Governor Hogan said we’re in for a long winter, and he wasn’t talking about the weather. There are surely some good signs—COVID-19 cases and related deaths are down, schools are figuring out ways to see their students, vaccines are being delivered, albeit slowly. Power was transferred peacefully to the new administration on January 20… but wet paint covered the angry vitriol and violence of two weeks hence. Bipartisan efforts to jumpstart the economy are on the table… but elected officials still demonize the other. Denominations are taking concrete steps toward racial reparation, organizations public and private are interrogating their hiring and investment practices, people of color lead cities and school districts and businesses… but the sin of racism still cripples all of us, each of us. To extend the governor’s metaphor, right now the nights stretch longer than the days, at least emotionally. “Surely some revelation is at hand,” longed W.B. Yeats in 1919, as another pandemic left the world breathless.
We have been here before. In the 6th century B.C.E., the Hebrew people lost their nation and their capitol city, their ways of worship and (they feared) their God. Marched by force to a foreign land, they entered their own long winter of discontent. And much to their surprise, God revealed God’s abiding presence, tied not to real estate but ritual. God never left them, they just had to find a new set of eyes to see how his Spirit of healing and courage, of justice and peace had shifted from their heads to their hearts. They would need to embody their principles of love of God and neighbor, of stranger and self if the people and their Way were to survive.
They did it. In that time of extraordinary trial and pain, the Hebrew people wrote the stories and the laws that still shape our consciousness. They sang the poetry of Psalms to give voice to their crushing sadness, their understandable anger, and their soaring hopes. Prophets scanned the horizon for light and saw God coming through a servant who suffers with us and for us.
One of the features of ritual that got them through is lament, a corporate engagement with sorrow and grief. Centuries before Elizabeth Kubler Ross, our ancestors discovered that not only is it counter-productive to set aside grief, one literally cannot get to the morning without moving step by step through our longest nights. The liturgy of lament, recorded in fully 1/3 of the Psalms, invites the soul to engage the darkness within and the darkness outside as a means of grace. It is by walking through the ritual, again and again, which restores us, if we let the Spirit take our hand.
Inspired by the work of Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Graham Hill, I created a Liturgy of Lament for our Sacred Ground small group, and we tried it out last night. I offer it to you as a private devotion now (in a journal, in your prayers), with the hope that we might one day use it together in worship. In its original form I have directed it toward racism, but the ritual can be used with any system shaped by brokenness.
Yeats re-discovered in his own time that “things fall apart.” But the center holds—and there will be sun and warmth again.
The Liturgy begins with Psalm 13, as an invocation.
INVOKE How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
WORSHIP Name who/how God is. (Just, loving, merciful, good?…inclusive, inviting, welcoming?…trustworthy, present, healing?…One…with us, especially in times of crisis)
DESCRIBE… the difficult, painful situation of racism. (Where are we?)
CONNECT… the lamentable situation we’re in with the individual and corporate sins which created it. (How did we get here?)
CONFESS… your participation in racism. (What have I done, what am I currently doing?)
REPENT Express the deep sorrow you feel for the sins that got us into the problem, and describe a new direction/action you will turn toward. (What is your “new mind” thinking? What are your “new eyes” seeing?)
ASK… for God’s help. (We can’t do this alone.)
RECEIVE… all of what this gift of God’s help and presence brings—hope, healing, insight, truth-telling, resolve, courage, solidarity with others… more.
GIVE THANKS… in all the ways that come up in you.