Mourning & Lamentation (Part 6)

One way forward could be to invite our brothers and sisters to express their grief and lamentation in letters, songs and works of art. There will be an instinct to edit this material but with trust being so important here, any editing would have to be done with the permission and approval of the author/creator of the work. People could then gather at agreed times to sing, to read the letters aloud, sit in the presence of the works of art, walk, pray and perhaps even celebrate. Each person would be free to engage (or not) in these public expressions in a way that is appropriate for them.

Arrangements would need to be minimal so that participants could come and go as they wish and engage in the way they would like to. There might be some, for example, who will wonder what all the fuss is about because for them there is no need to lament. Others may well be in the midst of such personal pain that coming together with others will be impossible.

Teaching, instruction and counselling may be offered but would not be the focus. What would not be appropriate is efforts at advice, fixing or blaming etc. what is referred to in Michael Collin’s biography as that ‘Long wrestle between the ghosts and realities, with all the stored up spleens…flaming through the rhetoric’.6 These things might be expressed but would have to be processed differently.

Whatever we do we must listen carefully to each other, the voices of our forebears, the Holy Spirit and take a bit of a ‘make-it-up-as-you-go’, ‘tailor-made’ approach. It seems that men, for example, tend to come at this differently to women, so there would have to be provision made for times where it would be ‘men only’ and ‘women only’. Then there is the need for some kind of advocate who will serve the community by helping to build mourning and lamentation into the annual rhythms of life.

Some more words from Walter Brueggemann are relevant here, re: the interplay between the canonical (organisational) and the imaginative approach to Israel’s interpretation of her story and our implied participation—as the offspring of Israel—in her ongoing story…

‘To be sure, the playfully imaginative by itself without the normative dissolves the text in a way that is of little help to a missional congregation. Thus, on the one hand, the danger of the canonical by itself is in the direction of repression; the danger of the imaginative playful by itself, on the other hand, is to dissolve the text away from the gravitas of mission. It is my judgment that the interface between the canonical and the imaginative is exactly the way the most responsible and faithful interpretation takes place.’7 For a Body of Christ contemplating lamentation, that messy space between established tradition and the imaginatively playful is where they will probably find themselves.

 

6 Tim Pat Coogan, Michael Collins (Arrow, London, 1991) p. 302. Coogan’s reference is a quote from Desmond Ryan’s book Remembering Sion (Barker, 1934) pp. 278-279.
7 Brueggemann W. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination, (Westminster John Know Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2003) p. xii

Mourning & Lamentation (Part 5)

Another challenge for us might be the culture our community has become accustomed to: a taken-for- granted collection of things we call ‘lifestyle, customs and values’. Someone has famously said, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. In other words, if we have a hardhearted layer in our culture that takes prayer lightly—in particular the public lamentation kind of prayer—there may need to be some plowing of the ground of our hearts before we are even ready for this. And such plowing work will not be primarily directed at the will, most likely it will be aimed at a deeply psychological/sociological kind of sin—much of which is not really our fault, for its roots go all the way back to our teachers, heroes and forebears. Such plowing will require both deep pain and deep miracle. Without that, the very first steps we take will be undermined by spiritual pride: the thought that ‘we can do this too’.

So, why public? Because public equates to validation, frees us from the curse of denial and allows for important gifts to be passed on to our children, especially the gifts of symbol, story and language. Amos Wilder explains, ‘There is no “world” for us until we have named, languaged and storied whatever is. What we take to be the nature of things has been shaped by calling it so.’5

In our western context, we have important words (named and languaged words) in our vocabulary, which enable us. But when it comes to our ‘hurting and exiled’ stories it seems that we need help from each other and from God to publicly ‘name and language’ them, to discover enabling symbols and rituals that would be fitting gifts—even a legacy—for our children and our friends. There will of course be some of this that can only be expressed non-verbally, for there is a big part of us that has no language and must speaks via the silence of symbols, pilgrimages, gestures and instrumental music.

 

5 Wilder A. as quoted by Brueggemann W. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination, (Westminster John Know Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2003) p. xiii

 

Mourning & Lamentation (Part 4)

What are some of the core commitments (prerequisites) for a robust approach to lament? Isaiah 30 lays out a few in the below text…

10-11 ‘They tell my prophets, “Shut up—we don’t want any more of your reports!” Or they say, “Don’t tell us the truth; tell us nice things; tell us lies. Forget all this gloom; we’ve heard more than enough about your ‘Holy One of Israel’ and all he says.”

