I could see from our daughter's face, as she walked out to join us, that she was thoughtful and glum. I didn't pay too much attention, honestly, given the predisposition of most teenagers to look glum when they first haul themselves out of bed in the morning. And then she started talking.
"How are you going to explain all this to Manu?"
Out it all tumbled, from a face lined with sleep and framed by bed-tousled red hair. Her anxiety about the news she's seen coming out of the United States. The sense of connection she feels to issues of race, being older sibling to her Xhosa-born sister. The felt proximity of events that are taking place many thousands of miles away, that are nevertheless rising from a shared historical reality.
She feels our common humanity and is not yet inured by hard-and-fast delineations to believe that she is disqualified from speaking out.
"What are you going to DO?!" She fixed her teary eyes on us, daring us to back down, to say nothing.
And what are we going to do? How do we respond to this horror-filled tale of injustice and suffering? We are returned yet again to the gut-wrenching question of how we are to live - as Christ followers, as ones whose very lives are to be messages of the way of hope - in the mess and mire of a broken world. Do we look the other way? Do we say it's not our mess? Do we medicate ourselves with shopping and entertainment for fear that our gaze will make the matter more unbearably real?
We talked with our angry, incredulous daughter about the ways we have sought to live over the years. The ways we have tried to give honour, and share burdens, and repent for the sins of our fathers. But even as the words came out of my mouth, they sounded thin in the air between us. It's not enough, is it? What could ever be enough in the face of so much multi-layered and deep-rooted pain?
The only response I can think of that seems honest and honouring is that of lament. To join in with the long tradition of sorrowful yearning - whether with words or without them - for rescue and redemption. The thesaurus offers other words for lament. Words like bemoan, wail, deplore, howl, and weep. It sounds to me like a wake. Could it be that we are invited to simply sit alongside those who are suffering and to let our groans join theirs, our deep visceral longing for something new finding expression in a wordless keening?
We hate it don't we? The unutterable discomfort of sitting with the suffering other. We'll do an awful lot to avoid it; distract, dissociate, dissemble. I have to own that, I find my whole body wants to run out of the room where someone is experiencing such soul-pain. But it seems that the only way through grief - the only way - is to feel its weight, to hold its burden, to face the apparent immutability of the rock face before us and somehow to keep on going. Not to keep on going in some sort of misguided desire to submerge pain in action, but to keep going in faith that together we will find a way through. Eventually.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. While we so often associate the gift of the Holy Spirit with celebration (I find myself thinking of tambourines and spontaneous dancing, an image entirely at odds with how I feel right now), I wonder if today we are invited to the wordless groans that are just as true of the Spirit of God?
"The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed ... in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God."We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God." (Romans 8:19-27)
As we talked and prayed with our confused teen, filled as she is with righteous anger, it's likely that lament simply doesn't seem sufficient. And it's true that wherever we become aware of an invitation to action that is truly motivated by love and humility, then we should respond wholeheartedly. Lament is not an excuse for inaction. But while we look for that invitation, that nudge, that opportunity, what else is there?
Lord, have mercy. Holy Spirit, come.