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Honesty and the Power of Lamentation

Honesty and the Power of Lamentation

by Jason Cook on May 18, 2022

"The things that influenced my conduct as a Negro did not have to happen to me directly; I needed but to hear of them to feel their full effects in the deepest layers of my consciousness.” - Richard Wright, Black Boy

There is a peculiar understanding of belonging that I tend to carry with me in this life. I intuitively feel that I belong to my immediate family, my extended family, my church family, and also my own kinsman according to the flesh. I’ve grown up with an understanding that, in a sense, I represent several different groups of people that share my skin color and experience. Whether this is a right and appropriate response to my own experience or not, it is how I move through the world.

So, when I learned of the murder of those precious souls in Buffalo, I felt what I have tended to feel: a collective identification with the anguish of those brothers and sisters in Buffalo. As I looked at their pictures this week I saw my grandmother, my brother, my uncles, my aunts. I saw my sisters and my father. In a very real sense, I saw myself through the lens of generations of racialized terror in our nation. As Richard Wright, legendary author and playwright from the early 20th century once wrote: "I needed only to hear of the white supremacy that fueled the shooter to feel its full effects in the deepest layers of my consciousness.”

But that acute awareness soon gave way to apathy and numbness. For how else am I to fulfill the duties I’m responsible for if I stop to feel the full weight of anguish here? Numbness, a common coping mechanism, is a trauma response that gives the illusion of not dealing with the trauma while our bodies and minds tell a different story. Last week, I found myself attempting to ignore what happened in Buffalo because to fully realize and feel what happened meant to come face to face with the reality that so many of my ancestors had experienced.

So I prayed.

And I realized that the Psalms give us a roadmap to begin to process the sin and injustice that plagues our nation and world. They are the Psalms of lament.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!” - Psalm 130:1

“My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” - Psalm 6:3

“Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” - Psalm 10:1

These lamentations give me the words to process my despair, my anguish, and the overriding Christian principle to mourn with those who mourn. On their surface they might appear to communicate despair—and they certainly do—yet they also reveal an important aspect of the human experience: we can be honest about the pain we feel.

No one is impervious to the pervasive effects of sin. Sin has infected and affected every aspect of life. And when it hits close to home, we need the language to be honest about it. We need the language to process it. We need the language to say out loud what is the reality of our hearts and to trust that God is sovereign and providential enough to handle our honesty.

If you’re feeling a way (or not) about the Buffalo mass shooting, the lament Psalms give us permission to be honest about how we are experiencing deep emotion…for what else are some of Jesus’ final words before he died on that cross? Lamentation. Jesus does not conceal his thirsting. He does not conceal his feeling of deep forsakenness. He is honest and real about it.

So too should you be.

-Pastor Jason

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