffering of the One who has plunged even deeper into the darkness than us- yet not without hope.”

And yet it was through the tears of Mary Magdalene that the risen Lord Jesus was seen for the first time, it was through tears that Jesus expressed his loss at Lazarus’ death and as Eugene Peterson writes:

“History is lubricated by tears. Prayer may be most prayer when it is accompanied by tears. All these tears are gathered ip and absorbed in the tears of Jesus.”

Our tears are not self-indulgent expressions, they are the heart cry of humanity when life hurts, there’s an old Yiddish proverb which calls tears the soap of the soul. How true is that!?

But tears will not have the last word.

Revelation 21.1 promises us, that:

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Because one day we will see God face to face and everything we have ever grieved, everything we have ever hoped will fade at the sight of Him.

And even on the darkest days, lament points us on from tears.

It point us onto releasing words or art to paper, into song or exercise.

Lament is not something just to be done in isolation. Sometimes, it will call for solitude, but it also calls for communion. Lament asks us to come together as the people of God to pour out our tears and ourselves before God.

And I guess that’s my challenge for today.

To rediscover the lost art of lament which is more than moaning (because we’re good at that), more than sighing (because we’re good at that) but that lets our brokenness meet Jesus’ brokenness and  allows for transformation.

Right at the end of Harry Potter book 6, it says this after the death of Dumbledore:

“Somewhere out in the darkness, a phoenix was singing in a way Harry had never heard before: a stricken lament of terrible beauty. And Harry felt, as he had felt about phoenix song before, that the music was inside him, not without: It was his own grief turned to song..” 

And when we pour our tears and lament before God, he transforms it.

We just need to let him.

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