Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Isaiah 64: 1-3
There were more shootings this week…more lives lost to the violence of white supremacy…more people killed over politics. There were more political promises, debates and sound bites made at the expense of communities that are wounded. More assertions that this is not who we are. More promises of thoughts and prayers that never seem to amount to much more than salt continually poured into the deep, open wounds of those who don’t have the privilege of feeling safe in their own communities…their own bodies. This is particularly true for people of color in America.
I was a child when Columbine happened. While older folks may remember an America that can say “this is not who we are,” mass shootings have been a defining part of my life. It’s become part of how I mark time, events in my life are noted by their proximity to major shootings. It’s part of my daily awareness. In the grocery store, the movie theater, even in worship I am constantly using part of my brain to be aware of the exits and hiding places. I know who is vulnerable around me and how I might help them if needed. For me, this is who we are. With each new shooting, all I have left in me to pray is “oh that You would rend the heavens and come down!”
So, when “thoughts and prayers” fall short, what are God’s people to do? Perhaps we turn to lament. Lament is foreign to the American desire to be positive, but it is a deeply faithful practice. It’s modeled in the Psalms, by the prophets and in the book of Lamentation. It’s been taboo at times since it’s risky to be angry at God. Yet I’ve come to realize that lament is an act of faithful witness that our relationship with God can handle the full measure of our pain, grief, and accusation. God is big enough and near enough to hold it all.
Lament also leads us somewhere that mere sadness does not. After the exile, scripture dedicates and entire book to lament. It comes before wrestling with a theological understanding of what’s happening (naming the situation) and before the action of return and rebuilding. Lament comes first. When we faithfully hold space for lament, we are led into wisdom and renewed covenant. Acknowledging the full truth of our situation, opens us to hear and follow the Spirit in new ways.
Lament seems to lead to renewed covenant. Covenant is transformative. In our traditions, covenants have two components. We make promises and ask God to help us to fulfill them. We also make renunciations. When we examine gun violence, political violence and white supremacy, as the people of God, what would a covenant sound like? What would we promise? What would we renounce? As the whitest denomination in the nation, how is God calling us to covenant with our black, brown, indigenous, and Asian brothers and sisters? What covenants is God calling older generations to make on behalf of/with younger generations? What actions must we take to usher in God’s peaceable kingdom?
In lieu of a prayer, I invite you to post comments of the commitments and renunciations that you feel called to make. Let us enter into the good work of lament and covenant (aka discipleship) together.
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.
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Being a voice for people without a voice, talking about gun violence in sermons and Bible Studies, hearing the stories of people impacted by gun violence.
What powerful words of lament you’ve given, Sarah. Thank you. At every opportunity I’ll support those organizations whose causes are fighting gun violence and white supremacy; & I’ll also educate myself & speak out against these cancerous realities.