These were no silent cries. I heard them. In the darkness, by candlelight, in the presence of a hundred believers, they spoke their laments out loud.
The following Sunday, we would celebrate Christ the King. We would proclaim by faith that Jesus is sovereign over creation, over the world systems, over our lives. But not this week. This was the time to grieve all the things that seem broken beyond repair, all the sorrows from which we find no relief, all the places where it feels as if Christ is not King.
I was stunned by their willingness to voice their griefs and disappointments. Those hurting members of our congregation didn’t stop to choose their words with care. They raged and wept. We were their witnesses, and we wept, too.
I went away from the lament service wondering why this should feel so foreign and so wonderful at once. I thought of those stories of the grieving widows who wail and keen until they throw themselves onto their husbands’ funeral pyres. I thought of outdated social customs that required the bereaved to wear black for months, years. I thought of family and friends who sit up all night telling stories and reminiscing while they keep watch over a dead body. Some part of me finds all these practices morbid, even horrifying. Is it because I’m an American living in the 21st century that grief makes me uncomfortable? Why is my first instinct to pull back from grief, to quiet its tears? Why do I want to dress it up in festive colors, or leave it with the hollow body in the grave and go out among the living?
In A Sacred Sorrow, Michael Card writes about lament as a kind of lost language, a voice that is silenced from our earliest moments. We all experienced “the shushing of parents whenever we would inevitably erupt into the wailing of our first infant laments. Contained somewhere in the heart of these demands to ‘be quiet,’ beneath the sincere attempts at comforting, lay a level of shame and the inescapable message that we should not cry out, we should not behave in such ways; that wanting the comfort of presence and the assurance of hesed was really somehow selfish. At that frustrating moment we entered into the very human, fallen aspect of denial, which is the polar opposite of lament. As a result we grew up trying to control our tears and trying to help others control theirs, thinking in the midst of it all sometimes that we might even be able to control the pain. All our ulcers and neuroses unfold as an inescapable consequence. That single pathway through it all, the path of lament, became overgrown, lost, left off all our maps.”
That’s it, isn’t it? We’ve convinced ourselves that if we don’t cry out, it might not hurt so much. We believe that if we keep on running, we might outpace our disappointment. But Card claims that lament is vital. “We must regain the tearful trail,” he says. “We must relearn lament.” I think most of us would rather deny it.
In some ways, it’s worse when there’s no body to bury, no service to attend. How do you dress after a miscarriage? What do you do with your marriage license after the divorce is finalized? Bury it? Where do you put your bright expectations after you take the leap and fall flat on your face? Can you lay a broken relationship on a table and watch through the night, waiting for signs of life? We look forward to a future when all things are restored, when every tear is wiped from every eye. But what now? What are we to do with our grief?
I can’t say that all these thoughts were settled in my mind when I set out to write Seeker. I had referenced Evander and the Lost Clan in Shiloh, and this was a story I was eager to explore. I knew from the outset that this was the Lost Clan. The story would not, could not, end well. It would hurt. And yet it drew me, calling me backwards, away from the glorious conclusion of the series, to a time and place that begged to be remembered. So I spent some time straying along the pathways under the luminous leaves of the Fayrewood, observing the people of Holt as they danced in the lantern light on Midsummer’s Night. I wandered into Errol’s furnace and watched him pour molten glass. I stopped at Cole’s workshop and studied his edanna filigree. I rode into the roar of the falls and felt the freezing winds from the Pallid Peaks. I looked into the eyes of people who found the courage to hope, who risked everything to know a better world. I loved them and wept for them, and then they were taken away.
The year I wrote Seeker was a year of grieving, and there were times when I believed it would have been easier to skip that tale entirely. Maybe if I didn’t stop to take inventory of the lovely things lost, it wouldn’t be so painful to lose them. I did it anyway. As I did so, I began to understand that my willingness to grieve was the greatest offering I could give to the things that were lost. My tears did them honor. My tears were a testament to their great worth.
We grieve the losses that touch us deeply. We must. We pick up the things that were lost and broken, burned and forgotten. We cup them in our hands, fall to our knees, and scream our anguish to the sky. In doing so we honor them, and we honor our own hearts that have been so trampled, so bruised, by ten thousand little losses and who knows how many enormous ones.
Seeker is my pausing by the grave of something remarkable and pressing my forehead to the stone. Seeker is my attempt to speak in a forgotten language. On this side of the new heavens and the new earth, I know of no more universal cry. And the restoration is that much sweeter when we know what it is we’ve lost.
“This is the story of the Sun Clan, the Lost Clan, and all that was lost with them.”
Photo courtesy of Ming-Wai Selig.