We Scots can be a right ‘miserable lot’ at times, but are we losing the language of lament? The honest ability to emotionally express ourselves when terrible things happen. I suspect such inability to be honest with God and self about how ‘rank rotten’ we feel, and why, keeps many away from a good honest, robust relationship with God.
The great sports commentator Arthur Montford described some Scottish performances as ‘lamentable’, but the language of ‘lamentation’ can go deeper than ‘low quality, meagre and pitiful’ to the ‘tragic, harrowing, grievous, woeful, deplorable, mournful and gut-wrenching situations we may find ourselves in. We can deny our dire situation for a while, but in the honesty of ‘lament’ is the chance to name our pain and address it.
On ‘Black Friday’ 14th October 1881, a hurricane hit Scotland’s south-eastern coast, wiping out 189 fishermen. Exactly 135 years later I found myself awestruck by the sheer force of wild waves crashing into and over St Abb’s harbor, and moved by the sorrowful sculpture of wives and children scanning sea for sign of their loved ones’ return (see above and below).
Humanity has a long history of ‘lamenting’. In whole Bible book is given over to ‘Lamentations’, Jeremiah pouring out heart and soul at the devastation of his people and home. Numerous Psalms join Jeremiah to give us permission and tongue to express our sense of desperation, anger, anguish, anxiety, guilt and desertion by God.
Bagpipes are excellent vents for soulful sorrow, whether over the loss of Jacobite cause, a loved one, ability, job or future hope. Many a song is sung to air anguish. Bono and U2’s great anthem ‘40’ is Psalm 40’s testimony of salvation from sinking without trace, and gives way to the victim’s cry, “How long to sing this song!?” How long will my torment continue, how long till my cause is vindicated, how long must we languish in a dark and barren land, how long till revival comes?
Jesus Christ is our best mentor for lamentation! Through excruciating crucifixion he uses Psalm 22’s curdling cry to attempt description of his desolation, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me!?” God, come in human form, takes our world’s injustices to new depths. God doesn’t offer patronising platitudes to our cry of “Why!” and “How Long!?” He joins us in them and leads a way through them, no ‘bridge over troubled waters’ but ‘a way through them’.
When Jeremiah could sink no further he was given help to trust God for a brighter day. It’s a costly hope that recognises the rawness of pained reality, but also the presence of our pained Captain Jesus, ready to navigate us through trial and storm to a ‘safe haven’.
Lamentations 3:16-24 / MSG
Jeremiah writes: “He ground my face into the gravel. He pounded me into the mud. I gave up on life altogether. I’ve
forgotten what the good life is like. I said to myself, “This is it. I’m finished. God is a lost cause.”
It’s a Good Thing to Hope for Help from God. I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all—oh, how well I remember— the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:”