Today I was in conversation with the Rev. Kathy MaAdams of Ecclesia Ministries in Boston. She is working on a leadership conference addressing poverty alleviation for people who have experienced homelessness. We met on the bus from the hotel to the airport at the end of the Episcopal General Convention in Indianapolis. Some how those kinds of meetings are some of the most fruitful and rewarding.
On the bus we had talked a bit about convention and then what we do “back home.”
She works with the homeless and I deal in public communal laments, among other things. Her ministry with Ecclesia Ministries holds what is called “Common Worship” outside on the Boston Common, year round. In today’s conversation those things came together. