"Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned.
the lament that we omitted."That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve
-- Ranier Maria Rilke, from Requiem For A Friend
During Lent I'll share almost-daily meditations of Scripture, hymns, and art reflecting this time of tension between dying and birth.
Won't you join me?
Won't you join me?
March 5 , Day 18
Sharing today one of my submissions for Christ Church's Lenten devotional. I've added a couple of photos our friend Stephanie took of the flood and wreckage during Conklin's 2006 flood.
I wish I could find good audio or video of other culture's practices of lament. Instead I've added, perhaps, a sentimental favorite tune by Mavis Staples. She is, after all, the Mavis Staples. I wish I could have sung this song to the poor woman in her car who would not let us help her with her flooded-out house.
(by the way, if you can recommend art that represents well mourning rituals from other cultures I'd love to hear about it)
|photo credit: Stephanie Butcher
Hospitality for Those Who Mourn
“Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted.” —Jesus
“Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. Where can we ﬁnd such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned. That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted.”—Rainer Maria Rilke, from Requiem For A Friend
We stood in the driveway, dumbfounded.
For days we’d walked from house to ﬂooded house, mud-caked boots tracking the
streets of our river-soaked town. Those with dry homes offering our hands and feet,
pick-up trucks and prayers. Nobody had refused our help -- until now.
One elderly woman sat at the curb inside her sedan, engine running, windows
closed. We tapped on the glass. “Can we go into your house with you and help
you clean out?”
She lowered the window a crack, shook her head, smiled. “No, thank you. It’s too
messy. I don’t want anyone to see it.”
I could tell she was ashamed. She allowed us to pray with her, but what do you say?
God give this elderly woman the supernatural strength to muck out a two-story house by herself. To comfort herself. To be OK all by herself. Doesn’t seem to be the right words, but it was all we could do. Unwelcomed, we walked away.
Truth is we were offering more than clean-up; we were offering to enter her experience and share the indignity of all her belongings strewn and smelly. When she sent us
away we both missed out on comfort for mourning. We could do nothing without her
invitation into the wreckage, resisting the urge to pretty it up ﬁrst. Because nothing is
digniﬁed about mourning. Nothing airbrushed or photo-shopped, water-colored, slick,
or marketable. Mourning is guttural, physical, visceral, sloppy, and often, embarrassing.
Mourning with those who mourn is an act of welcome. An invitation to the wounded
to feel sorrow, fear, anger, despair, loss, without judgment—without the need to see
the silver lining or a grand plan. And the mourner shares in the act when he invites
others to enter barefoot -- or with mud-caked boots -- into his mess.
We of the Western world have little to offer in the way of mourning rituals; we wander
the outskirts of grief, purchasing tokens for shrines because we know so few. People
groups across time and space have cultivated communal acts of suffering. But in North
America, our cultural responses to tragedy sound more like shocked indignation than
liturgies of lament.
For us to be present in this age, we will need to regain a communal language and
posture for mourning. We will need to re-read Lamentations and Job, re-tune our
anthems in a minor key, reject sympathetic slogans as a substitute for silence, remember
the physical postures of mourning.
I’d like to think our dusty ﬁngers marked the glass of that idling sedan. With the barely-opened window she offered a minor welcome into her mourning, our whispered
prayer a mutual invitation of comfort for her suffering days ahead.
—Tamara Hill Murphy
|photo credit: Steph Butcher
Suggested Resources for Lent:
- 2013 Lenten Daily Devotional from Christ Church of Austin
- Lent 2013, The Spirituals - my Spotify playlist of Gospel and Spirituals with themes of Lent
Now it's your turn! What art are you enjoying this season?
Tell us about it in the comments below.
If you've written your own post, share the link.
"Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east." Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Wreck of the Deutschland