In preparation for Sunday worship after the Charleston shootings, there was a panic, a rush, of worship leaders to find songs that would address the pain and injustice of what happened. I saw lots of conversations and requests on Facebook and Twitter for songs of lament.
I’m guessing that since there was such a rush to find appropriate songs of lament or grief, these songs were not necessarily regulars in the church repertoire. Why is that? Hmm. I started to think of other kinds of songs that people don’t sing regularly…
Have you noticed that the reason why we sing the same ol’ songs every Christmas is because we only sing them one to two months out of the year? After all, Christmas is one day, or one liturgical season. And you’ve probably been singing the same ones every year since you were a kid. They’re gone before you get (too) sick of them.
What about Easter songs? Songs during funerals?
Shoot, you would think there’d be a better birthday song by now!
The reason why it’s hard to introduce new songs during these seasons is because there’s such a small window of time for a new song to be introduced, learned, and remembered for the next time. It’s pretty much impossible to write and produce a new song that people will want to sing just once a year unless you write a really catchy hit. That’s why recording artists release Christmas albums with the same standard songs year after year and they manage to keep selling. Mega props to Mariah Carey for learning the trick to making her Christmas songs stick, by the way. When you’re attending a funeral, you don’t want to worry about fumbling through a new song, you just want to sing something familiar that will bring comfort. Imagine if you wrote a new birthday song and had to teach it to everyone before singing it to the birthday guest.
Worship leaders understand what this is about. There’s a very small window to sing x number of songs for Christmas/Easter, and if you want people to actually sing along, the songs had better be familiar.
But lament is not an “event.”
If we take a look around the Kingdom of God in many parts of the world and even in our own backyards, we see injustice pretty much everywhere, all the time. We see sin and death. We see people suffering, marginalized, and sick on a constant basis. We ourselves are suffering in our brokenness. There’s plenty to lament, every day, every year, year after year. It’s not just one day, and it’s not just one week*.
But I feel like churches send the exact opposite message. We don’t incorporate songs of lament on a regular basis because we’d rather focus on the other aspects of our faith, like joy and hope. We are quick to move to comfort and assurance. We want to feel like we can conquer anything in Christ and feel invincible to tackle on the sinful world. We want to celebrate the goodness of God’s grace. We want to focus on the resurrection, the hope. What’s wrong with wanting to be happy and spreading a hopeful message?
The message is clear: there’s no room for Ugly Cries in The Church.
That seems pretty disrespectful, even insulting, to me. I’d want space to look all around me and cry out to God, asking, “Why?!” I’d want to do a series of ugly cries, and not feel like it’s wrong or that I’m being ungrateful for the things I DO have. And if I had a friend who was going through that, I’d want to make space for them to do all the ugly cries they wanted. The suffering, marginalized, and sick were those dearest to Jesus’ heart, the center. Making room for the cries of God’s people would be equal to making room for Jesus’ heart center.
The Bible has all sorts of lament in it, moments where the writer opens up and pours his/her heart out to God in lament. Most of the Psalms are songs of lament. Habakkuk is all about crying out to God in desperation, the prophet asking God if He’s gone straight up crazy to allow so much suffering. Rachel refused to be consoled. Refused. And of course, Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, in Gethsemane, and on the cross.
Lament is a spiritual practice. It’s a discipline of understanding and internalizing the fact that we do not know the ways of the Lord. We lament and say “How long, O Lord?” We lament as we look at the suffering in the world, and our own suffering. It’s a practice in being completely vulnerable before God and our neighbors. And God says, “Bring on the ugly cries, dear one.” God holds all of it together, the suffering, the pain, the hope, the celebration, and the anticipation of his return when everything will be as it should be.
As worship leaders, we have the privilege of making space for this spiritual practice of lament. It calls us to be creative, it calls for many teaching moments, and it gives us a beautiful opportunity to spread the vision of a complete and abundant faith.
I wonder what our lives would be like if we considered practicing lament to complete our faith instead of making it a side stage event. When we regularly include songs of lament into our worship, our worship has the incredible opportunity to become richer and more complete.
Thanks for reading. 🙂
In my next post, I’m going to explore why people may not necessarily like the idea of doing Ugly Cries in church.
*Lent, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are seasonal opportunities for corporate lament, but since a lot of churches don’t observe these times I’m not counting them here.