Summon the Wailing-Women

                                                

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“Lamenting Woman,” by Sheila G. Hunter. Taken at God’s Acre, Home Moravian Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina


Come Lament.
Bring your tears.
​​​Scatter them along rocky trails,
​​​dissipating petals of unrefined truth
​​​to water dry paths.

​​​Lean in close, Lament.
​​​Place your wizened head
​​​on weighed down shoulders;
​​​whisper-sing in aching ears.

        –Jill Crainshaw

Three public acts of violence shattered innocent lives this week. Pipe bombs were sent to political leaders and news agencies. A white man shot and killed two African Americans at a grocery store in Kentucky. Another white man shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire on worshipers at Pittsburgh synagogue. These acts of hatred and others like them across our nation summon us—yet again—to consider what we can do each day to resist the culture of violence that is growing in our nation.

These acts also summon us to lament, for the resisting work we need to do begins, I think, with human communities learning again how to lament. People in ancient communities like the prophet Jeremiah’s community understood lament. Lament was a way people of faith cried out to God in the face of pain and loss that seared hearts and battered souls. Lament was a communal act. Lament was a ritual act passed from one generation to the next. Why? Because the heartache that accompanies great loss is deeply personal and the cloud of witnesses, both historic and contemporary, that surround those in pain—to listen, hold vigil, weep with—prevents weeping from being an isolating experience. Lament arises from and returns to communities of faith and trust, and because of this communal dimension, lament—and lament’s wordless, soundless contortions of pain, anger and grief—is sometimes the only thing that keeps people going when everything good about life seems lost. The very fact of our humanity—its fragility and mortality—needs lament.

As we face the violence in our world today—against black and brown bodies, against immigrants, against people in the LGBTQ community, against women and children, against religious communities and others—and as we seek ways to respond, acts of lament are necessary. Lament is a vital and even revolutionary act because it refuses to hide the raw realities of life beneath a veneer of sentimentalized spirituality or triumphant overcoming. Lament turns her eyes and looks with grief-ravaged love on the violated bodies and weeping family members we see too often in news-feeds from towns and cities across our land. Then, Lament beckons us to see the pain and hear the heartbreak, to repent and seek God’s grace. Lament beckons us to stand with each other. Weep with each other. Wail in grief and rage with each other. And then work with each other across our differences to resist hatred and restore love and grace.

Hear these words of lament from the prophet Jeremiah in the Hebrew Bible:

7 Thus says the Lord of hosts:
Consider, and summon the wailing-women to come;
  send for the skilled women to come;
18 let them quickly raise a dirge over us,
  so that our eyes may run down with tears,
  and our eyelids flow with water.
19 For a sound of wailing is heard from Zion:
  ‘How we are ruined!
  We are utterly shamed,
because we have left the land,
  because they have cast down our dwellings.’

20 Hear, O women, the word of the Lord,
  and let your ears receive the word of his mouth;
teach to your daughters a dirge,
  and each to her neighbour a lament.
21 ‘Death has come up into our windows,
  it has entered our palaces,
to cut off the children from the streets
  and the young people from the squares.’     Jeremiah 9

Indeed, death has come up into our windows and entered our palaces, and we wail. But our weeping is not enough. Our heart-brokenness is not enough. When Lament is allowed to live out loud as a part of faith, people have the freedom to express not only their deep sorrows but also their outrage and protest when violence, death, and injustice persist. To embody lament as a community is to resist as a community those systems that perpetuate hatred. To join Lament’s journey is to walk into tomorrow and the next day and the next determined somehow, by the power of God’s persistent Spirit, to make space for God’s promises of peace and abundant life for all people.

 

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Summer Solstice Epiphany

I do not understand why some of our nation’s leaders are doing what they are doing.

Because I do not understand their actions, I have gained even greater clarity about why I do what I do as a theological educator at Wake forest University School of Divinity.

Let me explain.

Today is summer solstice in the U.S., a day when the sun shines longer than on any other day of the year. Hostile and violent forces are at work in our world today to keep hurting people from knowing the hope and warmth of life’s light. We need these extra hours of sunlight to seek how to live God’s Gospel truth in our times. We need a summer solstice Epiphany.

