Tag Archives: lament

Thinking about words in this season …

There are so many words that could be said, and are being said, about living in these difficult coronavirus times. We’re learning new words and phrases like  ‘covidiot’ and ‘zoomed out’,  we’ve understood the meanings of  ‘pandemic’ and ‘flattening the curve’, we’ve endured the unprecedented use of the word ‘unprecedented’. A number of conversations and experiences over the past month have got me thinking (out loud) today about the power and importance of language in all this.

Some of the words we use no longer seem relevant, perhaps revealing the cavalier and even meaningless ways in which we too often use them. Conversation starters like ‘how are you doing?’ and ‘what are you doing?’ sound jarring as we realise the answers are, respectively, everything and nothing. We need to find new words to connect with one another … and hopefully move beyond starting every online meeting with a literal ‘can you hear me?’ to words of genuine affirmation:

‘Yes, I hear you.’

Some of the words we share need to be more carefully parsed or compassionately toned. With different people and different places at different stages of response in my community, how do we avoid judgement and finger-wagging while sharing community wisdom and best practice? A friend shared her challenge in knowing how to tactfully respond to someone asking her family over for dinner. Is it simply, ‘No, we can’t do that anymore,’ or is there an opportunity to dig deeper and ask, ‘what is the heart of what we’re missing’ and ‘how can we do life together in new ways?’ Online, the disparity between where people in different countries are at amplifies the need to use our words with grace and care.

Some of the aspirational words we have been using about our communities are now being tested in the fire of new situations. Or as my pastoral colleague says, now is our opportunity to live out who we say we are. Our church has been deliberately using the word ‘gathering’ rather than ‘service’ for a few years, how does this helpfully shape our choices in how we move online?  What does it really mean to call our church ‘family’ in a time when we are advised to only have contact with those who live in our household? And on a global scale, how do we even begin to talk about the coming impact of this disease on poorer communities and recognise the privilege inherent in language like ‘social distancing’ or ‘lockdowns’?

In my own small ways, I’m finding that giving people space to use words in creative ways has seemed to resonate for many. Our gathering last Sunday included the creation of a word-cloud where we each contributed words that captured something of where we have seen God at work in the midst of this difficult season (picture at top). The resulting image has been widely shared and provides a picture not just of our shared language, but our shared experience of grace and hope in the midst of the darkness. A performance poet friend inspired me with the idea of #bookspinepoems, creating a poem out of the titles of books on your shelf. I enjoyed and found it strangely moving to create my own and have taken much delight in seeing those of my friends; gaining glimpses into how they are travelling at this time (or at least what their preferred reading genres are). As a verbal processor, and for all of us in wrapping our heads around things, I hope there are many more of these ideas to come.

And then there are the words we pray in this season.

We continue to proclaim the truths we believe even when they are difficult to see. Last Sunday, I had one of the most awkward and yet beautifully profound worship experiences of my life, with our worship leader on my computer screen, an older member of our congregation on the other end of my phone, and me in my living room, all singing out of sync, and yet affirming the same words of hope and truth about the Cornerstone in whom we find hope through the storm. I’m intrigued that Nigerian singer Sinach’s Waymaker went ‘viral’ among churches in the months leading up to this season, with its declaration of a promise-keeping God who never stops working, even when we don’t see or feel it.

The words of the Psalms continue to provide comfort and point the way. I taught a class last week on lament and I know this is a language we will embrace more and more in the coming weeks and months. The lament psalms give us permission to name our sadness, anger, doubt, confusion or fear; to wrestle honestly with God in an act of bold faith that declares nothing is out of bounds when speaking with him. Making these words our own declares our conviction that we have a God who hears our deepest and darkest groans, who is present with us in the darkness, and who enters into the darkness with us. As we prepare for Good Friday this week, the truth of a God who participates fully in our suffering may be more important for us than ever.

