The Art of Lament


Käthe Kollwitz, Die Klage (Lament)

There are times in life when you need to allow yourself to be sad….when it is very appropriate….when your soul cries out to mourn. In the wake of such a massacre of innocence as happened recently in Sandy Hook, Connecticut is one such moment.

Let me suggest that instead of fighting this natural urge welling up from within, you not only allow it to happen but you encourage it. And not just encourage it, but decide to do it well. This will take some time and some thought. But your soul will thank you.

Here are two practical suggestions:

  • Let your own personal artistic giftedness lead the way. How does your unique soul prefer to express itself? Does it write words or draw pictures? Does it sing songs or dance to rhythms? Does it take pictures or video? Does it prefer poetry or prose? Oils or collage? Piano or guitar? You don’t have to be a professional. This may be your first foray into the arts. No one has to ever see it…or hear it. But set aside some time for your soul to express its sadness through art. There is a depth of your soul that runs much, much deeper than mere words, than conversational platitudes….and this is where art and metaphor are your soul’s best friend.  So start working on a project that addresses the sadness of your human spirit…and let it be just for you…don’t get side tracked by thinking of marketing or editors or submissions….this is art between you and God.
  • Another idea is to set aside some time for what could be called a “controlled lament”. I do this occasionally and find it quite spiritually therapeutic. It is not a time to “fix” the situation, nor even a prayer for God to “fix” it. For me, it is a time where I share just glimpse of the extreme anguish of God’s own heart. First of all, I select some appropriate mournful music. My usual choices are the Henryk Górecki Symphony No. 3 “Sorrowful Songs” and the Samuel Barber – Adagio for Strings, op.11.   You may also want to select an object or image that you can hold in your hand to help you focus on the tragedy – perhaps, in this case, a child’s toy, clothing or jewelry. A pencil and paper will allow you to journal your thoughts. Now, with the music playing and the object or image in hand….allow yourself to be sad. You may cry. I find it helpful to divide the tragedy up into rooms that I can slowly enter and empathize with the people that are there. First, I think about the victims themselves….their lives that are cut short…the fear and pain they may have endured. Secondly, I let my mind think on the overwhelming sorrow of their parents and families….as if to share in it…to help carry it, if only for a few moments. Next, I reflect on the community that will never be the same…the name, when mentioned will forever carry a tragic connotation. I then move to the room of the perpetrator….his family and friends….their confusion. Next, I offer up a prayer of thanksgiving and encouragement for the professionals who have suffered their own hidden scars from holding at bay their emotions while dealing with mutilated bodies or blood stained walls. Now leave time for silence. There is communication that happens on the soul level that is far deeper than rational thoughts. Finish your lament with a prayer for yourself…that you can continue to have faith in God and even in humanity despite this shocking evidence to the contrary…that you could continue to be a force for good in the world, to inject grace, to show acceptance, to practice random acts of kindness…even if in very small ways. Now offer a prayer of thanksgiving for those who are dear to you. You may want to read a prayer or scripture aloud to conclude this special time.

Unfortunately there will be other opportunities to practice this art. It is not only incited by an event…there is plenty of evil and injustice in our world every day to overwhelm the human soul. But know that when needed, creative lamentation can bring its unique comfort to a sorrowful soul.

May Grace and Peace guide you through the rest of this day…..