My Psalms 137
Living past Lament
It is one of the oldest emotions recorded in the history of mankind. The lament, a cry of grief, is found in the earliest of recovered texts, illustrated on walls of unearthed caves and tombs, and the format of the world’s earliest literature.
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of the lament is the person who stops living, preferring to sit day by day amid their misery, forgetting the gift of life given to them. A popular book written by John Green and now a recently released movie, “The Fault in Our Stars” explores a reality about grief that is often overlooked. “Grief does not change you… It reveals you.” The plot line deals with two characters that have each been given a diagnosis that is terminal. Unlike many of us, they know they must face death sooner rather than later and they cannot avoid doing so. By facing their death, they also face grief and the fear of being alone. “The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with. It felt like losing your co-rememberer meant losing the memory itself, as if the things we’d done were less real and important than they had been hours before.”
Perhaps that is the crux of the problem we have with grieving. We see it as a closed door. It isn’t. To grieve or lament over the loss of something or someone means that you once had something that mattered. Leo Tolstoy echoes this: “Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.”
The lament does not have to destroy our lives, though. Anne Lamott explains: “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
In his book “Odd Hours”, Dean Koontz discusses the importance of moving past our grief, of living beyond our laments. “Grief can destroy you –or focus you. You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone. Or you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn’t allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it. But when it’s over and you’re alone, you begin to see that it wasn’t just a movie and a dinner together, not just watching sunsets together, not just scrubbing a floor or washing dishes together or worrying over a high electric bill. It was everything; it was the why of life, every event and precious moment of it. The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can’t get off your knees for a long time, you’re driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by gratitude for what preceded the loss. And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness, because to nurture the emptiness, to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life.”
M. Cathleen Casey is credited for saying “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Most of the Old Testament is based upon a lament and Psalm 137 certainly is. A popular verse tells the struggle to keep going: “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” The difficulty is there but it must be overcome.
In an article written for “Psychology Today” in 2012 entitled “A Beautiful Grief”, Cheryl Eckl offers some suggestions on how to do this. “The grief process is like nature’s secret weapon because, in our helplessness, we become malleable. It’s the “giving up” part that is most important. Just as a dying person gives up the body, we who survive must relinquish our “trying” and the struggle to find meaning in what may be utterly senseless at the time it occurs. If we allow it, the grief process takes us deep into “soul” territory—truly the Great Unknown for most of us. In addition to its eruptive and emotionally primal nature, I think this is what makes grief so frightening. It can force us to face those elements of self that are most troubling because they involve the existential questions of identity, purpose, and the very meaning of life. The point of the grief journey is to discover that at the heart of all loss is a unity more powerful than any separation we may have suffered from the absence of beloved person, place, or thing.”
Everyone who has ever lived wants to be remembered… but not for their passing. They want to be remembered for having lived. We do no one any justice by wallowing and drowning in our pain. We must use our suffering as steps toward our good memories, steps that enable us to continue the quest of the one who has transitioned. Dostoyevsky summed it up like this: “The darker the night, the brighter the stars. The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
My Psalm 137
Dear Maker of all and Creator of goodness,
There are times when I live in the shadow of pain.
There are those that would exile me from my joy.
You have been there, walking besides me.
You have witnessed their acts.
You have heard my cries.
My heart is a muscle that has stretched in all directions.
Yet, it is not a bone to break and so it does not.
The pain will pass and your love will support me.
The acts of the unrighteousness are many.
The passage of time has not weakened the evil that mankind can perpetrate.
Some look at my life and see problems.
I look at my life and see strengths.
Your love has strengthened me and my faith has grown.
I may bend, O Lord, but I will not break.