“How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!” Lamentations 1:1
We live in a world of change. Sometimes that change is gradual and hardly noticeable. Sometimes it is sudden and life-altering. We saw this recently with Tropical Storm Fiona. In a matter of a few hours, homes and properties were destroyed. Lives were changed. I visited Port aux Basques and communities along the South West Coast on Sunday, after the storm on Saturday. I stood beside a house completed demolished. The roof was where the floor used to be. A boy of ten or eleven years old was there, starring at the house that was his home since birth; tears flowed down his cheeks. He had lived in that house all his life and now it was just rubble. It was sad to see him so upset and overwhelmed. I felt so sorry for him and worried what the impact of this storm, and its destruction, would have on him long-term. Sometimes destruction comes from the forces of nature. Sometimes destruction comes at the hands of fellow human beings. The Book of Lamentations refers to the latter kind. The Babylonians brought total destruction to the City of Jerusalem. The Holy Temple and the Holy City were left in a heap of rubble. People lost their lives and many thousands more were sent into exile. “How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!” The Book of Lamentations is properly named: a lament is a passionate expression of sorrow and grief. It is deep sadness, and tears flow down the cheeks of those ripped away from their homes. At such times there are few words; tears say everything. We live in a real world with real problems. Nature, sometimes our friend, can become our enemy. Our friends can become our enemies. We have natural disasters and we have man-made ones. Destruction comes in many ways. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me.” (Lamentations 1:12) During such tragic times, we may feel that no one can fully appreciate our loss or know the depth of our suffering. It is why saying, “I understand,” can seem insensitive. We need to walk a mile in a person’s shoes before we have even a little sense of what they are going through. Life is difficult. Life can also be dangerous. There is cause for fear and anxiety. Bad things can and do happen. It is important to be alert and awake.
And even when being extremely careful, bad things can happen. In the Bible, lament has its place. There are occasions when lament is the only response that makes sense. We may even ask, “Is God with us or not?” And perhaps behind that question is the notion that if God is with us, then nothing bad can happen to us. Sadly, this sets us up for great disappointment and possibly even a loss of faith. Belief in God does not save us from real life and real problems. Rather, belief in God gives us the strength to face real life and real problems. There is also the understanding held by some that if God is all powerful and all loving then God will stop bad things from happening. This too is not true. As St. Paul said, “We see through a glass dimly.” (1 Cor. 13:12) There is much we do not know. Humility is required. It is important to question and to not accept easy, superficial answers. Our Lord Jesus Christ also cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) If Jesus could feel abandoned by God, surely it is okay for us to feel the same way when going through a difficult experience. Yet, if we are to be resilient and rebound, we cannot remain in a place of despair and sorrow. We have to look beyond our loss and grief. We must make meaning of what has happened and find the reason to live again. We will even need to find our faith again and trust God even when we don’t understand everything or have all the answers to our questions. Jesus was able to go beyond his sense of being forsaken and entrust himself into God’s keeping, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) Tragedy and disaster call forth our lament, our grief, and our questions. With time, work, and prayer, we find our way through the pain and sorrow. We may even discover that God is very much in the midst of the suffering and right alongside us. In the Book of Lamentations we see this: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.” (Lamentations 3:21-23) The psalmist says, “Weeping lasts for a night but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) We can be tempted to stay in our despair and to give up. When our hearts and spirits are broken, we need time to heal. But, when times are tough and there is great sorrow and pain, we grieve awhile, and then get back up, affirm the presence of God, and live again. (2 Samuel 12:15-23) In Luke’s Gospel, the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith. (Luke 17:5) But Jesus reminded them that they were not required to have all the faith in the world to successfully meet life’s challenges. He said to them that faith even the size of a mustard seed is sufficient faith to face and overcome obstacles and tragedies in life. Maybe it is a matter of using what faith we have, even if only a little. In time our faith will increase, as we notice how it helps us to rebound and recover and rebuild. In the good times, faith is not so much needed perhaps. Maybe at those times it is gratitude. It is in the valley, when we are down and out, that faith gives us that capacity to rise above the problem and move into the solution. It is faith in a God that we may not fully understand, but who in Jesus is revealed as Immanuel: God with us. Jesus also demonstrated the God who gives us the strength to go through difficulties and triumph over them. Jesus is our model of how to live this life with courage, and how to make meaning of it. Difficult times also help us to rediscover one another. Neighbours come to our aid and offer kindness, compassion, and a helping hand. We notice that many of them do so because they believe God asks that we love and care for one another and they are putting their faith into action. Jesus asks us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. There is a tour de force found in this approach to life. Disasters can challenge us in many ways. They can bring weeping and lamentation. Our faith can be tested. Our resolve can be broken. But, grace can also be known in such difficult times and we can discover that humanity and divinity link up in a powerful way during suffering to enable us to be and to do more than we could have otherwise ever imagined. We not only find our way through; we find the deeper meaning of this life and what truly matters. Perhaps it is best summed up in the virtues that St. Paul realized were of ultimate importance: faith, hope, and love. (1 Cor. 13:13)