A Lament over the Doctrine of Discovery (Acknowledge & Lament the Past and Present)
This presentation was given as the 3rd of the six Offerings in this Lament Over the Doctrine of Discovery held on Tue., July 10th 2012, at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, in Indianapolis, Indiana. As far as I know, the Episcopal Church is the first in history to publicly repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, and this Lament, was the first international event of Christian worship to lament the events and consequences so long ignored. It is important to say, that since very shortly after the arrival of the “Conquistadores” in the Americas, Bartolome de las Casas and many other Christians have spent their entire lives trying to reverse the tragic direction of colonialism.
Although there are and have been laments in the Book of Common Prayer, in the Psalter and of course in scripture, they have not been used much for common prayer. This liturgy of Lament is one of the first to be held at an international gathering of a mainline Christian denomination. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but marked a major step in the growing awareness of the need for both praise and lament if worship is to respond to and prepare us for real life.
The event was held in the Gran Ballroom of the JW Marriott, the same room used for all of the worship at GC. However, for the lament, there were 500 chairs in concentric circles set up in the middle of the huge room. In the center of the chairs was a large table, covered in purple cloth, and 20+ votives in thick, glass blocks.
A Story – Kathryn Rickert,
1. What is the DOD?
2. What is lament?
3. How does Lament, using grief rather than guilt, help us to respond to the DOD?
4. What do we acknowledge and lament this night?
5. And, what are the various perspectives on such a lament?
I speak of lament in response to this grievous past and present as the daughter of my Norwegian-British-American ancestors .
I speak to your heart, from my heart…
I am humbled by your presence and willingness to participate in this lament.
These are difficult things to say, and difficult things to hear.
As God is gracious to us, so may we be gracious to one-another
for those things that are incomplete and even painful about this lament.
It is no small thing that we, the Episcopal Church, took the unprecedented step in 2009 of repudiating the DOD.
Many, if not most of us did not learn about the term “Doctrine of Discovery”, nor of the events to which it refers, in school. The “Doctrine of Discovery” is an umbrella term used in international law referring to a range of papal bulls, royal charters, laws, decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, and policies which justified, made legal, and blessed the Crusades, colonialism, slavery and on-going economic and social disparities between those who were here long ago, and those who came as “discovers”, “conquistadores” and settlers, etc.
Although many of us knew there were “some problems of injustice, violence, and greed” associated with the settlement of the Americas,
not many grasp the nature and extent of that injustice and violence,
carried out in the name of Jesus Christ as the will of God.
Although nothing we do today can remove that past, there is a great deal of healing, understanding and transformed vision to be gained from a thoughtful, prayerful study and reflection of our history. A modest understanding of the reasons used to justify the injustice, violence and greed, cannot help but transform the way we see ourselves and each other.
We dare not pretend that this lament will undo the past, or make everything, “okay”. It will not do that.
Yet, because we do believe that “God cares for all of us”, and because we long to live in that care for each other and with all of Creation,
we gather to open this wound, very gently by lamenting together…
to cast this great grief upon God;
not to leave it there as checked off from a list of things to do,
but as an act of discipline and hope in response to God’s grace offered to us all.
We offer this lament so that
we might move together into a new kind of future…
one not founded on false understandings of the nature of our past & present.
Tonight, we begin cautiously to put flesh on the bones of that repudiation of the DOD.
1. What is Lament ?
The prayer of lament is a type of honest, daring, intimate discourse demonstrated by a note I received from my daughter when she was 10 years old.
I hate you.
A lament is a first person (singular or plural) sound, conveyed with risk, that opens those who lament to God, each other, and to themselves setting in motion God’s Spirit of compassion, healing and dignity.
The English the word “lament” comes from an Old Norse word for the sound of the loon… that haunting, unforgettable, pain-conveying, sound we hear on the waters in many parts of the world.
Through a practice of communal lament, of which there is a great deal in Scripture, and the Psalter of the Book of Common Prayer, over time … we can learn how to rejoice and how to weep together.
Scripture (OT and NT) is abundant with laments in both poetic and narrative forms:
Poetry –The Psalter, part of the BCP contains more laments than praise.
Genesis 4:10 And the Lord said,[to Cain] ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!
NT Romans 8: 19, 26
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
We live in a time where this daring, prayer is very gradually making a come back as being a fundamental part of the Christian tradition of prayer and worship. The absolute necessity of this kind of prayer is denied though when we cannot hear lament as a profound demonstration of love and trust; of daring opening up to God and to each other. Lament is not whining because it risks the relationship rather than merely seeking attention.
In this lament, we come together tonight,
to cry out to God, and to each other, over the Doctrine of Discovery;
to acknowledge, and honor
to lay before God something of this great grief
over the violence, genocide and greed of colonialism —
carried out in the Name of Jesus.
