Today I decided I needed my piano. I’ve been playing since the age of 7, and I now own my Great-Grandmother’s piano that I used to tinkle on as a child. It’s over 100 years old! It will never play in tune at concert pitch, but it will always sound beautiful to me. I love just sitting and playing through minimalist piano works, letting the tension go into the flow of the music. Works every time!
This time though, I realised I hadn’t actually improvised since March. I am a Music Therapist by trade, and a large chunk of my job involves improvising with clients. I need to be able to do this when I return to my job after the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, so I thought I’d best wander away from the music in front of me and see what happened. Within 5 minutes I was weeping. Tears running down my face as I played, leaning deeply into seconds and sixths, expressing the heartache I couldn’t otherwise articulate I was carrying. I missed this. I needed to grieve the loss of it in my daily life. I doubt I’m finished.
I’ve often wondered why we don’t hold lament central to our church lives any more. Between one third and one half (depending on who counts!) of the 150 psalms in the Bible are laments, or hold laments within them. There is a whole book of the Bible entitled Lamentations. Yet I cannot remember a single time when any of the churches I have been in have come together to lament and pray. I guess a service of lamenting isn’t a crowd puller!
A recent article in the online journal Theology and Ministry discusses this. In ‘Rediscovering Lament’ Dorey, Duffield and Upton (2012) point out that Laments have roles to play in truth telling, witnessing to trouble and calling for social justice, while also acknowledging we have a role to play. Laments are far more than just complaining to God about our troubles. In lamenting we are speaking out, calling for change, drawing attention. Lamenting is powerful stuff.
One of the most powerful pieces of music I know is ‘Dido’s Lament‘ by Purcell – beautifully simple Renaissance music but expertly designed to be heartbreaking. The psalms were of course written as music. Hans Christian Anderson is credited with the saying “Where words fail, music speaks”, and reams of Music Therapy literature bears this out. All I know, is that as I sat at my piano earlier, my spirit lamented, and it needed it.
So, here’s a call to lament. Spend time with your grief, your pain, wherever it comes from. Talk to God about it. Tell Them why it’s crappy and what you want to change. Even if you swear, it’s still a prayer! If you share prayers over the phone, on zoom or within your household, give some prayer time to lamenting. Or just play some music ( whether that’s on YouTube or your own instrument) and let the tears fall. Tears are prayers too. In sharing your own lament you may help others to discover their own, and what a powerful chain reaction that could become.
Peace be with you.
Dorey, A., Duffield, I and Upton, J. (2012). Rediscovering Lament. Theology and Ministry Vol.1. Available at https://www.dur.ac.uk/theologyandministry/volumes/1/rediscovering-lament/ (Accessed 15th May 2020)