Pádraig Ó Tuama’s song of lament is haunting. I can not shake it’s effect.

In a world where success is lauded and the pursuit of happiness and validation is everything, where is there room for lament?  And where is the room for us to acknowledge and voice our imperfections and failures? Not from the standpoint of “I am a woeful worm”, but neither from some resigned yet haughty version of Popeye’s “I yam what I yam what I yam”. And if there is such a room, does it need to be solitary confinement?

One of my richest experiences is in gathering with true brothers in a spirit of lament. How good it is to have brothers who know, in the company of loss, how void unsolicited advice is, and how banal and addictive is the drive to keep things “up” and bright-sided.

Perhaps one reason for the lack of this kind of brotherhood is that when we are face to face with another’s sadness or pain it can resonate within us, calling us to identify with our own suppressed suffering, or at the very least our helplessness to fix everything. And if we cannot face that thing in us then what do we do?

Dispense advice? Advice helps us not have to stay too long in the shared pain.  It handballs the now trivialised pain (with an extra dose of loneliness) back to our friend. It is quite cathartic for us. Yet it circumvents a deep godliness that can only be discovered in the place of suffering and of coming to the end of ourselves. It is also deeply damaging to the one we are giving advice to. It thwarts an opportunity for true brotherhood.

Respond with humour? The humour might be a kind of honourable attempt to normalise the pain or situation but it also has the effect of trivialising it and driving my brother deeper into loneliness and from what is perhaps a (potentially) healthy melancholy into an unhealthy despair.

My friend Michael Martin introduced me to the writings of an Irish thinker named Peter Rollins, who says in a post: “…what if the church could be a place where we found a liturgical structure that would not treat God as a product that would make us whole but as the mystery that enables us to live abundantly in the midst of life’s difficulties. A place where we are invited to confront the reality of our humanity, not so that we will despair, but so that we will be free of the despair that already lurks within us, the despair that enslaves us, the despair that we refuse to acknowledge.”

Good question, eh. What if?

Faith can be misconstrued as a position from which any acknowledgement of negative thought is failure.  Its called faith, but its fear. Rollins here hints to the fact that our faith in God’s redemptive power gives us the freedom to lament, to feel the pain, loneliness and discouragement. Any shortcut to redemption that skips lament presents a risk to our soul – that it does not trust the redemption. A superficial redemption is probably just a mind game; a wobbly launching pad.

I am deeply grateful for friends who have given me the freedom to live in my sadness this year. They have sat beside me and let me be there without giving up hope for or belief in me. Rather than withdrawing, as is my want when discouraged or fearful, I have let people in. In so doing I have come to know much more than ever that my darkness is not insurmountable, and that I am loved, believed in and far from alone.

I am learning to have the faith to lament. I am learning to let people into my uncertain places. I am learning that my darkness is not as intense as I have feared it might be. In the room of melancholy and companionship to which I have entered, hope is being birthed.

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4 Responses to Brotherhood

  1. Michael says:

    This is superbly expressed, mate, and hit me right where I needed to be hit this morning. There is a deep stirring in me, growing everyday in intensity, to break free of all that that passes for ‘faith’ or ‘Christianity’ that is safe but false and enter fully into a life of true faith along the lines you have described here. Great to be on this journey with you.

  2. Whits says:

    Great thoughts! Makes me ask the question to myself if “in my weakness, his strength is made perfect”, why for so long did I walk around pretending I was already strong? Any wonder I did not grow and mature into the true freedom that Christ died for me live in? Better life now!

  3. Matt says:

    Beautifully said, Mate. I have grown to love melancholy; for me it is the field where creativity foments, but to find that freedom – to lament, as you said – I have to be naked, throw off the suit of denial that has masqueraded as faith for too long. God is not intimidated by me being real, only I am. I was thrilled last week to sense a deep connection forming with a group of brothers who are likewise prepared to “get naked”. You are a good man. May you find many on your travels who are prepared to sit and allow their spirits to harmonise with yours, without advice or judgement. May the refreshment of the Lord be yours in this. Going to miss you Mate.

  4. Great thoughts Clive. We find something of ourselves and God in pain that is hard to describe and can’t be found anywhere else. I honour you for your bravery to face the dark and not wish it away. I hope you find salvation there, but one that is based deep in God’s love and wisdom. Looking forward to sharing it with you when you come to the US.

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