Lamentation, by Rob Gieselmann
originally published May 29, 2019 at: https://www.episcopalcafe.com/lamentation/
Several weeks ago, I wrote about my cousin, Frazer, and his wife, Dana. They have suffered Job-like trauma regarding two of their three daughters, Milla and Elle. Both girls died at 6-7 years-old after struggling against the neurodegenerative Batten disease. Their third daughter, Ann Carlysle, is amazing and thankfully healthy.
I ate breakfast with Frazer a month ago, three weeks before Elle died. Knowing what he’d been through – five-plus years of emotional all-nighters – I thought Frazer looked particularly good, certainly better than I’d expected. Just two weeks hence, he would run the Big Sur marathon. Frazer and Dana have benefited from amazing professional help, and both of them understand the need for self-care as critical to their ability to help their daughters. Not just physical self-care, but emotional and spiritual, as well.
During that breakfast, Frazer asked whether I’d thought much about the concept of “lamentation,” as written about in the Hebrew Scriptures: The Book of Lamentations and The Book of Job. Tragic and inexplicable loss, and Job’s friends sat with this man who needed to rail. Against God.
A week or so after Elle died in early May, Frazer realized he needed to lament. He texted his closest group of friends – seven or eight guys who stood beside Frazer in prayer and pain, in suffering and hope. He needed them one last time.
Dana appreciated what Frazer intended to do – she’d heard him talk about lamentation – so she told Frazer what outdoor furniture and other stuff she wanted left alone. Then, while the guys were making their way to Frazer and Dana’s house that early evening, Frazer started attacking his backyard. He lit into the old grill, turning it over and slamming it with other objects (like a baseball bat, let’s say). The guys arrived and saw Frazer hard at work, beating his grief onto inanimate objects. They joined him. Breaking apart old wood furniture. And setting it all on fire. In the backyard. Angry at life, angry at God, and sickened by tragedy.
These friends sat with Frazer, these beautiful, faithful friends. Just like Job’s friends. Sat with Job.
Nobody seems to like Job’s friends. They accuse God and blame Job. Worse, they take their sweet time doing so, slamming God and Job across forty-two painful chapters. Long hours of blame. Long hours of anger. Long hours of sitting next to a man who had lost everything – wealth, children, everything. Everything he held dear.
Most of us scratch our heads at the thought of Job. What are we to make of this back and forth struggle among friends and about God without a clear moral or rule emerging from the text? Yet, why shouldn’t they be angry at God? God had issued Satan a permit to steal from Job. Why did God let Satan engage in the first place? So blame God, and blame those friends who question your integrity. Blame Job also because he insists upon his innocence, over and against God.
All this blame and railing reminds me of the old Jim Croce song, You Don’t Mess Around with Jim: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind …” Yet, here is Job, tugging and spitting and lamenting.
Don’t they say, the journey is more important than the destination? Lamentation is about the journey and not the destination. There is no point to Job other than the fact that he felt safe enough with God and his friends to express feelings no person should ever find themselves in the position of needing to express.
Sometimes you have to tug on Superman’s cape. Spit into the wind. Why, God? Why, if you are so all-powerful, do you let bad things happen, bad things happen to innocent girls? Can a person ask such questions without shaking a fist?
Maybe this is the lesson to take away from Job: God can handle it, all the railing and angry epithets. And did Job not prove God’s all-encompassing love when he cursed his own birth? He risked what little he had left in order to be honest with God.
Do you trust the comprehensive love of God enough to rail against God? I get the sense that Job was unafraid of God, that Frazer was unafraid of God.
Which is, I suspect, the point of lamentation, trusting the love of God so completely and helplessly that you find yourself free enough to ask the hardest questions. To engage a real and not just religious relationship with God. To know that God gets it. That God gets the depth of despair, the pit of grief, the horror of tragedy. That God, too, is in despair.
Frazer and his group of saints burned the destruction that night, and again two nights later, and again another night. Frazer tells me that the quality of his lamentation – which was obviously physical – evolved. When he talks about it, I feel there was a purity to it, and I’m pretty sure that God and not Frazer struck the matches igniting the fires.