The days following the American election plunged me into lament. Everything around me was in grayscale; everything in me was melancholy.
Yet full-scale lament was premature because the worst hadn’t happened yet. What I witnessed on election night was the first fracture in the wall, not the total crumbling of the city that Daughter Zion mourned in Lamentations. So I tempered my own lament—somewhat.
I allowed myself seven days to feel the sadness. Then I was determined to pay attention to the world around me in obedience to the prophets of old.
Loss comes first, as the prophet Isaiah articulates. The city of Jerusalem is destroyed in real time around him. It then lies in ruins for the next 140 years. The five poems of Lamentations were written in the aftermath—while enduring a landscape of devastation with no hope on the horizon.
The words are plaintive, wailing for a world that no longer exists except in the memory of Daughter Zion and some other sore survivors. The poetry stings with anger at a God who has forsaken Israel, voicing utter shock at the divine absence in Jerusalem’s hour of need. Raw emotions explode off the ancient page and ricochet into our contemporary heart, ripping the veneer off all our pretenses of being fine.
Daughter Zion and her kin offer great consolation. They grant me permission to rage and rant, seethe and weep. They give me a way to respond to all that is not right in the world. They model a healthy and holy kind of grief work for those who endure destruction and long for justice. When the time comes to lament, these poems guide me through the valley of the shadow of death like a small but mighty flashlight.
Lament isn’t linear. Its sequence circles back unexpectedly; it dips into a pocket of pain when you’re not looking. It is a cyclical practice sensitive to the seasons of life, the conditions of the world, and the rise of injustice among us. As I cultivate a greater capacity for lament, I’m discovering that equally important is discerning when lament is required.
When did Daughter Zion lament? When the once great city of Jerusalem became like a widow, desolate and lonely. When her friends became enemies and her neighbors become foes. When the roads to Zion, once bursting with pilgrims coming to town for festivals, were empty and the city gates bent with grief. When she stretched out her hands, but there was none to comfort.
When do my husband and I lament in Burundi? When the central market burns to the ground on a Sunday morning, taking the local economy with it to the ash heap. When floodwaters ambush low lying neighborhoods and fathers wake to homes unmoored from their foundations and mothers rise to watch children carried out by rushing waters to certain death. When nearly 40% of babies die before their first birthday and small coffins are good business. When the government moves funds from healthcare to warfare amid a malaria outbreak and throughout the country there are none to comfort.
When do I lament in America? When Mexicans are maligned and Muslims are under threat and disabled people are openly mocked. When the rhetoric (and reality) of sexual assault against women is downplayed as “locker room talk” or “just what boys do” and not seen as violence toward half the population. When white supremacists are emboldened and brown children suffer racist taunts in the classroom. When refugee neighbors are frightened for their safety once more and feel like there is none to comfort.
When do we, as peacemakers, lament? When we visit the Equal Justice Initiative and listen to Anthony Ray Hinton, on death row for 30 years for a crime he didn’t commit, tell his story of suffering from poverty, racism and a broken justice system. When we see the families of Flint, Michigan live with contaminated water for over two years and repair too slow in coming. When we witness the continual loss suffered by the mothers of Israel and Palestine as their children are casualties of war. When we watch from afar the daily devastation in Syria, the terror rained down on Aleppo and feel paralyzed, knowing that there are none to comfort.
When did Jesus lament? When he walked toward Jerusalem years after it was rebuilt and saw a city still riddled with injustice. When he staged a peace demonstration, riding on a donkey, as a statement against the militant violence of Caesar and the religious folk told him to stop. When he wept at the site of the holy city, knowing they didn’t know what made for peace and so would be doomed to another destruction. When the people did not recognize their visitation from God, he joined with those who had none to comfort.
This is the drumbeat of Lamentations 1—none to comfort. Daughter Zion sees the destruction, feels the devastation, and begins naming the breakdown of the world she once inhabited. She declares that she is alone in her misery. There is no one to comfort her, no one who understands the depth of her loss. She’s like a voice crying out in the wilderness, wondering where the Lord is. She begs for things to be set right.
When we see the neighborhood struggle, our institutions crumble and our natural resources exploited—we lament. At times we will lament a little before we can catch our breath. Other times will call for a deeper magnitude of mourning, what the Scripture calls sackcloth and ashes, for what cannot be reclaimed. But it’s our capacity for lament that allows us to move out of loss and toward hope. Lament is the seedbed of hope, as counter-intuitive as it sounds. When we lament, a little or a lot, we join with creation in longing for a world set right.
The Daughter Zion teaches us to howl and harangue, to cry out for what is devastated and broken. She also leads us to demand justice even as we stand amid the ruins.
This is the second in a series by Kelley Nikondeha on “Jerusalem and the Aftermath of the Election.” To read the first installment, click here.