On the usefulness of Lamentations

“Western cultures are notriously averse to pain and tragedy. We spend an extraordinary amount of money and effort seeking to insulate ourselves against life’s vicissitudes. All kinds of precautions are taken to ensure the maximal safety of the environments we must inhabit – our homes, our worksplaces, our schools, our social space, our transport, our public places – and, just about every type of insurance one could dream of. We do not want sorrow to knock at our doors and, when it does, we do not know what to do with it. Our default mode is to keep it out of sight and pretend that it is not there.

Unlike our Victorian forebears, we are no longer shy about sex, and we have innumerable ways to speak about sexual intercourse but we are hopelessly lost for words when confronted with grief and death. We don’t know what to do, where to look, what to say. Increasingly we lack the social practices, word, and concepts necessary to grasp our pain bu the horns and stare it in the face. We have been robbed of a vocabulary of grief, and we suffer for it. The book of Lamentations accosts us by the wayside as a stranger who offers us an unasked-for, unwanted, and yet priceless gift – the poetry of pain. We would be wise to pay attention.”

Robin A. Parry, Lamentations (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 2010), 1.

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