12 This is the reply of the Holy One of Israel:

Because you despise what I tell you and trust instead in frauds and lies and won’t repent, 13 therefore calamity will come upon you suddenly, as upon a bulging wall that bursts and falls; in one moment it comes crashing down. 14 God will smash you like a broken dish; he will not act sparingly. Not a piece will be left large enough to use for carrying coals from the hearth, or a little water from the well. 15 For the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, says, “Only in returning to me and waiting for me will you be saved; in quietness and confidence is your strength; but you’ll have none of this.”

16 “No,” you say. “We will get our help from Egypt; they will give us swift horses for riding to battle.” But the only swiftness you are going to see is the swiftness of your enemies chasing you! 17 One of them will chase a thousand of you! Five of them will scatter you until not two of you are left together. You will be like lonely trees on the distant mountaintops. 18 Yet the Lord still waits for you to come to him so he can show you his love; he will conquer you to bless you, just as he said. For the Lord is faithful to his promises. Blessed are all those who wait for him to help them.

19 O my people in Jerusalem, you shall weep no more, for he will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. He will answer you. 20 Though he give you the bread of adversity and water of affliction, yet he will be with you to teach you—with your own eyes you will see your Teacher. 21 And if you leave God’s paths and go astray, you will hear a voice behind you say, “No, this is the way; walk here.” 22 And you will destroy all your silver idols and gold images and cast them out like filthy things you hate to touch. “Ugh!” you’ll say to them. “Be gone!”

23 Then God will bless you with rain at planting time and with wonderful harvests…’4

Most of us will have had these Isaiah 30 moments when we lost sight of our core commitments, drifted into idolatry, talked and even prayed as if—instead of the power of the Holy One of Israel—the structures and the money were the things that would bring the blessing. Having become infected by the progress-oriented culture around us we will have found it easier to sing the psalms of orientation rather than the psalms of disorientation. And even when we face our fears, make our confession and contemplate coming together—making space for the messy-ness of fasting and mourning—we may well find ourselves fearing Jesus, the ‘Man of Sorrows’ who said, ‘Blessed are those who mourn’.

 

4 Isaiah 30: 10-22 TLB

Mourning & Lamentation (Part 3)

There are many hazards: the undisciplined and discourteous ways of our Facebooked culture for example. We need to remember that mourning and lamentation is an act of prayer, which requires discipline. On the one hand we want honesty and transparency but we run the risk of recklessness, of unbridled tongues and careless words. On the other hand we want discipline but we risk an attempt at the anxious micromanagement of our fears. Both are expressions of self-centredness.

The people of Israel have walked this road many times before us and we have much to learn from them. Walter Brueggemann says, ‘In exploring how Ezra and Nehemiah might be appropriated as scripture in Christian reading… It is not to be denied that communities under threat must practice discipline. When the discipline is propelled primarily by anxiety that causes core commitments of the community to be surrendered for the sake of anxiety-assuaging disciplines, however, then the community asserts secondary matters at the cost of primary commitments. The question posed by this literature is how to maintain disciplines and boundaries without sacrificing core commitments in the process.’3

 

3 Brueggemann W. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination, (Westminster John Know Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2003) p.371

Mourning & Lamentation (Part 2)

In speaking of the prayer of lament, Walter Brueggemann says, ‘This initiating power of voiced pain is characteristic of Israel’s powerful tradition of lament, a cry that is able to evoke the power of God…’1 In other words, embracing the tradition of public lament could be something that unleashes God’s power to bless.

Brueggemann explains in his book Prophetic Imagination that (in the western world) both secular and religious leaders have a reluctance to make public space and time for the corporate expression of grief, thereby undermining the trust of the people and the work of God. Such reluctance is driven by the fear of conflict. James Fowler makes the observation that ‘Communities that call persons to ongoing adult development in faith will not fear the intimacy of conflict…’2 In other words; the conflict that comes with grieving and mourning can also bring closeness, along with the possibility of reconciliation and even affection. At the risk of such conflict it makes sense for clusters of communities, which already have a common life, to come together as a grieving body of Christ.

