“…Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…” – Jesus (Matthew 24:12)

Our world is broken in so many ways. We wrestle with personal and relational brokenness in our own lives. And all around us, if we are willing to admit it, the effects of our separation from GOD and one another run rampant. This summer has been an unusually bloody reminder – as we have watched a string of mass shootings play out in the national media. As I touched on previously, in a culture of distraction, it’s hard to discern the difference between violence as entertainment and real violence. When murder and violence become normalized as entertainment – our ability to care and mourn the loss of life becomes impaled on the spirit of our times.

When I hear of yet another shooting – I honestly find my heart shutting down a little. I reach my empathy limit so quickly that in order to go on with my day I have to harden my emotions and go on to think of more pleasant things. But as followers of Jesus, we must recover our ability to be moved by the pain of others. We must recover our ability to feel the pain of the world around us. Instead of the fatalistic attitude “that’s just the way the world is” – we must relearn the spiritual discipline of lament – because lament is the first step towards authentic hope.

As our friend Chris Smith at the Slow Church blog and theย The Englewood Review of Books mentioned, a great resource for exploring this idea of lament as a journey towards hope, can be found in the book Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing‘ by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice of the Duke Center for Reconciliation (which I have been talking about alot recently).

In the the book, the authors lay out a broad vision of GOD’s work of reconciliation in our world and the radical invitation to join Him in His work of salvation:

“…the story of creation does not end with the Fall but continues with GOD’s promise of restoration…As a story, Scripture can be read through the central plot of Creation, Fall, Promise and Restoration – a plot that is in essence the movement from old creation to the new creation.” (p. 63)

“GOD’s gift of a call to be Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation intends to unseat other lords – power, nationalism, race or ethnic loyalty as an end in itself – and give birth to deeper allegiances, stories, spaces and communities that are a “demonstration plot” of the reality of GOD’s new creation in Christ” (p.53)

As a part of this call to be Jesus’ agents of restoration in this “present evil age” – rhythms of lament become our most important form of engagement to face our own brokenness, the brokenness of our communities and of our nation:

“The first language of the church in a deeply broken world is not strategy, but prayer. The journey of reconciliation is grounded in a call to see and encounter the rupture of this world so truthfully that we are literally slowed down. We are called to a space where any explanation or action is too easy, too fast, too shallow – a space where the right response can only be a desperate cry directed to GOD. We are called to learn the anguished cry of lament… (p.77)

Lament is not despair. It is the whining. It is not a cry into a void. Lament is a cry directed to GOD. It is the cry of those who see the truth of the world’s deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace. It is the prayer of those who are deeply disturbed by the way things are. We are enjoined to learn to see and feel what the psalmists see and feel and to join our prayers with theirs…

The call to lament finds its way into so much of Scripture – Psalms, Jeremiah, Lamentations and the Gospels in particular. It shows up in the writings of faithful witnesses throughout the church’s history. Over and again, lament teaches us about both what must be learned and what must be unlearned in order to live well in a broken world. If we are to participate in GOD’s plan to reconcile all things in Jesus Christ, we must begin to listen to this cry.” (p.78)

In these troubled times we need to reclaim the ancient practice of lament. Is it time for a ‘sackcloth and ashes’ revival?

J. Fowler

J. Fowler is the website editor and co-founder, along with his wife Pamela, of the Sustainable Traditions project. The Fowlers live with their seven children on a farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

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