A book about lament is what we need for the pandemic year and beyond. While many books have been written on disappointments with God and the philosophical problem of evil, Abby Norman’s reflections on why lament remains an ignored “act of worship” and how to lament communally offer profound insights for Christians who desire an authentic relationship with oneself, God, and others.
With great honesty, the author explores what lies behind the common beliefs and practices that hinder church-going Christians from practicing lament, a significant part of the biblical text. The belief that “good Christians praise God” often tends to dominate the culture of a church where “being angry with God was not a choice.” Thus lament as an act of worship has been lost. With her theological training in the Old Testament, Norman claims that “in the time of the prophets, lament was how God got the attention of God’s people.” It has always been a truth-telling, soul-wrenching part of spiritual practice used by people in biblical times.
God granted us the right to lament because we as human beings are created with a wide range of emotions, and processing these emotions have to do with our self-knowledge as well as our knowledge of God’s dealings in our lives. Empirically speaking, hiding one’s emotions does not deepen our spirituality. The laments of Jesus demonstrate that he also refused to hide the anger or frustrations with God. As Norman puts it, “When we show up raw, when we lament, Jesus shows up with us.” God himself invites us to let God into our grief and despair. Not facing the reality of our trauma also might result in physical consequences because our bodies keep the score: “When we don’t release how we feel, it literally becomes a physical part of us.” The practice of lament helps restore our human wholeness. By connecting with our “whole selves,” we are able to connect more with God, our Creator.
The path of returning to individual authenticity through lamenting also helps restore “a community of real and whole people” who are truly present for one another. This might be an in-person community or a virtual one. The author briefly discusses how our hyper-connected virtual world in fact makes communal lamenting an imperative but also more difficult. With the bombardment of global disasters and death numbers in the news, we might feel immensely sad and angry but lack the surroundings of an authentic lamenting community. The result might be more isolation in our own pains. Collective trauma requires the practicing of communal lament.
As a church, we also need to lament together over the realization of our wrong beliefs, understandings and practices about our neighbors and the world. This is particularly pertinent in our polarizing and divisive time. Norman writes about “Lamenting Our Collective Past” as privileged white American evangelicals. She also further discusses many themes of injustice and oppression in our contemporary world, including issues with LGBTQ rights and racism. Lament helps us confront the blind spots of our privilege. In the year 2021, public lament over incidents of racist hate crimes also marks the gesture of “speaking truth to power.” It is an inevitable step to “process our collective trauma.”
Throughout the book, the author does a great job in sharing her own experiences of chronic illness, using lament to counsel in prison youth ministry, a missed opportunity as an inner city school teacher, and raising two daughters to be compassionate and self-reflective responders to injustice and tragedies. Her personal journey serves a witness to the power of lament. (Broadleaf)