Yesterday was a day for a lot of crying and tears. After the country announced stricter social distancing measures on Friday (euphemistically called a 'circuit breaker', but really a more benign version of a lockdown), I didn't really have time to sit with myself and figure out how I was feeling. But the slower and more isolated weekend meant things began to sink in, and on Sunday I found myself grieving.
I tried to list down what I was grieving over, and came up with:
- Loss of time
- Missing Jacob
- Feeling unsafe
- Loss of freedom
- Loss of intimacy
- Sudden upheaval and change
- Loss of dreams of what could happen
- Fear and uncertainty over how long this will last
- Loss of community (particularly church community)
- Fear and uncertainty over my ability to be a good friend
- Fear and uncertainty for the world, particularly for India and friends in the UK
- Loss of feeling like I can do a good job at work/not knowing how to best use my time for work
I listened to a sermon from the Globe church, where Jonty preached about fear and trust. Fear, he said, is not wrong. Fear is not shameful or weak. Fear is seeing what is real and what is bad and what is threatening and recognising its magnitude and your limitations. But fear can be met with trust, because trust is seeing a good and loving and powerful God, and recognising His infinite magnitude and love for us. A God who is bigger than what we fear. So I prayed for trust in the morning.
In the evening, I walked to Phoon Huat to buy chickpeas (and as usual came away with much more than that). While walking down and standing in the socially distanced queue, I listened to another sermon by Jonty, where he preached about tears and hope. Tears, he said, are not wrong, or shameful, or weak. They are a natural response to the brokenness and sin in our world. They are a lament that expresses pain and cried 'how long? how long will this last?' But lament is directed to a God gives light in the darkness, who knows the end, and who promises rejoicing. A God who gives us the choice to trust in his unfailing love, and to rejoice in a God who saves, and to praise because God has been good. And so I prayed for hope in the evening.
In my third year, I wrote an essay in tragedy term about lament, comparing a Greek tragedy, The Trojan Women, and the book of Lamentations in the Bible. I changed it a little (particularly after realising I had a real tendency for very long sentences), but I was reminded of the hope woven into lament in that book of the bible:
In Lamentations 3, the voice changes from a female voice traditionally used to ‘give voice to suffering and evoke empathy, appealing to the mercy of God’, to the male voice of the Geber, ‘intended to emphasise the need to accept responsibility for suffering and to find a way forward, propitiating the holy demands of God’. The Geber inherits the female Zion’s narrative of guilt and sorrow and puts it to action, invoking the community to ‘search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.’ The recognition of wrong that results from understanding a divine and righteous God provokes propitiatory action to restore right relationship with God.
This is seen in the pivotal verse 18, translated in the Authorised version as ‘My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD’ – however, Conway highlights that there is ‘no verb in the second half of the bicolon in the Hebrew’ and thus the verse ‘can be translated as a verbless clause ‘He has destroyed my endurance, and/but my hope is from Yhwh’, transforming hopelessness to hope. This then introduces the hopeful verses that follow, which recall that ‘the LORD’s great mercies […] are new every morning’.
The sudden surge of hope in this chapter is based on ‘remembrance’ of God’s past mercy which the Geber ‘recall[s] to [his] mind’. This frees the lament from the confines of Jerusalem’s current situation and plight to contextualise it within the rest of the Hebrew scriptures. By placing it within a history of relationship between God and Israel, remembrance also provokes the active call in 3:40-41: ‘Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD./ Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens’. The repeated ‘let us’ signals future action that offers hope.
Hope does not seem to conclude the book, however, which ends with the plea ‘Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old./ But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us.’ (Lam 5:21-22). This seems to grate against the form of the lament, which borrows from Mesopotamian city lament, a form which 'expresses the efficacy of prayer and the goodwill of the deity by concluding with the gods’ return'. (Boda, Dempsey and Flesher, 2012) This is where it is crucial to view Lamentations as a book within a larger compilation of Jewish history, poetry, and prophecy. The last words of Lamentations cannot be read as hopeless despair but the beginning of a new chapter, as the failure of God's definitive return at the close of this tragedy is mediated first by the prophecies of the coming Messiah and the restoration of Jerusalem after exile, and finally by the incarnation of Jesus.
Boda, M.J., Dempsey, C.J., and Flesher, L.S. (Eds.) (2012). Daughter Zion: Her Portrait, Her Response. Atlanta, Georgia: Society of Biblical Literature.