Wednesday Scripture - Isaiah 6:5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips;
Walter Brueggemann suggests that in the First Testament, one of the tasks of the prophet is leading Lament. Lament is not something that I or even we as a culture are comfortable with. I could not count the number of times when journeying with a family through the loss of a loved one at a funeral service, that those left to mourn express their desire not to 'lose it.' Why are we so afraid of lament? I've noticed it on a grander scale. I remember that early on in my ministry an African American police officer was shot and killed in Providence by his colleagues who mistook him for a perpetrator or a threat. The immediate response by the mayor was for 'us' not to blame, but to move on. Why move so quickly on? Shouldn't we take the time to lament? But I confess that I too resist lament. It is painful. It hurts to sit with my own shortcomings and failures. It is painful to sit with the hurts caused by those I love and respect. It is painful to accept criticism or to acknowledge the unintended consequences of my actions.
Yesterday we pondered the prophetic role of revealing. The unknown or unacknowledged or frankly ignored sins and injustice are unveiled. Times of tragedy offer us opportunity to take an honest look. But it is painful, so we move on. Perhaps that is why we are so uncomfortable with Lament. It is honest. But the truth sometimes hurts. Perhaps this is why prophets lead Israel in lament. Because it is the painfully necessary process of seeing ourselves. This seems to be what is happening with Isaiah in our verse for today. He and his people are unclean. And the presence of God shines a bright light on what existed in shadows. I am immediately uncomfortable again I admit. I am uncomfortable with any story in which the presence of God brings up feelings of shame and unworthiness. I am much more comfortable with Jesus, whose presence inspired hope and courage. Having said that, what kind of hope and courage is inspired if that only given to those who deserve it. What makes the good news good is that God loves us while we are yet sinners. We are not loved and chosen only when we deserve it, but also when we don't. Lament then seems to be the process of being graced by God.
Lament is also important because it is a pause. As I hinted at above, we seem to either sink into despair or rush into action when discouraged, defeated or criticized. Lament is a pause. A pause to feel, to know, to experience and to grow in wisdom. A wise therapist once encouraged me to stop ignoring or ameliorating my negative emotions and instead begin to look at them as wisdom. I am trying to tell and teach myself something (or more theologically, God is trying to tell or teach me something.) Lament is that learning. It is important for us to remember here, God's response to Isaiah's lament of his uncleanness. God purifies him, cleanses him. When we pause for lament, this story promises, we can grow, stronger, better, more faithful.
So we allow today's story to shape us by giving us a safe space to admit our sins and imperfections. The overwhelming confrontation with our unwanted faults is a gift from the God who loves us and wants to make us whole. This is part of the process. So allow yourself in prayer to admit your faults. As you confess them, hear God call you beloved. Lament also gives us the gift of deep knowledge. It rescues us from despair and dismissal. Allow yourself to listen to the wisdom that comes from acknowledging the deep hurt in the world around us. Don't dismiss it, don't rush past it. Listen to it.