Monday, July 23, 2012

A time for lament

 I've recently started reading Leslie Allen's book, A Liturgy of Grief: A Pastoral Commentary on Lamentations. This is a verse-by-verse commentary by a Hebrew scholar who is also a hospital chaplain,ministering regularly to people walking through grief and loss.  His proposal is that Lamentations "be read as the script of a liturgy performed to help the people of God come to terms with the fall of Jerusalem and the national catastrophe it entailed".

The first word of the book of Lamentations is ekhah in Hebrew, which Allen translates as "How terrible!" It "traditionally belonged to the funeral dirge and introduced a contrast between a grim present and a good past, a chasm that bereavement had created...It is a shriek, a scream..."  Suddenly, the city whose destiny was supposed to be "the joy of the whole earth" has become empty, desolate: a wasteland (2:15). At some level, people knew that their priorities were amiss: but had they deserved this sudden judgment? Should the innocent also suffer? (2:11)  Has God forgotten them? (5:20)

The church has forgotten how to lament, says one reviewer of this book. "Committed to celebration, it has few tools to articulate excruciating grief at a loss, to confess sin and accept divine judgment, or to express frustration with God in times of trouble."  Here in Central Pennsylvania, a season of judgment has come upon us with the revelation that the revered football program - a local idol - harbored a child-destroying monster, a Molech, at its heart. I hope that we in the faith community can learn from Lamentations how to walk through this season.  I'm especially shaken by the Freeh report's timeline that Penn State's awareness of the abuse began in 1998.  That is the very year that I moved to Penn State - this has been going on my whole life here.  It feels something like original sin.

But I didn't begin reading Lamentations to think about the Sandusky scandal. It seems to me that grief work is going to be a necessary and important part of any faith-based approach to sustainable, post-growth living.  Yes, one can articulate a positive and and attractive vision of the steady-state economy.  But to get there requires us to abandon the humanistic dreams that have powered the Western world for the past 150 years, and we probably won't do that until circumstances compel us, until judgment (at least a preliminary and proleptic judgment) falls.  Advocating for creation care now is right and good, but we're fooling ourselves if we think that a "green" makeover can leave the growth model fundamentally unchanged.  Are we ready to comfort the afflicted and the grieving, those whose dream has failed?  That is also a spiritual journey.

The only book that I'm aware of that starts off with this kind of question is Sacred Demise by Carolyn Baker.  And this is not a book with much sympathy for Christianity - Dr. Baker fully accepts the indictment that makes the "Judeo-Christian worldview" responsible for the dominating, destructive, objectifying (etc) aspects of industrial civilization, and takes it for granted that the spiritual resources necessary for post-industrial grieving will be found elsewhere.  Where should one begin thinking about these questions from a Christian perspective?

1 comment:

John Roe said...

On the last couple of paragraphs, see Brueggeman's 19 theses.