Learning to lament

I was affected in a very unexpected way by tonight's worship.

We sang a service of lament. We listened to a lecturer share his life-story and it did many things for me. It taught me that it is okay what I do here. I record my story. It gave me a kind of permission to keep doing so. We need each other's stories. We need to share in the experiences of our shared humanity.

But moreover, this evening taught me that I am not very good at lamenting. I wonder if I ever learnt to do this. i wonder if I have ever really allowed myself to do this. My upbringing, with a very pragmatic mum and a very positive dad, my Britishness handed down by a very victorianesque grandfather of the stiff-upper-lip variety, my parents-in-law, whom I have known since I was 16, who have survived a world-war, hard labour in Siberia and the struggle of setting up lives in a land that is not their own, working in factories when they could have had professional jobs back in Poland, a husband who is also not prone to lamenting and complaining because he is made of strong stuff, me being the eldest in the family - all these things mean that I have never really learnt to lament.

I returned tired. I stood in front of my fire at home and the sadness of everything really hit me, the complications, the messiness of the church and particularly the Church of England in the present climate, human messiness, that we can all tell a version of our story, just like my lecturer did in the first third of his sermon and we rejoice in all the good things that God has done, where he has worked in our lives heaping such blessings and bringing us more closely into his presence and then we tell the rest of our story, we also have those parts we haven't laid bare and so we expose them just a little, as my lecturer did, and he wept, and we feel very cold and vulnerable but there is a place and a time to do this and we have to help each other to do this, to lament a little, to complain just a bit, to cry out like the psalmist and wonder where God is in all of this.

And as I sang my lament standing in the choir, I fixed my eyes on my little girl, my youngest, looking so pale on her daddy's knee. She has a stomach upset and I carried on singing and he went out with her to the toilet and then came back again, out again and back again and then I was free so that I could be with her, and I know this is all a strange application of her discomfort, but as I stood holding her in the bathroom, as she cried on the toilet because her body was not behaving as it should have been, I thought of the whole people of God, this groaning body, not behaving as we should, out of control and needing comfort and I thought about how every now and then we need to free ourselves from the singing and run to each other instead, not so that we can necessarily tidy up the messiness and flush it away, (although I did this for the sake of the St John's cleaning staff), but so that we can just hold each up, as I held onto her as she sat on the toilet, and be just prepared to be there, to share in the groaning, the pains, the discomfort and lament with one another a little.


Curate Karen said...

Very moving, Rachel. Thank you for this.

Jane said...

this was a great post Rachel and it made me think about how easy praise seems to be for you - it bubbles out of you - whereas I do often struggle with it.
I find great solace and deep meaning in the book of Lamentations - great liturgical power too. I put togehter a 15 minute prayers for peace that is mainly based on phrases from lamentations.
Lamenting is not about moaning is it - it is about discovering and feeling some of teh deep pain and travail of the world and humanity ...
Thanks for your post

Rachel Marszalek said...

Thank you Jane and Karen for your responses and yes, Jane, it is that way.

This experience was very formative for me. The journey continues! There are always new aspects to discover, some of them conducive to a very different kind of 'ache'.

SueM said...

What a very moving post with so many insights worth sharing. I do not think I am very good at admitting to my pain. I bury it instead and maybe sometimes we do need to lament sometimes - but what comes during or after lamentation? I suppose the fear is that there will be no solace and that our pain will not have been eased.

Rachel Marszalek said...

Hi Sue
You have really captured something that we explored the next day. I am working with a small group developing materials for the spirituality of new mothers but as mothers ourselves we spent the first ten minutes of our meeting explaining quite frankly where the lament service had left us and how it was not so much during the service that we experienced difficulties, it was afterwards. When a lament is directed vertically, we know that God is listening even if he seems remote, when we share our pain with people, so present by their physicality. it is sometimes odd how distant they seem, the horizontal relationships are sometimes more difficult. But we shared for a while so I suppose it is essential that despite the cost we form strong communities and continue to take risks with one another.


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