Today I am watching some of the reports, videos, and photos of the 9/11 Remembrance, as I know many of you are. Speeches, reactions, blessings. Prayers, memories, songs. Facebook is alive with the static of remembrance. Here's mine.
In the midst of a day of painful memories, some dots connected.
Writing about Auschwitz has been difficult, to say the least. I didn’t want to relive the sights, sounds and smells of the death camps. I had almost succeeded in forgetting. It was fairly easy: the next few days were crammed full, including lots of travel. Any time the images returned, I pushed them away, distracting myself with busyness. Life went back to ‘normal.’
Resurrecting it all in this blog, and trying to move away from it again, I stumble into 9/11. Good grief. I resisted watching the visuals, as I resisted going to the death camps. Look but don’t look. Remember. You have to.
What bothered me was not the remembering, but the lack of relief. I want more than just a bunch of bad memories. I was actually lamenting the fact that I had to remember 9/11 with no apparent recourse except to feel bad for a while, until the images went away again.
As I said in my last post, I want to scream and wail and call fire down from heaven! But most of all, like many of you, I want answers. I want something or somebody to tell me what this is all about, that these are not random acts of atrocity, with nothing to be done. We live in a fallen world, and horrible as that is, justice will be rendered. That God didn’t intervene for a very good reason. I want God to talk to me about this. And there is my wrestling match, and there is my lament.
A piece of music plays in my head...
This is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard. It is also one of the hardest videos I've ever watched. You may want to turn your head away from some of the images, and you can listen without them here, but you will miss Dawn Upshaw's gripping performance. For those who have the stomach for it, click here.
The first time I heard this piece, it arrested me. I was touched in a place I didn't recognize. It haunted me for months. It literally gave sound to something we do so poorly in our culture—lament—and I’m not surprised I didn’t recognize this part of my soul.
My mind immediately jumps to Katrina, and a sermon I heard the day after. The pastor referenced Michael Card’s A Sacred Sorrow, and it wasn’t long before that book was in my hands.
As Card writes in his acknowledgements:
“Shortly after 9/11, I received a note from [Calvin Seerveld] in which he observed that we...had no songs to sing in response to the horrific attack…'You need to write laments,’ he said.”
Card defines lament as one of the greatest act of faith, and an act of worship, in which a heart in pain cries out to God for relief. That stunned me. Grief is an embarrassment to our culture, not 'allowed.' Card gives us permission.
He is a careful theologian: “...lament expresses one of the most intimate moments of faith—not a denial of it. It is supreme honesty before a God whom my faith tells me I can trust. He encourages me to bring every thing as an act of worship, my disappointment, frustration, and even my hate. Only lament uncovers this kind of new faith… lament was the only true response of faith to the brokenness and fallenness of the world. It provides the only trustworthy bridge to God across the deep seismic quaking of our lives.”
You can’t get more seismic than Auschwitz or 911.
“Lament happens when we experience suffering that seems inconsistent with God’s hesed, when the door to His Presence seems locked and barred from the inside. Such moments are often signaled by the word why.”
This is not for coffee club Christianity, or the weak-kneed. Easier to walk away from a fight with God. He’s obviously going to win, right?! But as one who has wrestled with God on a number of issues, I can tell you He fights fair. And He is supremely interested in relationship. The "bridge" Card writes about is being willing to shake your fist at God, and not walk away till he responds. No easy answers, but don’t walk away from the fight.
Card taught me the role of lament in my life, and gave me vocabulary. It's time to bring that language out again--the only response to the griefs of Auschwitz and 9/11--to get to good grief, the healing kind. I have certainly passed through anger, denial and bargaining. And stalled. To move on to acceptance, I need another wrestling match with God. It is so easy to stall here; I may walk away with a limp. But I know how I'm spending the next few hours.
No, I will never forget, but I will remember with my questions and wrestle. Then I will return to Auschwitz and 9/11 without the poison of anger, denial, incomprehension, desire for revenge.
So help me God.
There is a time to weep.—Eccl. 3:4