on lament

I’ve been meaning to respond to this post on lament written by my friend Steph for a while now. I’ve been thinking about it since she posted it, and the husband-unit and I have had some good conversations on the topic.

Firstly I need to comment on the song to which Steph links – a song I have heard a lot this year as it really captured the husband unit’s attention. I however have struggled with it. I get that it’s subversive – singing happy words to a sorrowful melody, the singer’s voice rising and falling with pained emotion throughout. And I am not being cynical here. I get why it affects. And I generally like things that are subversive and affecting. And maybe it would have been an easier song for me to relate to if I hadn’t seen the video. It is one thing however to be affecting and another to be affected. How many takes did it require to get this woman on camera lamenting in so many different, perfectly posed shots? I think it would have spoken to me more in its imperfect state – one long, live take (like here, for example). As it is, it comes across as a very honed product – something far from the very real and authentic pain which it intends to express. I know that the woman who wrote and performed this song has known great grief. But something about this video does not allow me to connect with it. I am touchy about having my emotions manipulated. :)

But that is all beside the point and as usual I find very few people to agree with me. :)

But on to the subject to which the song attracts our attention – lament. Steph works through the idea that some Christians are, in a broad sense, joyful, and others, full of lament. She describes herself as empathetic – sharing deeply in the sorrows of others – and drawn to sad and morbid songs and movies and books.

But I think what struck me was that what Steph was alluding to was not being a lamenter, but rather being someone who is in touch with their own humanity. Lament is part of my life. And as Steph points out, joy is a part of hers. I have known very few people who truly face who they are, who truly face their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities and disappointments and pain, who truly engage and live and go deep and risk relationship – who do not lament. Who are the happy, joyful people she speaks about? I am certainly limited in my experience of others but I have not yet met them. I have met a lot of people who persistently take a positive attitude on things – and despite my natural cynicism, I try to be one of those people! I have known people who evoke joy in me and in others. But in each and every case, these people are acquainted with grief and have both known their own lament and journeyed on lament with others. One person in particular who fits this description of evoking joy in me and in others has in fact spent large pockets of his life in a mental hospital.

So what I am saying is this: Steph, I do not actually think that you are defined by lamenting. You are not a lamenter, to be held in contrast to someone who is a Joyful Christian. Lament or grief, and joy, are two sides of the same coin. You are a person in touch with your own humanity, and this is painful. You journey with people in pain, and this is painful. And those who appear happy all the time are, in all likelihood, not. Those who evoke true joy are always those who have come close to grief and borne it.

I have often said in recent years that it is hard to be a human being. I stand by that. That in itself is good enough reason to lament. That we can do it together is good enough reason for joy.

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4 Responses to on lament

  1. Mags says:

    That video seems to just be a woman playing a piano.

  2. Are you saying that in approval of the video or in support of my complaint about it?

  3. When ragging on those who aren’t perpetually peppy, Christians rarely quote James 4:9-10.

    “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

  4. I rarely see that verse on Christian Calenders accompanied by a picture of a landscape either, or sewn into a piece of embroidery, or given as a memory verse in Sunday School. If I was in charge…

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