And of course, there are many times when words simply fail us. In numerous settings over the last few weeks I have found myself starting a prayer with and for others with a simple, honest, ‘I don’t know what to say God…’ as we sit in these unfamiliar and uncomfortable spaces and listen for his still small whisper. Praying for a friend in Africa waiting for the ‘tsunami’ that is coming left me grasping for words and babbling like a toddler.  I wonder if naming that I have no words is sometimes the most significant language I have to offer.

And for no one but myself, a simple practice these weeks has become to light a candle each night before I go to sleep, and simply sit in the presence of Jesus with the gift that is wordless prayer. There I am finding a peace that passes understanding, which I’m quite sure no words of mine will ever be able to adequately explain.

 

A Christmas Eve Lament

God, we are longing

O how we are longing …

Fires rage and smoke fills the air

we weep for all that has been lost

we fear for what is still to come

and we thirst for relief

Loneliness engulfs us

the hype fails to distract us

the crowds pass us by

and we yearn for more

Grief crashes anew

we feel cheated again by death

robbed of one more day

and we groan for resurrection

Sicknesses ravage us

our bodies aching

our minds afflicted

and we cry out for healing

Conflict surrounds us

wars in our world

tensions in our families

struggles in our souls

and we ache for peace

Sadnesses consume us

for what we have lost

for what we never had

that what we have is not yet what it could be

and we crave what we cannot quite name

We are longing …

desiring

wanting

needing

hoping

expecting

yearning

We are waiting

waiting for you to come.

O come.

O come.

Emmanuel.

 

Writing, Speaking, Podcasting and Lamenting … out loud

I called this blog Thinking Out Loud because that describes something I love to do – working out, wrestling with, and sharing my thinking externally. Writing is a helpful tool for this as it forces you to wrangle your ideas into some kind of structure and shape, that you hope will help spark ideas, resonances, and responses in those who read them. There is also some trepidation in putting your thoughts into ‘print’, as they can then be perceived as fixed and final, unable to be further nuanced or developed.

Podcasting is another great way of thinking out loud. I have a range of podcasts I’m loving listening to, hearing other people ponder and wonder, dialogue and debate, inform and imagine as they speak their words into being. (I need to update my top listening list soon). There is probably a greater sense of immediacy and connection with listening rather than just reading, which makes me want to think more about the engagement of our different senses in this context.

Many of the messages I preach are available as podcasts, and a friend and I have been imagining what a podcast we hosted could look like.

Last week I had the opportunity to be interviewed for a fairly new podcast, hosted by Andy and Mike, two guys serving as worship pastors in churches that are part of the movement in which I lead and serve.

Our topic was Lament, and in particular how the Psalms of Lament teach us and lead us in this practice as part of our worship. I really enjoyed sitting down and talking through some of what I have learned through my studies and teaching, preaching and practicing, of the Psalms.

The downside of talking over writing is that you don’t necessarily say everything you want to, and I did wonder if our tone was sometimes more upbeat than the topic might suggest, simply due to the enjoyment of having the conversation itself.

But having dialogue partners means you can bounce off one another in real time, which is great for both questions and tangents. Hopefully it leads to key ideas being both clarified and applied in helpful ways. I really enjoyed our conversation and it probably could have gone for a lot longer.

In many ways, learning to lament is itself a practice of thinking out loud.

The Psalms invite us to enter into their experience and relationship with God,  to experience their emotions and imagination and embodiment. I believe it is in enacting the Psalms, voicing their words as our own, that they form us.

The lament psalms in particular invite us to share our experiences of disorientation with God and with one another in the community of faith: asking questions in our doubt, weeping tears in our sadness, expressing anger at injustice, confessing our weaknesses and failings, standing in solidarity with the grief and brokenness of others. And doing all this in an attitude of prayer and worship.

I’m currently working on a few writing projects on the Psalms, but if you’d like to hear some of my thinking out loud specifically about Lament, you can listen to the podcast episode here: Captivate Podcast, Episode 8.