What do you do when you are sad?
What kind of music might you choose to listen to?
The chances are that you would choose to listen to ‘sad’ music, rather than something upbeat. Because the strange thing is that ‘sad’ music brings us greater consolation than ‘happy’ music.
Something like Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor or Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D minor? Or Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles? Or Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black?
We listen to this music and it helps us to remember that we are not alone in our suffering. That countless other human beings have felt sorrow similar to the sorrow that we are experiencing ourselves. And this brings comfort.
In a similar way the ancient tradition of the lament is a way of connecting to the shared and inevitable pain of our human condition. We find the Book of Lamentations in the Bible – which is thought to be written by the prophet Jeremiah after the destruction of Jerusalem in the 6th century BC. We find a huge collection of Psalms of Lament (which would have been sung regularly in worship by the ancient Israelites.) And a beautiful Lament by David when King Saul, with whom he has a love/hate relationship, is killed. The one that contains the immortal lines ‘Ye daughters of Jerusalem, weep for Saul’ and ‘O, how the mighty are fallen.’
In ancient times, it was customary to lament in times of sadness. To express feelings of sadness – including anger, confusion and despair. To let it all out. To cry out to God, to demand of God some explanation for suffering, even to pray for retribution.
Laments are so open, honest and raw that they often seem brutal. Even including prayers for horrors to befall enemies and their children.
But these prayers are not answered. God does not use violence to restore justice.
The only thing that changes in the process of the lament is the lamenter himself or herself. By getting it all out, by railing against God, the lamenter ultimately finds a strange peace. A peace that comes from spending an intense time with God and knowing that God is with us at these most wretched of times.
Which is why almost all laments end in a sense of hope.
So, take some time to lament – whether you are experiencing a difficult time in your life at the moment or not. Listen to some sad music.
In doing this, you will be connecting with and recognising all the pain and suffering that is around us, that is an inevitable part of our human condition.
Give thanks for lament. Because it is only by lamenting that we remember what it is to be in pain. And this keeps our compassion alive.
This enables us to say to our neighbour ‘I will be with you in your grief. You are not alone.’ Or, as St Paul put it in his letter to the Roans, how and why we weep with those who weep.