What is a summer solstice Epiphany?   The ancient sages in Matthew 2, commonly known as the wise people in the Christian Christmas story, followed a God-flung orb of light to Jesus’ birthing place. Many Christian traditions have located the story of the sages’ journey on day of the liturgical year in January known as Epiphany.

The word “epiphany” means “manifestation” or “a striking appearance.” We cannot wait for another January to look for God’s light to reveal a way for the human community to journey toward justice and renewed hope. We need to ask now what the manifestation of God in Jesus means in a world where so many fear for their lives, where too many innocents are abused and slaughtered. How are we who live in a world of such harsh and immoral realities to incarnate Incarnation—right now? These questions are urgent. People’s lives and well-being are at stake.

Matthew’s Epiphany story reveals powerful wisdom for our times. The sages, upon encountering the child Jesus, went home by another way (Mt. 2:12). I am struck by two things about this story on this day in 2018 of creation’s longest light. First, the sages had a home to go to. They were people with positions of power in their contexts. They could go home. Second, the sages decided to take different, less familiar route home to resist doing what Herod asked them to do. They decided not to take a route that would perpetuate a state-sanctioned system of violence and injustice. They risked something about their own lives because of what they encountered in the faces of a young child and family. Could they have gone back to confront Herod? Perhaps they should have and perhaps they did. What we know is that having encountered the truth of who God is in the face of a child, their usual way of going was changed.

This is why I do what I do as a theological educator who is also a Presbyterian Church (USA) Minister of Word and Sacrament. I believe this is also why we do what we do at the School of Divinity. We invite students to be aware of their power as human beings and religious leaders to resist Herod by following the unexpected ways of the Gospel. We spend time in conversation, worship, and prayer across our many differences seeking God’s wisdom for how we live and learn together. We also foster in each other a capacity to discern ways to risk something about our own lives for the sake of the lives of vulnerable others. This is work worth doing—work that must be done—in a world where too many people are denied their worth as human beings.

On this day in June 2018 when the God-flung orb of light called the sun looks out from the skies longer than on any other day of the year, perhaps our souls will be stirred anew. Now is a time for us to shine the light of Gospel truths on lies perpetuated by people who abuse their place and power. Is this stirring—this call—new? No. We here in the U.S. need to lament and atone for a history of injustices justified by people who have bent and are bending their version of the Gospel toward their own ends. We are haunted by questions today that have followed us across the landscape of our history. Have we forgotten or perhaps never understood what it means to be children of God created in the image of God?

The sages in Matthew saw God in the face of a child. Can we? Do we? Can we see God in the face of Antwon Rose, an unarmed teenager shot by a police officer in Pittsburgh this week? Can we see God in the faces of children and mothers and fathers separated by injustice at our borders and within our communities?

We need Epiphany. We need a new understanding of and commitment to what it means to be human together, created in God’s image and living in community here on and with God’s earth. I do not understand why some of our nation’s leaders are doing what they are doing. I do know why I do what I do at the School of Divinity. I do what I do to encounter and be in community with students whose passion for ministry and whose deep belief in the power of Gospel Good News make me continue my vocational journey in transformed ways. I do what I do at the School of Divinity because I believe our work together changes us and sends us out, knowing that we are called as we go to risk something about our own lives for the sake of the lives of others.

I wrote the following poem/prayer for a January Epiphany Day. I have revised it for this summer solstice call to Epiphany.

Star-watchers.
Eyes wide opened
by unexpected light
in backyard night skies,
“Bearing gifts they traversed afar” to
investigate
explore
consider.
Then—eyes wide-opened
by what they saw—
rerouted,
home by another way.

Ah, the peculiarity of Christmastide Epiphanies:
shepherds
cows and sheep and donkeys,
an angel-frightened teenager
and a dream-troubled carpenter.
sky-gazing Zoroastrians
on camels’ backs
tracing a celestial light-beam to an
unfamiliar place.

