Lament has been on my mind quite a bit lately. I carry it deep within my heart and right on the edge from where my tears pool. I feel it in my spirit, in the tightness of all of my muscles and within the stiffness of my too often clenched jaw.
Maybe it’s because I feel that we don’t seem to allow ourselves the chance to truly lament. Not as the church and certainly not as a society.
We’ve gotten really good at moving on, “figuring out” what to do next, creating lists, making arrangements, and often forgiving too quickly. We are not so good at lamenting.
This Sunday we revisit the story (here) of Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah…yes AND Orpah. She is often left out of sermons and reflections—cuz yeah, she chose to leave, to return to her family and to do what was best for her at that moment. Is that so wrong? How do we affirm Orpah’s choice and disrupt the culture of shame and guilt that is so often projected on those who have experienced trauma and make the difficult choice of caring for self…?
As I read this familiar story for the umpteenth time I was struck by how the text seemed to quickly move passed the moments of death and loss. Perhaps I am reading into the story out of my current heart-space. I admit this. But from where else should I start? What is your heart telling you in these times? Are we willing to show our hearts to our congregations? Our broken pieces? What is lost when we don’t? Won’t?
Of course, we know from the text that not once, but twice Orpah and Ruth “wept aloud” when Naomi insisted that they leave. There was some deep grief felt in the face of more loss and separation. Grief so real it could not be contained and would not be silenced.
I can’t help but wonder if Orpah and Ruth’s tears gave Naomi permission to lament. Perhaps the raw vulnerability these women shared was just what Naomi needed to say out loud what she felt deep in her soul, that “…the hand of the Lord has turned against me.”
What if it was Naomi’s lament that set Orpah free. Maybe it was her lament that drew Ruth all the closer.
When was the last time you spoke to your congregation about lament?
Do our folx know—I mean really know—that it is okay to express out loud the way it seems God is not showing up in their lives? in the world?
Are we willing to be vulnerable as clergy so that our people might get free? Get even closer to God? to one another?
I welcome your thoughts…
Rev. Dr. Marilyn Pagán-Banks (she/her/hers/ella) is a queer womanist freedom fighter, minister, spiritual entrepreneur, teacher, and life-long learner committed to the liberation of colonized peoples, building power and creating community. She lives in Chicago with her spouse and has three children and nine grandchildren. Dr. Pagán-Banks currently serves as executive director of A Just Harvest, pastor at San Lucas UCC, and adjunct professor at McCormick Theological Seminary.
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3 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Permission to Lament (Ruth 1:1-17)”
I do relate to this need to lament. My mom died suddenly 11 months ago, the last of a series of losses in my life. She was my best friend, and I was her only biological child. I have done my best to “process” this loss in the healthiest of ways, and I have no expectation that I should be further down the path towards resolution than I am. But I need to lament that I do not feel her presence with me. There are no easy signs that she is still speaking….no cardinals, as they would say. There is nothing at all. Just absence. Profound, deafening absence. The “veil” between heaven and earth might as well be a concrete wall. And I want to wail. I want to tear my clothes. I want to lament.
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Sending love and light your way…