Lament and Longing

“We had to change the entire service,” the minister in Minneapolis said to me last Saturday He described the mayhem that had overtaken their city, forgetting that all of us already knew what had happened.


What did you do? I responded. What kind of Pentecost did you have?


“It became a service of lament”, he confessed. I knew what they had done at the last minute was the very thing all of us need, then and now. We need to give up our rejoicing and give ourselves to grieving. We need to pray the prayer that creeps in and around all the praise and adoration of the psalms: “How long, O Lord, how long?”


It has already been too long. This year, I mean. This year of suffering and stress, of loss and grief. From the beginning of the year until now, it has been one long groaning of the American people.


Think about it.


Impeachment. Coronavirus. Isolation. Illness. Loneliness. Disagreement. Disruption. Death. Loss. Debt. Bankruptcy. Poverty. Murder. Protests. Confrontation. Despair. Anger.


The year is not even half over! What more can happen?


The opening words of the famous servant psalm in Isaiah leap to my lips: “Who has believed our report?” I can hardly believe what I know to be true, what I am reporting to you.


It is also hard to know what to think, what to say, what to do.


A minister in Tulsa wrote me today. He is searching for a sermon for Sunday, for a word from the Lord: “Trying and searching for the right words to speak about the racism destroying lives and the murder of George Floyd. I prayed and wrote and lost sleep. And then early this morning in a pit of despair about my inadequacy to speak about what’s happening in the world and the terror and horror, I heard this word in a quiet moment: Shut up and listen.”


A young black minister in Atlanta gives him the answer. He posted this on Facebook: “There is so much I’ve wanted to say over the past few days. The following is the best I’ve got. I’ve been angry, hurt depressed, disappointed, and disgusted. My heart has been troubled. I’ve tried my best to maintain some kind of integrity. With that said, I’m frankly tired. I’m tired of racism…of violence… of conflict…of killings…of social media wars. I’m tired of harmful and hateful rhetoric. I’m tired of hatred and evil. I’m just tired.”


I think all of us are tired.


We are weary of disease and death, of jobs lost and money gone. We are tired of staying home and missing friends. We are burdened by what we see and hear and feel.


We are sad. I am sad. Aren’t you?


I want to say over and over again, “How long, O lord, how long?”


I need a fresh dose of grace. I remember the old gospel song, “Mercy there was great, and grace was free.” I need to go there, to that place of mercy, to that fountain of grace. I need to receive mercy and extend mercy. I need to receive grace and bestow grace.


Sometimes grace is simply seeing what is around us, noticing what we have overlooked so often before, what we need to see and acknowledge and affirm and embrace as of common importance.


Do you remember the song from the musical “Chicago”? “Mr Cellophane” It is sung by John Reilly. He is a little noticed lover seeking the attention of a woman, but his confession speaks for most of us more than we want:


“Mister Cellophane shoulda been my name, Mister Cellophane ‘cause you can look right through me, walk right by me and never know I’m there.”


All around us there are people who need to be noticed.  They are people crushed by loss and fearful of the future, friends lonely and even enemies who have forgotten what split you apart in the first place. There are people who speak different, look different, pray different, but just below the surface of these things there is a person, a soul fashioned in the image of God, a human being who wants to be noticed, understood, appreciated, honored, welcomed, loved.


There is a person who want to be heard and, often, somebody who want to hear you, wants to know what’s in your heart, what’s on your mind, what you long to see and hear and be.


We need a fresh dose of the grace of what we might call noticeability.


It is the gift of God that helps us pay attention to what is in us and who is around us. It is the grace God gives us, here in the midst of stress and struggle, to love the people around us with all the love that God has poured into our own souls.


May it happen, Lord, and may it begin with me.


(June 2020)