This Sunday, we began our series through the book of Lamentations. For those of us who were unfamiliar with this book of the Bible, we may have been surprised to find a city personified as a grieving woman. She agonizes over the fire that is burning her up from the inside out, the chains that have been fastened around her hands and neck, her churning stomach and wrung-out heart. She pours out anguish over the desolation of her children, the deception of her lovers, and the death of her priests and elders.
Though we are thousands of years removed from the events that motivated this sorrowful poetry, we should have no trouble recognizing many of the emotions being expressed. These are poems of deep lament. Expressions of grief, loss, and confusion that speak to the most raw and vulnerable depths of human suffering, a suffering that many of us are familiar with to one degree or another.
How might we best engage with the book of Lamentations? We could find some time to be alone. We might dim the lights or wait until the sun has gone down. We could play some fitting music, such as Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 that pastor Heath has shared with us. We might read slowly, reflectively, allowing each stanza of the poem to connect with our deepest sorrows and unexpressed pain. Surely, this is how Lamentations should be read.
So, what in the world should we expect as we log in to Zoom and attempt to navigate this book with our comGroups? I’ve been on several million (Thousand? Hundred? Billion?) Zoom calls over the past four months and I’ve learned two things:
1. Someone is always going to forget to mute themselves (if you disagree, you’re the person).
2. Zoom was not made for emotional conversations.
I’ve had to send a thumbs-up emoji to a couple announcing that they are pregnant. I’ve had to stay on mute while someone shares troubling medical news. I’ve had to interrupt someone who is in the middle of expressing their pain because they forgot to unmute themselves. These are normal experiences for us as we attempt to stay relationally connected while physically distant from one another.
When attempting to express my own emotions, I’ve stared at stacks of faces, some intently listening, some checked out, some glancing down at a phone, some trying to keep one eye on their kids, some attempting to encourage me by offering deeply sympathetic eyebrows and overly-pronounced head nods like they are theater actors trying to connect with the back row. Not only is it difficult to express our own emotions over the computer, it can be difficult to receive emotional expressions from others in a way that makes them feel heard and understood.
So, what is our approach for navigating Lamentations, not alone in the dark, but with a group of people in a digital environment? No one really knows. All we can say for sure is that it’s gonna be a challenge. I have two suggestions for us as we consider how to lead our people in a meaningful conversation around this highly emotional collection of poetry:
1. Encourage your people to read through each chapter in advance. Each chapter in Lamentations is filled with intense emotion and complex imagery. Attempting to process and talk about these poems after a single reading is going to be a struggle. Encourage your group to read through each chapter before you all meet together. Commit to reading through the same chapter every day for a week to allow your group to really soak it in and chew on it. This will give your group an opportunity to think and feel deeply about each poem before starting to have a conversation about it. While it is always hard to communicate emotions in a digital format, it is even more difficult to communicate unprocessed emotions. Committing to a daily reading plan as a group will make it easier for people to stick with it, and it may open up space for deeper, more thoughtful conversation when you meet.
2. Make sure that you are familiar with the chapter before your group meets. This is a good practice for whatever your group is studying together, but especially so with Lamentations. These poems are meant to stir up profound, often severe emotions within us. While it is important for you to have a working knowledge of the structure of the book and some of the history, it is especially important for you to be aware of how this book is going to hit you emotionally. If you are going to help guide your people through an array of intense emotions connected to grief, trauma, and loss, you will need to create space to work through these emotions yourself. Get comfortable with the discomfort this book brings. It will be far too easy to gloss over uncomfortable pain or try to quickly tie everything up with a nice, happy bow.
Don’t do that.
Sit with it. Soak in it. Experience it.
This will be almost impossible to do if you haven’t taken the time to read and meditate on this book throughout the week.
As we navigate this book with our groups, we are sure to encounter challenging questions, hard-to-manage emotions, uncomfortable silences, opposing opinions, unsettling tension, and a bit of paradox. But we may also encounter God. Not in “right” answers and platitudes. But in the reality and expression of lament.