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Lamentations as the Answer?

I am thinking of Nat King Cole’s song: “Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer!” If it were ever true when that song first came out, it is surely true in a vastly different way in summer 2020! Many of us are staying close to home – “staycations” because of the pandemic; many more of us are staying indoors because of the extreme heat we have been having these last several weeks. I hope that you have gotten some needed rest, and I hope that you are using these opportunities to keep up the prayer, study, and action we all committed ourselves to for healthy spiritual growth.

I would like to share with you some of my study. The sources I have been using are the people I have spoken to, the webinars I’ve taken part in, the articles I’ve read and taking my own internal spiritual temperature. In all of those places the topics of anger, frustration, discouragement, weariness, impatience, sadness and grief have surfaced, for several reasons: the ongoing pandemic with no end in sight, the racial injustice that continues to plague our culture, the political polarization that we witness, the debate between the physical and economic health of our nation, etc. We who are deeply involved in faith communities must wonder how this pandemic will affect the future of Mass attendance and so much more that was a “normal” part of parish life.

How do we respond to all this? With prayer, certainly, but with study as well. One of the webinars I signed up for was one on anger by Kathleen Caventy who focused primarily on American Catholic anger. She points out that anger has been growing in the Church alongside political anger: liberals and conservatives facing off, and the disillusionment Catholics feel when even religious leaders take clear political sides instead of preaching the Gospel (which is aligned to neither party).

She names four types of anger: Interpersonal anger is beneficial when it leads to compromise, creativity and a release of constructive energy. Social anger engages moral outrage over an injustice that needs to be corrected and provides the energy and numbers to make that happen. However, a third kind of anger is revenge anger that is directed toward individuals or groups that we want to demonize; it is an urge in us to destroy the other, either physically, emotionally, or reputationally. (How do we catch ourselves before our anger becomes destructive?) A fourth type of anger is prophetic anger. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Jesus and others cajoled their people about not living up to the Covenant. Their purpose was to awaken their community to its sinfulness so that they might repent. But prophets stood with their people, not over them. They shared the people’s sadness and consequences of poor choices.

In recent weeks we have clear evidence that even righteous anger can divide a community, because it necessarily involves judgment and punishment. So, what are we to do? Kathleen suggests that we turn to a biblical form of prayer that may be new to many of us: lamentation. For example: we agree that sexual abuse is wrong, but we do not agree on what to do about it. We want things to be whole; we want the murderer punished (but not his mother). Because of the quarantine, we Catholics mourn the loss of a religious symbolic world that has sustained us but do not know (really) how to be in communion, in community during this time. We have our opinions, but they differ, and can sometimes even divide us further.

The author suggests that the way to find common ground is through lamentation: to mourn the losses we have experienced. We may have different opinions about what to do, but we share the losses. That is what lamentation focuses on: not the wrongdoing, but the loss(es). Lamentation is a spontaneous response to our communal brokenness. It helps us look at the loss(es) together. Its immediate focus is not on fixing the situation but seeing the victim and listening – to all sides- again and again. Lamentation allows for our restlessness, reminds us that we cannot rush away from what we see – that would be defeatist.

Lamentation is finally also hope. Its focus is on the recovery of the victim. It urges us not to rush to quick resolutions (which may be controversial and divisive), but to stand together as one and notice and feel the pain of the situation. Yes, we are brought low, we cannot see our way through so many things, but in the acknowledgement of our own brokenness and limitations, we look beyond ourselves. As Lamentations 3:21-23 says so beautifully: “But I will call this to mind as my reason to have hope: the favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent. They are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness. My portion is the Lord, says my soul; therefore, I will hope in him.”

Indeed, these are hazy, crazy days. But the favors of the Lord are not exhausted. If we can stand together in the pain, we will be led eventually on the path to healing which God offers – when we are all ready to receive it.

De Colores, Hopeful Ones!

Sr. Edna Michel


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