A Lament

One of the students at our college recently suffered a truly heart-breaking loss, and I’ve been thinking about her all week, grieving with her as I grade papers and prepare lectures.  My life goes on; hers will never be the same.  I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to receive horrible news on a Saturday night, and go to some upbeat, seeker-sensitive attractional church Sunday morning.  I started to write an essay, but that wasn’t quite right, so I tried again as a homily, which was closer, but still not there.  It eventually wound up as a poem.  I don’t write poetry–not for years now, anyway–and I have a deep conviction that almost all amateur poets are awful.  This is probably awful, too.  But it’s the closest I can come right now to painting the picture I see in my mind.

A Lament

I shouldn’t be here.  There is no place for me here.

The polished plaque is crisp brass,
with letters tall and even:
Sanctuary This Way
Around these words I see my reflected face:
unshaven, dark
I scrape down the hall, clad in
yesterday’s shirt, Friday’s pants.

Sunbeams stretch through stained glass,
making bold the jigsaw shapes of
wine and bread, sheep and shepherd
casting kaleidoscopes on a cool teal carpet.
I sit in the shadows, among the shades.

The drummer keeps a steady rhythm
Guitarists smile and strum.
And Jim, who I once knew in school,
Nearly laughs as he lifts his hands
“Let’s give the Lord a praise offering!”

I am stone.

Around me are the winners of the world,
The beautiful, the well-dressed
And they sing

God is so good
God is so good
God is so good
He’s so good to me.

They sing

You’re altogether worthy
Altogether lovely
Altogether wonderful to me

They clap and shout.
I clench my teeth.

The pastor is telling a football story.
A marriage story.
An old, old joke.
He recounts a scene from a sitcom,
The one about the pretty girl
“But not as pretty as my wife!”
And the lucky guys
“But not as lucky as we are!”

Laughter spills down the aisles.

I shut my eyes.

I wander inside myself
Meditating on horrible, hallowed images.
Twisted metal
Jagged wounds
The ventilator keeps a steady rhythm.

Amen, someone says.

The lucky ones clasp hands, slap backs.
In the lobby, there are coffee and donuts

I shouldn’t be here.  There is no place for me here.
Not today.

I don’t have a praise offering.
I don’t have a testimony.

What I have is mismatched socks
A little whiskey on my breath
And a broken son on a hospital bed
A headstrong, rebel boy who vexes me
And who is more dear to me than my soul
A bruised and battered boy

A boy who can not wake.

But where can I go where someone else knows
What it is like to lose a son?


Filed under Church Culture, Reflections

3 responses to “A Lament

  1. Francesca

    It touched me. I’m not one of the winners and I have a broken son with whom I eat breakfast Sunday morning at Ihop instead of going to church.

  2. I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to go to church after our son died. We were the type of people that sat toward the front of church, not wanting to miss anything. After Jason died, we gradually moved from the back third of the church to the balcony. I felt like an outside observer. It was difficult to watch everyone else be so joyful, so happy, so oblivious to our deep grief…when it was all we could do to just make it into the church door. It was hard to watch people clapping and singing; instead of being a “joyful noise,” it was just fingernail-on-a-blackboard noise because I became so sound sensitive. Our house was so quiet that my ears hurt, but the other end of the spectrum was no better. For varying reasons, I didn’t go to church for a number of years following Jason’s death, and it’s only been recently that I’ve gone back at all.

  3. Thank you both for your perspectives.

    I haven’t gone through anything quite like what either of you have, but I have experienced enough pain to know what it’s like to feel out of place in the happy-clappy church services that are in fashion today. One thing any church needs to do if it is going to respond to the full range of human experience is make room for lamentation, for despair, and for doubt. Unless that happens, church will only be a place that you feel comfortable at when everything is going okay–which is the opposite of how this is supposed to work.

    That’s part of what I appreciate about the liturgical traditions. You probably aren’t going to jump up and down for glee at an Episcopal service, but you aren’t going to feel like you experience has no place there, either.

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