Probably 40-50% of the songs, raps and poems I’ve written are melancholic. My 2002 album ‘Gondwanaland’ with Michaelis Constant has the theme of lamentation running through the whole album.
Like many of you, I also connect deeply with other people’s melancholia expressed in songs, poems, classical compositions and raps. These engage a hidden, vulnerable part of my spirit. The catharsis of weeping/praying/raging as I listen to, for example Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, is important to my spiritual, emotional and mental health.
However there’s a distinct lack of acknowledgement or dialogue amongst modern-day Christians about the potency and human necessity of lamentation.
Why aren’t lamentations, which make up the bulk of numerous biblical books, part of our ecclesiastical life? I’m not exactly suggesting a discontinuity-creating a dirge in the middle of an up-beat Sunday morning service- but I am suggesting the need for creative engagement with the unspoken shadows that are a part of everyday human life. A friend of mine observed: ‘the depression of Psalm 88 is given voice rather than cut off and not heard. Why don’t psalms like this make it into our corporate worship?’
I said a few paragraphs ago that lamentation is a necessity. Can I back that up? Some Christians would assert that since death has been defeated and we have found what the prophets and patriarchs were searching for, lamentation has been rendered unnecessary, a part of the old pattern that has been swept aside. I disagree wholeheartedly. Look at what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians:
For indeed while we are in this tent (meaning earthly bodies), we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.
A part of our melancholy is the recognition that though some time in the future God’s Kingdom will be fully realized we only get little glimpses of it now. Essentially this sort of lament is not unbelieving despair but rather the visceral pain that believers experience precisely because they believe.
Lamentation is the oil that massages the sore muscles of the Body of Christ. Although I’ve been drawn into the recorded melancholia of David Eugene Edwards, Nick Cave, Radiohead and Chelsea Wolfe, the place where that lamentation oil has been most effective is within a local community context.
I have been fortunate to have friends who have shared their beautiful, sad songs and sound art within living room gigs, local festivals and other community settings. We come together for a moment to lament the loss of innocence or the sins of our nation or the death of a young mother or the loneliness of depression or the ‘Sehnsucht’ in the soul for the fully realized Kingdom. This, I believe, is an underappreciated way we bond as believers and as communities. I also sense that when people who aren’t Christians see Christians lament properly it invites them to approach Jesus honestly.
The band Everything Everything have written some incredibly sad songs. Recently I’ve been meditating to their song ‘The Peaks’. It embodies the violence, destruction and sorrow of the age we’re living in and at the end appears to ask a judge/observer/God-type character for answers. It is a song, which echoes the horror and desolation witnessed by the prophet Jeremiah. Laments are a prayer language. You see ‘The Peaks’ leads me to sorrow and anger AND vulnerable, tearful dialogue with God.
And I’ve seen more villages burn than animals born,
I’ve seen more towers come down than children grow up…
Come now, Decider, sit down beside me
Tell me my world is gone
Do you spend time lamenting? Should lamentation be a normal part of Christian life? When we neglect it do we lose a vital form of prayer?
Joel Wilson is a film maker, writer & rap lyricist. He loves unearthing and telling great stories and bringing out the best in my collaborators.