 

1 Brueggemann W. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination, (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2003) p.57
2 Fowler J. Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning (Harper Collins, Broadway, New York, 1981) p. 296

Mourning & Lamentation (Part I)

Coming together to express grief, or, you might say, ‘to allow grief to overtake us’, is an act of trust and of hope. The hope being, that by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we might meet God at his table of lamentation: an awful, hurting and yet lovely—in the sense of enchanting—place. So, what exactly might this might look like?

When we face tough things, we are told that ‘In quietness and in trust shall be your strength…’ (Isaiah 30:15); so the things expressed here are familiar territory for many of us: it’s the music that lives in the hearts of those who have abandoned themselves to Jesus, who live as shepherds and priests to a broken world. But every now and then a refrain in the music seems to reach some kind of crescendo, as if God is shouting, telling us that a great crisis—a great opportunity—has arrived and we might be about to miss the boat altogether. We even wonder whether perhaps the boat moved on a long time ago.

Leader’s responses can range from attempts to fix the problem, to pray harder, to work harder, to cheerlead, to blame: to get defensive with those who voice disappointment, and—to be fair on our leaders—we will find that they most likely will have already tried to engage in genuine efforts at corporate mourning.

Having said that, voiced disappointment—from within an organisation and from its beneficiaries and/or those hostile to it—sometimes grows clear and precise. Leaders need to listen carefully because sometimes rather than just being a voice of grumpy ingratitude, it can be the voice of the Holy Spirit, urging us to pray and to consider lamentation, in particular, public lamentation.

Beware That Impulse To Know

Angel’s Blood

I am the poema
The angel’s blood that pulses in your veins—making that which is unseeable.

I am the shades
The silence that walks behind, unheard
I am Eurydice, following her Orpheus out of hades.

Beware the fate of faithless Orpheus
That impulse to know for sure, to turn and look—to remove all doubt that your beloved, loves.

Oh the sadness of the maker, unmade by his own hand

Making of me a thing for eyes to see, to understand, like prose, like heresy.

Thus and so, poor Orpheus took ‘One backward glance, suffice to see, to lose, to kill, Eurydice.’

(Peter Volkofsky, Dubbo, 2017)

Check The Night

The Night

Wondering about the night that’s sleeping now
And the dog that wants to go out and play
Think I’ll go with the dog and see if there’s things that move

Or what the stars are doing
Or what might come to meet me
Knocking softly on the oaken doors of mind and heart—walking with me in the dark.

Like that boy on a night just like this
Swinging through the moon in a tree
Or that other one laughing with the running waves of a muddy river

Or that girl smiling like the sun on her face
Or that other one who was always delighted, still is

And the wife who’s always making, adorning the world each day—and this Lovely Presence, Walking this grove of silver gums.

I’m sure Eve was here the other night, weeping and singing

And Adam came past in a hurry, looking away
I tried to make out that the dog was fierce
But Adam just turned, smiled and said hello

‘It’s too beautiful a night for sleeping,’ he said.

Peter Volkofsky January 2019

For You

To You

Take my hand and listen
Take my heart and pray.

I can hear the rumble of deep motors
Of tying on the blindfold, swallowing the pills
Foot to the floor, screaming through
Those micro-lies
Quick thinking replies.

I am the burning blade dragging across your heart.
The smooth brown, laughing, river full of sisters
The sighing trees, the singing stars
That long to be alone with you
That wait through the night for you to turn and look, really look
At my pale sky paper-wrapping
All dressed up like Christmas
With her blood red ribbon of sun
Inviting you to do likewise
To offer up your sunrise
To loosen up your heart
To become like her, a prayer, for quenching thirsty ones.

Take my hand and listen
Take my heart and pray
That love finds the light
That grace makes a way – for me, to you.’

 

Peter Volkofsky (March 2018)

Listen Carefully

The air is thick and heavy. Rain threatens. Our neighbourhood is almost silent, except for one loud out-in-the-street voice: irritating, as usual. Boom! I know what a heavy calibre rifle sounds like and that was one. The street voice has stopped.

It begins to rain and we—at home in our lounge room—all look at each other, unsure what to do, what to pray. Even the weather seems to be on pause. We decide to wait, given that there was no preceding, audible fight and that ours is that kind of street.

The best answer to our question about the boom! might be that someone was trying to say, Enough is enough! of that constant, loud talking out on the verge. White noise is what our world is good at. Sometimes we try to silence it with another kind of noise and sometimes we listen carefully to see where God is in it.