One of my favorite books of the bible is Psalms. What captures me are the profound laments I read and am prompted to sit with. The power of lament—of telling the truth and as much of it as you can—is a powerful act of faith.
Lament is when we name the realities of our situations with as much accuracy and precision as we can. As biblical scholar Claus Westermann notes, the rite of lament is the best-known worship observance of ancient Israel for us today. Whether communal or individual, lament is a powerful cry of distress, a rending of the heart in which we name the realities of our situations with as much accuracy and precision as we can. In the Hebrew Bible, communal lament is used by and/or on behalf of a community to express complaint, sorrow, and grief over impending doom that could be physical or cultural. It could also be a tragedy or a series of calamities that had already happened. This rending of the heart, as Westermann goes on to note, belongs to the events of deliverance.
As Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggeman notes, laments are formful in that they help us see that what is before us can be managed if not transformed. As Joel shows so well, we must do this communally and seek faith-filled ways to work to engage the challenges and yes, the many forms of violence in our lives and in the lives of others. Communal lament can help us best get at these complexities of issues. Lament enables us and even requires of us to acknowledge and to experience our suffering. We must allow the beat and beating heart to guide us in these laments.
Lament also means listening to those who are the victims of violence in our world because it may be possible that in listening to their voices, we can find the biblical sustenance to overcome violence and allow love to guide us into the new heaven and new earth today. This, I believe, is one way to get to justice and then we just might be able to move on to reconciliation.
Yes, it is lament time. It is time to own up to the fact that we can do something, that we must do something--however small an act or large an act that can help bring in a bit more compassion, a major portion of love, a bucketful of justice. Not in a one-time appearance, but in the everydayness of our lives.
Emilie M. Townes
E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair
Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society