But what of the rest of the story?
Menacing messages from powerful places,
weeping of innocents,
mama and daddy,
baby held tight
fleeing
violence
death.
Did they know—
To keep their bodies safe
was to keep safe God’s Beloved Child
but only for a moment.

In all of it—
holy visits and visions and vistas
detours and deliberate stars
midnight border crossings
into unfriendly backyards
children’s cries
wailing lullabies
“Hush, little baby! Don’t say a word.”
Immanuel—-God-with-us?
In us?
Through us?
In spite of us?

Galactic light-spheres align yet again
Sacred solstice sun shines into night hours:
Burn away the fog of unknowing, O God.
Give us eyes wide-opened
by what we see.
Call us to another way
so that we risk our lives to
bring together
Life
Love
Hope

 

this is my body

I am an ordained ministry and a worship professor at a School of Divinity. This week for our Maundy Thursday chapel service, I was the preacher and communion presider. For the first time in my 30 years of ministry, I dropped half of the loaf of communion bread on the floor. Yes. I dropped the bread. I was mortified, but after an awkward silence, we nevertheless partook of the holy meal. The experience was profound for me.

That day in chapel we remembered Jesus’ last night with his friends. In the two days since Thursday, I have been remembering—all of the fallen bodies I keep reading about in the news. What a broken world this is—and how urgent it is that we remember the fragilities and possibilities of our humanity.

this is my body

no one expected
such unrehearsed irreverence
least of all me
after many and myriad
maundy thursdays of
breaking
blessing
sharing
holy bread

but there i stood
by the table
grabbing
for the bread of life as it
slipped from my hands and
with awkward acrobatics
tumbled
down
down
to the unhallowed
stony
feet-trampled
sanctuary
floor

the loaf was heavy that day
a body resisting
being broken
until—
something startled
my struggling hands and
i was left
holding half a whole
of a body
fallen

who can take
fractured tomorrows
bless them
and not bear the scars
in aching palms

i knelt down and
took up the remains
all of us
ate
together

this is my body
remember

Dust

I am dust; to dust I shall always return.
But don’t assume as you disturb my rest

with your omnipotent kitchen broom that
I am mere debris to be swept up and away.

Remember. We are interfused, you
and I, suspended in each other,

vestigial particles of endless galaxies,
diminishing and becoming, deposited

but for a moment amid yesterday’s dinner
crumbs and dog hair. Tomorrow?

I am cyclonic, demanding skeletal trees
to dance with me through dry valleys;

or I am breathed out by destructive
detonating demons only to settle, leaden,

on a sandal-sheathed foot severed
from the child who sat at grandma’s

table while she cooked the evening meal.  
But I am also the cadence of the soil, eternity

dug up in a spade and sown with ordinary
mystery. Still, don’t assume I am magic either,

or that you are, except when in a distant
sun-soaked garden we tango with the departing

light and time’s muted colors bend onto our
backs and we carry life across ancient seas

to fertilize the future. Remember. You are
dust; to dust you shall forever return.

Dust was in the news this week. Popular Science reported that dust from Asia might be fertilizing sequoias in California (http://www.popsci.com/asian-dust-california-sequoias). In stark contrast, another headline from this week reads—“Inside Mosul, a huge blast, then screams, dust and horror.” Bombs flattened houses on a street in Mosul, and citizens were buried beneath the rubble.

Across the globe in Las Vegas, a dust storm uprooted trees, stopped traffic, and interfered with visibility (http://nypost.com/2017/03/31/insane-dust-storm-wreaks-havoc-on-las-vegas/). And the Washington Post tapped into a dusty metaphor for a political perspective: “Another Trump Promise Bites the Dust” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2017/03/31/another-trump-promise-bites-the-dust/).

Taken together during the Christian “dust and ashes” season of Lent and on the week when the lectionary remembers a valley of dry bones dancing again (Ezekiel 37) and the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11), these headlines remind me of how complex and ordinary, fragile and resilient, sometimes life giving and sometimes life-destroying dust-birthed humanity is. These headlines also remind me that we are all connected across complex geographies to each other and to creation.

We are dust; to dust we shall return. In between? God calls us to carry in our bones the light of Gospel justice and hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

". . .if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?"