Lament

Two weeks ago, I did something terrifying.

I read poetry in front of people.

Scary poetry. Honest poetry. Lament poetry.

Lament is one of my new favorite words. Merriam-Webster (almost the best dictionary ever, after the OED), defines it as an intransitive verb, meaning to mourn aloud. 

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Mourn. Aloud.

I love my church. It’s my family. But over the last year especially, I’ve been realizing that the larger church–or at least many people in it–has little space in its theology for the bad things that happen. I’m not talking about little struggles, bumps in the road. Those are a natural part of every human’s life. I’m talking about the bad things–the things for which there is no sense. Eight-year-old girls who get leukemia. Forty-five-year-old fathers who die of cancer. Classes of kindergarteners shot down by sick, deranged gunmen.

Volumes and volumes of Christian theology are devoted to understanding these things. Logical treatises, high-caliber philosophical explanations are offered. Yes, in moments of quiet, those explanations can help us understand a world that shakes us to the core. Yes, there is a place for understanding. But it’s not in the middle of the suffering.

It’s natural to want to skip past the pain to the victory; to tell thesis-driven, neatly packaged stories of conflict, climax, and resolution. We minimize the dark, torn-up moments of life because we don’t know what to do with them–instead we fast-forward straight to the overcoming, the lesson learned, the transformation accomplished. All those are good things to see and give thanks for, in 20/20 hindsight. But sometimes, when you’re in the midst of the story, you have no idea what the resolution’s going to look like. And when your feet are bloody from the road, you may not even be sure you’ll ever reach the destination.

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My pastor has started a sermon series on laments in the Bible, and it brings me joy because it means our church is talking about these things. The most helpful thing, when all the walls of your world are caving in and you have no pain tolerance left, is to mourn. To acknowledge the pain. The frustration. The fear. The confusion. The anger. The abandonment. These are real feelings. If you haven’t bled on the sharp point of these feelings yourself, others’ cries of lament may sound grotesque, depressing, even melodramatic. But listen anyway. Mourning sucks the venom from the snakebite. It keeps the sorrow from drowning you when you can’t yet see the shore. And to listen to someone else’s mourning, to be a safe sound room where their raw pain can be released, is to help them heal. 

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So here are a few laments. Though my lament two weeks ago was in poem form because I love the power of poetry to express raw emotion, laments can also be expressed through songs, stories, paintingsarticles, novels, and maybe even forms I haven’t discovered yet.

Here’s one of my favorite laments, a poem called Bereft by Robert Frost: 

Where had I heard this wind before

Change like this to a deeper roar?

What would it take my standing there for,

Holding open a restive door,

Looking down hill to a frothy shore?

Summer was past and day was past.

Sombre clouds in the west were massed.

Out in the porch’s sagging floor,

Leaves got up in a coil and hissed,

Blindly struck at my knee and missed.

Something sinister in the tone

Told me my secret must be known:

Word I was in the house alone

Somehow must have gotten abroad,

Word I was in my life alone,

Word I had no one left but God.

And a piece of a lament from Psalm 13 (The Message):

Long enough, God
    you’ve ignored me long enough.
I’ve looked at the back of your head
    long enough. Long enough
I’ve carried this ton of trouble,
    lived with a stomach full of pain.

And one from me: 

I am not a poet

I am just a

kid broken by the thunder of

gunfire

brimming with words that

have noplace else

to go.

Though laments are scary to share in all their raw honesty, the sharing is worth it if it frees even one other person to mourn aloud. Or maybe if it teaches someone how to listen. 

Have you ever tried writing a lament? Tried sharing it with others? 

8 thoughts on “Lament

  1. Great article, Alina. We must begin to create a safe place for people to voice their raw, strong emotions without the tidiness of all of the lose ends nicely shorn. Sometimes we need to just be honest and vulnerable and experience acceptance and love without judgment. That is a gift that the church can give that would bring people to its doors.

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  2. Words and language unlock our emotions, the give them form, voice, even life. Within these flawed constructs the message comes through. This is quite the miracle. You have honed your language skill to the point that it is a mighty tool! Well done.

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  3. I love that Robert Frost poem. Probably my best poetry (if you can even call it that, hehe) are laments. I used to just consider my poet side a morbid soul, but it’s just the way my mourning comes out aloud. 🙂

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  4. Reminds me of a time when I couldn’t get enough of listening to the blues. Soulful, heavy with pain ,honest blues. We live in a media driven, image-consulted world…and sometimes (well, more so now than when I was younger) I’d get caught up in it and forget that this isn’t a perfect place, the playing field isn’t even. Sometimes there is no substitute for singing the blues. ~esther

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    1. Thank you, Esther. Such a good connection with the blues. I agree that our culture is very “Facebook-perfect” a lot of the time–we show other people only our successes and polished exteriors. Lament is a way to tear down those facades.

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