With our lament, like the sound of the loon, we begin to acknowledge, honor, and give voice to more than five-hundred years of injustice and distress through our presence, songs, silence, stories, and prayers; witnessing to that distress in our bodies. Lament is is a deep bodily practice for acknowledging distress and building compassion and trust, not just the idea of lament.
The prayer of lament is an occasional or temporary practice
(and not a life-style or personality type.)
It offers many opportunities for learning from each other
about injustice, distress, suffering, hope, compassion, honesty, joy, and love –
given and received.
We do not know each other’s pain. We do not all lament the same things, at the same time.
Especially here tonight… some of us sit low in our seats because we know that our ancestors were not kind to your ancestors,
and that we have benefited from the grave injustices addressed to you and your people.
Others of us may sit here in our seats wondering if this is really necessary.
While, yet others know only too well why this lament is necessary.
This lament is necessary in order to give voice & honor to those who have experienced oppression, injustice, the wounds, the evil, and suffering that have been far too long ignored.
This lament is necessary in order to acknowledge and witness to an unholy past, if there is to be any possibility for coming together as God’s people in a new way; …
”with humility in our dealings with one another.
For God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”.
Enough of arrogance, condescension, and triumphalism. But rather, something we have not tried before…love offered in humility and grief.
2. What do “we” Acknowledge in our Lament?
There are truly noble and inspiring aspects to the history of all of our nations. But, when we know only the sanitized version of our histories, and build our identities upon that incomplete story, we are left with an inadequate and fractured vision of the past as foundation for the actions of the present.
(Here, I move to the first person singular…and pray that you will add what fits your life, faith and experience.)
Thus, tonight, I acknowledge & witness to my own suffering and sins & those of my ancestors.
I acknowledge & witness to your suffering, my sisters and brothers, and to that of your ancestors.
I acknowledge our/my own ignorance of much suffering and sin and the shame/grief/ shock that come with finding out, for the first time, what happened.
I acknowledge and lament the injustice, violence, cruelty, and greed that mar the history of my people:
“the evil done to us and to our ancestors, to our brothers and sisters”
“the evil done on our behalf”,
“the evil….of things left undone” of failing to pay attention to history and what was/ is actually going on with other people around us.
I acknowledge with deep grief the way in which I believed what I was taught by my elders… — that our nation came to be by entirely honorable means. Yet, when I look more deeply into the history and become aware of what actually happened in the Name of Jesus, I am overwhelmed by strong emotions of
stunned silence denial outrage, anger guilt grief, compassion
puzzlement passion love
I acknowledge that I did not know.
3. Comparing Grief and Guilt
One of the things we have not tried before in efforts to respond to the legacy of colonialism is an appeal to grief, rather than to guilt.
Grief, rather than guilt! “I am very, very sad”, rather than, “I am guilty.”
We know the guilt move well, but grief as a constructive strong emotion is something else. When we are moved to “do something” — to respond to injustice moved primarily by guilt; our motives usually have more to do with our own status, salvation, & conscience rather than with the well being of those who are harmed by our sin.
Guilt is usually about me; it is not about the ones I / we harm.
IF guilt some how manages to keep moving, to mature and go deeply into the soul, becoming something much more, it may lead to a transformation…But, lament works in another way.
Lament is a small form of death and resurrection. It does more than cleansing. Rather, lament may transform by opening our eyes, ears, hands, hearts and minds to each other, to God and to ourselves…so that we see what we did not see.
With that opening, we do not see in the same way;
we are not the same persons we were before.
When we allow ourselves to come together
for this challenging purpose of lamenting the DOD,
there is a possibility for New Life, a possibility for the planting and growing of seeds of compassion, wisdom, collaboration, and…even a new kind of love.
4. Perspective from all directions
We sit together tonight in this Sacred Circle, looking at each other —all God’s people from many tribes and nations…all God’s people, all made in the image of the Creator.
We see and feel and hear and think very different things…depending on where we come from, who our ancestors are, what we bring with us, and were we are in our lives.
We come here this night to cry out to God, to hear and witness each other’s cries, and then to go from here changed by what we hear, and acting from that transformation.
We offer this lament so that we may rejoice together…one day; for that is what lament is actually about.. getting to joy.
The qualities associated with Doctrine of Discovery — arrogance, ignorance, short-sightedness, dishonesty, privilege, deception, blindness, and failure in human relationships on the part of the invader/ settlers — demonstrate that this horrific past was an abuse of the Good News of Jesus Christ, unrecognized as such at the time.
Today, we have the opportunity to be moved by grief and compassion so that we do not continue the injustice and oppression, and so that we may find new ways to be God’s people, all of us, listening, honoring and working together for the reign of God here and now.
Here, we take the risk of telling and hearing the truth, trusting that truth to each other, and to God.
We allow ourselves to come apart, to open up the various pieces…of hope, rage, fear, puzzlement… denial, wondering, longing, love.
In this lament, we take things apart so that God can weave us back together again.