texts: Psalm 137: 1-6, Lamentations 5

“On July 8, 2013 on his first official trip outside Rome, Pope Francis celebrated Mass on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa to commemorate thousands of migrants who had died crossing the sea from North Africa. In his homily Francis spoke about the ‘globalization of indifference’ and a culture of well-being that has taken from us ‘the ability to weep.’ The Pope not only asked for forgiveness for the ‘anesthesia of heart’ and ‘cruelty which makes us indifferent to the cries of others,’ he prayed for the ‘grace to weep over our indifference and over the cruelty in the world.’” [1]

It is odd isn’t it that catastrophic things can happen -- are happening-- and we find ourselves carrying on, pretty much business as usual … feeling some measure of sorrow or horror perhaps, but somehow we can just move on. And yet, here we are, caring, sensitive people. So you have to wonder what’s happening to us these days … to our hearts … that we can be exposed to suffering but not be moved in a way that we are brought to our knees or found weeping. It’s not right even if it has become normal. So here we have the Pope naming that we have lost this critical capacity --this human capacity-- to weep … as though there is something essential … even something to be gained through being reached and broken open by suffering.

In this morning’s passages of scripture, what do we hear but the weeping of a people over terrible calamity. In this case, it’s the city of Jerusalem that has been hammered … invaded, destroyed, desecrated … survivors languish in exile … traumatized, violated. How contemporary is that? Remembering what was intensifies the pain of all that’s lost.

The expression of lament … it’s there throughout the bible. A full third of the Psalms give voice to lament. And yet as a church we don’t often go there. The Lectionary --that cycle of pre-selected passages for the year-- it, for the most part, avoids those passages … that thread, that cry of anguish.

In an article I read last week, the writer says, “Somewhere along the way, we modern Christians got lament wrong: we began thinking of it as optional instead of a required practice of the faith. A strange word to modern ears, ‘lamentation’ feels inherently ancient. It brings to mind images of an overwrought demonstration of mourning -- sackcloth and ashes, ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’ of biblical proportions.  But more than the mere expression of sorrow and regret, lamentation is a powerful act, one that the church desperately needs to reclaim,” he goes on. … “Scripture suggests that lamentation is a liturgical act that reorients and transforms us. Lamentation is uncensored communion with God -- visceral worship where we learn to be honest, intimate and humble before God. Lamentation is both an acknowledgment that things are not as they should be and an anguished wail, beckoning the Lord to intervene with righteousness and justice.”

Why would lamentation be considered an essential and even revolutionary act in our time? With today’s unceasing stream of newsfeeds we not only hear but see the world’s pain and brokenness like never before. And before we can ever begin to grieve one tragedy, another lands in.  The practice of Lamentation forces us to slow down. It requires us to stay engaged after the cameras and publicity move on. It summons us to immerse ourselves in the pain and despair of the world, of our communities, of our own sinfulness. [2]

Yet why would we go there?  What’s the grace -- the gift-- in weeping that Pope Francis prays for?  How would weeping help to address the plight of millions of economic migrants and families?

Last Wednesday, at the Place to Listen concert right here in the sanctuary, the musicians performed a piece composed by Daniel, entitled "each one: enfolded. . .loved. . ." Here’s how Daniel describes it: “an open and porous piece, with each player (in their own way and in their own time) gently making their way through a series of single, very soft, very long tones or sounds. With all tones and sounds being free. The piece is a place to linger...together and alone...and 'alone-together.'  The piece was composed after the news broke of the 39 migrant workers found in a transport truck in San Antonio, Texas. It would be my hope, said Daniel, that "each one: enfolded. . .loved. . ." allows for a time to dwell in the place where lamentation and healing meet.” [3]

Do you remember that horrific news clip from last summer?  Those 39 lives have since disappeared under a deluge of other tragic stories since. This event on Wednesday carved out a space to remember and to honour these very particular 39 lives.  Did it bring them back? Well, in a way it did … among those on Wednesday evening … in way that allowed each of those men and their suffering to be held, honoured. They didn’t just pass out of this world un-noticed … without compassion. Is this not truer to our heart’s desire … that we notice, that we tend somehow to the suffering in our world …that we don’t just over-look it, not give a damn.
In the breaking open of our hearts, something is made more right … we are made more human.

The practice of lamentation slows us down. It’s the antidote for our hardened hearts. It ask of us to feel. “It opens our eyes to death, injustice and oppression we had not even noticed. It opens our ears to the sounds of torture, anguish and weeping that are the white noise of our world.” [4] To lament is a costly act for sure, for to lament is to come alongside suffering, destruction, devastating loss.
Costly and yet crucial … for it unleashes compassion … it ignites a response … it engenders solidarity.

Compassion and solidarity … that’s the very opposite of indifference.
It’s what makes for healing. It’s how we are drawn into the mystery and flow of God’s suffering love that meets us in the valley of the shadow of death.
The practice of lament-- the way it awakens our compassion and joins us to God’s compassion-- it is finally a pathway to hope.

On Wednesday evening it was the 39 men found in the transport truck in San Antonio, Texas.
This morning I thought we would make room for us to bring to mind specific people, places, creatures and landscapes or water-ways that are endangered or have known suffering, devastation.  Out of all that might come flooding into our mind’s eye -- Las Vegas, the polar bears in the warming Arctic, the family members speaking out for missing and murdered women, Puerto Rico, the Rohingya people fleeing Myanmar--out of all that might come flooding into our mind’s eye, what if we each were to be with just one of those …
and allow ourselves to come alongside … to be with the pain … to witness it … to feel its impact.

During this time Daniel will be playing some notes to accompany us in this tender place and to help sustain this time.

Some of us may wish to remain where we’re sitting.  Others may wish to come forward and as an expression of our grief put some salt into this bowlful of water that I’ll have poured, as a joining of our tears with the tears that have and are being wept.

Whether seated or coming forward I want to encourage us to name aloud what it is we are lamenting … that the sounds of names of people or places or creatures or landscapes might be heard in this place … that somehow in the naming we are invoking God’s mercy.


[1] Emmanuel Katongole, “Things That Can Only Be Seen By Eyes That Have Cried - towards a political theology of lament,” a paper for Grace, Governance and Globalization: a conference celebrating the 100th birthday of Edward Schillebeeckx. Nijmegen August 27-30, 2014.

[2]  Dominique D Gillard, “Reclaiming the Power of Lament,” posted on August 25, 2015 www.faithandleadership.com/dominique-d-gillard-reclaiming-power-lament  

[3] Daniel Brandes, composer, co-curator of A Place to Listen and music director at James Bay United Church, https://aplacetolisten.wordpress.com/

[4] Dominique D Gillard, “Reclaiming the Power of Lament.”