A Neo-Haiku Poem for Lent

"Pain isn't the worst thing. Being hated isn't the worst thing. Being separated from the one you love isn't the worst thing. Death isn't the worst thing. The worst thing is failing to deal with reality and becoming disconnected from what is actual. The worst thing is trivializing the honorable, desecrating the sacred. What I do with my grief affects the way you handle your grief; together we form a community that deals with death and other loss in the context of God's sovereignty, which is expressed finally in resurrection." ~ Eugene Peterson, Leap Over A Wall

I gave the meditation for our Ash Wednesday service this past week. In it I spoke of our need for a more intentional practice of lament, a practice we could undertake during this season of Lent. As an example of our culture's inability to lament properly, I referred to the recent grubby, carnivalesque obsession with Anna Nicole Smith's death. It's truly been one of the weirder events of my life. It's my generation's Marilyn Monroe happening. More tawdry? I don't know. That may be relative. But Stanley Kubrik would be hardpressed to top its surreality.
Whether in death or in life the woman would not rest peacefully. There was no lament for her passing. There was only de-personalized, web-mediated, self-indulgent fascination with the little girl from Texas who became a big Playboy girl. And that's what she still is: a play thing.
Hopefully somebody out there, away from the gaze of a camera, unnoticed and unpublished to anyone is sobbing for her.

Why then lament? When we lament well, for ourselves or for another, we experience a purifying of our soul. We get cleaned out. We get rinsed through and through with the living waters. It may take time, it may take great effort and perhaps a good deal of discipline and dogged perseverance, especially when you’re tempted to look away when it becomes too hard.
But grieving well is a way to place rightly all our brokenness, all our humanity: under the gaze of the Father's love. Grieving well allows all the muck and clogged angry emotions to be named. Grieving well allows all our distorted thought patterns and embedded, often subconscious and irrational fears to be placed under the light of Christ. Grieving well allows the pains and losses of our life to be lifted up to the Shepherd of our Souls. In his hands we are free. By his wounds we are redeemed. In his death we die so that in his resurrection we can be risen to new life.

As Christians we don’t obsess. We don’t self-indulge. We don’t ignore the pain. We don’t brush it aside as if it didn’t matter, because it does. We don’t drown it in busyness or entertainment. We don’t stuff it down. We don’t buck up. We don't give up. We don't put on a happy face. We invite Jesus to enter into our brokenness. We invite him to weep with us, to be near us, to care for us, to walk with us, to bring us into fellowship with the broken in the body of Christ, our brothers and sisters whom God has given each of us to experience the relentless, indefatigable love of God.
That is why we lament. It is a blessed thing to lament (Matt. 5:4).
After the service our resident amateur philologist Tim Stewart came up to me. With a slightly irreverent smile on his face he handed me a piece of paper. I looked down at it and saw that it was the torn-off front page of our order of service. On the purple page was written the following neo-haiku poem, which is neither neo nor haiku but still very memorable:

If I

(Photo: The other side of Anna Nicole Smith's death: waiting for an announcement.)


Andrew Philip said…
Amen. Have you read Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff? It's a beautiful, powerful example of grieving well and grieving theologically. It was a hugely significant book for us in the aftermath of our son Aidan's death just after his birth in September 2005.

I wonder whether what you experience with Anna Nicole Smith's death is something akin to what we experienced in the UK with Princess Diana's, although there are obviously significant differences between the two.
Yes, I have. I just finished it in fact. So beautiful and frank, and compared to his more "formal works," perhaps even (refreshingly) untidy. Good stuff, that man.

Oh I don't know. I think Princess Di is in a wee bigger category than our homegrown Vickie Lynn Hogan. Maybe the reactions are similar because we're both Western countries that don't have appropriate social mechanisms for mourning death.

Instead of weeping and wailing for seven days or twelve days or thirty, we fanatically obsess. The shock of death gets us and we freak. We build website memorials. We put up posters on our bedroom walls and keep lusting.

Oh well, you know how it is with death and sex: they make us gaga crazy. Hellooooo David Cronenberg.
Anonymous said…
I lament for Anna Nicole, she was a struggling soul. Where is our compassion? Where are our hearts?
i was recently doing a search for music that spoke of 'lament' in preparation for a Good Friday service or even echoed some of the Bible's more infamous 'lamenters' (is that a word??) Something beyond the tears at the foot of the cross and more reflective of just the soul-crushing grief the feeling of fear and abandonment and disillusionment. i did not find much. any suggestion??
Jim Janknegt said…
The most profound expression of lament in music I have ever heard is Henryk Gorecki: Symphony 3 "Sorrowful Songs" .
thank you for the suggestion...i really appreciate it!
pablo said…
Another excellent book by a responsible theologian (PhD from Chicago Divinity School) is A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, by Jerry Sittser. Sittser lost his mother, his wife, and a daughter in a single car accident when they were hit by a drunk driver, and this book is his grappling with this event. I recommend it highly.

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