Lamentation. Biblical faith does not shy away from honestly stating the harsh realities of a violent and unjust world. And neither do Manna House guests.
“I don’t need this place.”
“I’m tired of being told to wash my hands and wear a mask.”
“I don’t feel as welcome here as I used to.”
“I hate having to come here.”
God is in the prayers of lamentation. Lamentation incarnates the human desire for justice, for peace, for well-being. Made in the image of God, I can recognize a desire for well-being deep in my soul that comes from God’s imprint upon us and God in-dwelling with us.
But I do not want to hear the lamentation of our guests directed at me. So, I respond in ways not very consistent with hospitality.
“If you don’t need this place, why are you here?”
“I’m tired of asking you to wash your hands and wear a mask and keep it up over your nose.”
“Social distancing means we cannot open the house to everyone. We have to stay in the backyard.”
“You don’t have to come here.”
I would like to be the hero of this story. But I am not. I need the hospitality of our guests who come to Manna House. I need their word of “thanks” and their gratitude. Almost all give those gifts freely. But I get too focused on the hurtful and angry words of a very few. Some might say, “That’s just human nature.” I would add, “That’s just fallen human nature. That’s my sinful nature.”
Manna House, I have come to realize, is a place where brokenness meets brokenness, compassion meets compassion.
This week in the greyness and drizzle and chill of each morning, I had to remind myself of how we meet here in our fallibility, finiteness, and corruptibility. Or as Paul put it, “None are righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10).
This gives me some patience and empathy with angry guests, and with myself. Winter is coming. The pandemic is getting worse. These are hard times. People are tired, worn down, grieving losses and fearful of even more losses, angry with themselves and with the world. And so am I.
I see so much loss in my life. My mentor and friend and second mother Murphy Davis died this past week. COVID19 is infecting those closer and closer to me. I know I am getting older and more susceptible to illness. More, I see in the lives of our guests how institutional and cultural failures most adversely affect people in poverty. Our political and economic systems never quite match the hype and these days are failing miserably. And all of the “isms” (racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism to name a few) indicate our infinite capacity to divide and hate. Reasons for lamentation indeed.
“O Lord, behold my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed” (Lamentations 1:9).
“Look, O Lord, and see, for I am despised” (Lamentations 1:11).
“Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace” (Lamentations 5:1).
I wish there was a clear resolution after lamentation. But there is nothing neat and tidy about suffering, and the injustices that heap on more suffering. There is our cry for help. But it remains uncertain whether or not God will hear and respond by coming to our aid.
“Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old—unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us” (Lamentations 5:21).
At the end, what comes to mind is a song. It is a song that our guests know well. It is a song that arose from the lives of Black people who knew lamentation and knew a faith more powerful than any trial or tribulation, “It’s me O Lord standing in the need of prayer.” Lord hear our prayer.