Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
O LORD, heal me, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is sorely troubled.
But you, O LORD -how long?
Has the virus and lockdowns got you sad and angry? You are in good faith company.
One of the experiences from the sidewalk talks you will not see in the photos below is the expressions of sadness and anger over the current effects of the virus on our communities. The photos only show the joy and happiness.
That’s all well and good, but as people of faith we need times to express our sadness and anger and even to express these authentic feelings of lament toward God.
Yes, you heard me right. God wants to hear from us when we are sad and angry. He is not surprised or put off when we do so. He knows things are really wrong right now. Maybe you are frustrated that God knows about this terrible situation and isn’t doing anything about it. He seems distant and unresponsive. Your heart may be screaming out: “Why doesn’t God do something?!?!?!”
If you were expecting me to now give you an answer to that question, I’m sorry to further disappoint you. The only answer that comes close to responding to this age-old question is the suffering of Jesus on the Cross. It is there that the Son of God cries out repeatedly to the Father, both in the Garden and from the Cross and he does not get a response of action from the Father. In fact, the response of the Father doesn’t come until Jesus is already dead and sealed in the tomb. The way this event of our salvation unfolds only further deepens the mystery about the way God responds to suffering. We want the mystery solved, but it only becomes more shrouded.
We often get into a lot of trouble when we try to explain our own suffering or the suffering of another. It usually never helps to explain things that even Jesus did not get a response to until three days after he was dead and in the tomb. So, what are we left to do?
We are left with having to relearn what it means to lament.
The Bible is filled with people lamenting over their suffering. In our western world that teaches us to put on a happy face and sing “Everything is awesome!” like the characters in The Lego Movie, lament itself has become a mystery. You may already be recoiling from this whole reflection right now. You may protest that this is the season of Easter and we are called to raise our Alleluia’s and be joyful.
Just as in most things in our Catholic faith, we are called to live in the tension and paradox of the “both/and”; not the simple and satisfying world of the “either/or”. Yes, we are called to be Easter People and have joy in this Easter Season. Amen! AND….AND….AND, we are called to lament when we or someone else is suffering. Amen!
One of the most common expressions we hear in the Scriptures is: “How long, O Lord?”. It’s a raw and visceral expression of yearning to be relieved of our suffering. I will be providing a link at the end of this reflection where you can take a deeper look at this expression we find in the Bible.
I want to say that it is ok if you are feeling sad and angry right now. It is ok to express this to God. You stand in a long faith tradition of people who expressed these same things to God. If you have trouble bringing words to your feelings, I encourage you to turn to the biblical books of Lamentations, Jeremiah, the Psalms, and even the passion narratives of the Gospel where Jesus is crying out in the Garden and from the Cross. Then, venture into Revelation where great persecution is being experienced by the Christians and even the martyrs who were slain and are now in heaven cry out to God on behalf of themselves and all humanity: “How long?”.
The most vivid and dynamic experiences with God occur during times of lament. Most of the Old Testament was written while the people were captured and exiled out of their homeland and were not able to worship the Lord at the Jerusalem Temple. (Might we see how this resonates with us not being able to gather at Church for Mass?)
We need to learn how to lament. For the good of our spiritual lives, we need to learn to lament. In the lament our hearts are broken open and it is in that openness that our hearts can grow in compassion for those who suffer alongside us. It opens our hearts for a greater fervency to fulfill our call to be disciples and heralds of Christ’s gospel to those who need Jesus’ good news of his victory over sin, death and the gift of resurrection hope. It is only through the lament that our Alleluias can more deeply resonate throughout the world.