Lamenting Through Lent With Rachel Wilhelm and Bifrost Arts

It's all too much. Really all too much...

Honestly, who knew life was going to be this hard?

Our days can either be viewed as: 
long successions of joy and fruitfulness dotted with periodic times of suffering and trial
periodic times of joy and fruitfulness spent fretting over the more frequent times of suffering and trial.

I have lived a very good and full life up to this point, but oh if it doesn't seem like it is often the latter of these two options. So much time is spent planning and hoping for things to happen and much of the rest of the time is spent realizing exactly how difficult it is to make anything happen. It would seems our days are full of hindrances set to divert us from our plans...

Here's a very small case in point: 

I am a church music leader and for several months I have wanted to immerse myself in two particular albums in preparation for the season of Lent:
Rachel Wilhelm's Songs of Lament (free download on Noisetrade) (streaming or purchase on Bancamp
Bifrost Arts Lamentations (streaming or purchase on Bandcamp

My goals were twofold and simple:
1.) find songs for my congregation to sing
2.) get to know the songs well enough so they become my own prayers to God.

But oh if life hasn't become difficult in the ensuing months. Over the past few weeks I have sat down a number of times to listen to these two beautiful albums and although I have liked a number of their songs, I have nonetheless felt mostly....well, numb...

I am such in need of lamenting myself, that I can hardly enter in to these songs of lament...

I am too frazzled. I have too many plates spinning and too many people depending on me to keep them spinning. There is no time or heart-space for lamenting. There is only doing what the moment requires. And my prayers are all in the moment too.

Even so, I've begun singing these songs to myself quite regularly as I go about my days: "Oh how long? Lord how long? Hear us Lord, how long?"

And: "Rise up! Rise up! The earth will fear the Lord when You avenge the poor. May your kingdom come...O rise up!


These songs have begun to weave their way into me, despite my numbness. 

It is almost as if Rachel Wilhelm and Isaac Wardell of Bifrost Arts are singing for me, singing on my behalf. Since I am too weak to sing the lamenting songs of my heart, they are holding up my arms and helping me through the battle. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes I came upon while researching my masters thesis on the connection between music and theology:

In the book Liturgy and the Moral Self (pg. 99) Stanley Hauerwas says this: 
"It is, of course, crucial to remember that we do not worship alone, which means that sometimes I must rely on my fellow worshippers to feel rightly for me"

Right now, I need the Church to sing a song of lament for me, even as I sit and mourn in silent exhaustion.

Life is difficult for me right now. My wife and I are facing a challenge unlike anything we have been through before. Even though I have had cancer, she has battled severe depression, one of our sons was diagnosed with a form of autism, and she has been disabled for a year and a half with Lyme disease, we are now, while in the midst of a surprise pregnancy, coming to terms with the reality that our daughter will need surgery right after she is born. She has a tumor known as a teratoma that is growing on her tailbone. Our newborn child will need to be cut open and operated on just as she enters the world, and we, her parents, don't know what the outcome will be...We are terrified. Personally, the fear leaves me paralyzed. 

Even the very idea of lamenting makes me uncomfortable. There were no specific teachings on the subject in my church growing up, but somehow it permeated my inner conscience that we are not to question God, accuse God, or doubt God. And we shouldn't complain to God either. 

And yet the Scriptures bear witness to another practice, that of lamenting. To be certain, in the Bible there are continual calls to praise the Lord, to find our joy and our peace in God, and to not be afraid. There are also continual admonitions that God is in control, knows what we are going through, and will work to bring about our eventual redemption. And yet calls of lament permeate the Scriptures as well:
Cries for mercy from God
Cries for rebirth, a restart, redemption
Cries for God to meet us in our suffering and struggling
Cries for God to deliver us.
Questioning God "How long?" and "Have you forgotten us?" and "Do you not hear us?"
Questioning God "Why do you do nothing when wicked men destroy the righteous?"
Declarations to wait on God
Declarations that we are in a wilderness

One of the boldest actions of a lament is to ask God a confrontational question, either "Why is this happening God?" or "Why aren't you doing anything God?" and then leave the question all but unanswered. The "answer" is in God's hands. It is for God to deliver and redeem. I am not sure if I have ever been this bold before God. But I know the Scriptures and the songs of lament I have been listening to are giving me a vocabulary to do so, if I ever choose to.

Throughout Scripture we see God certainly answered the calls of the lamenters. Sometimes it took many years and several generations, but God answered them. We see God answering Job and his accusers, we see God answering in the return of the exiles and their rebuilding of the temple and the wall, and we see God answering ultimately through sending his son Jesus, to be our once and for all Deliver. 

And yet, some of us find ourselves still very much in a state of mournful lamenting. The shattered pieces of our lives remain scattered on the ground. We are in need of God's restoration... 

Our laments are an unresolved chord that we are waiting for God to bring his resolution to:

My prayer is that I may be able to sing with gladness the "Amen" in the above song ("Habakkuk's Call"). 
At the moment though, I am in the role of the accuser: O Lord, how long shall I cry for help 
And You will not hear? 
Or cry to You, “violence!” 
And You will not save? 

At this stage in my life I am the one left asking 
"How Long...'Til You wipe away the tears from ev'ry eye 
'Til we see our home descending from the sky 
Do we wait in vain? 
Jesus, give us hope again!" 

I cannot believe what my family is personally enduring, nor the trials our world is going through will all be endured in vain. There is hope, even though we cannot see it from our current vantage point:

2 Corinthians 4:7–18
[7] But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. [8] We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; [9] persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; [10] always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. [11] For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. [12] So death is at work in us, but life in you...

[16] So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. [17] For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, [18] as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (ESV)

For now though, I am going to sit here and mourn a while. I am going to sing these songs that ask God the questions and I am going to await his response. And if I don't have the strength to do that, I am going to let others sing the songs for me.

Once again, you can find Rachel Wilhelm's and Bifrost Arts music here:
Rachel Wilhelm's Songs of Lament (free download on Noisetrade) (streaming or purchase on Bancamp
Bifrost Arts Lamentations (streaming or purchase on Bandcamp
__________________________Here is a related episode from the podcast on the art of lament with pastor Dan Leman __________________________
For more on lamenting and art that questions/confronts God, please check out these articles and podcast episodes:
Ep 60: A Discussion on Nathan Peterson's Song "Is It a Sin?"
What Do You Do With Art You Disagree With or the Offends You?
Why It's OK When Satire Makes You Mad

1 comment:

Leigh Newton said...

Oh, Chris, I am so sorry. I understand your numbness. Your load is so huge. I will spend some time listening to these albums and will respond further. There is little hope in looking for reasons of course, but perhaps there is hope in letting go and letting be.
My songwriting life has been based around the reality of struggle and grief and I am so convinced of the need for this move away from praise, might, glory and power that I want to publish a collection of songs that linger on pain, uncertainty, tears, sorrow and grief - and finding God in the journey.
I am some presumably some years away from publishing but would love a conversation.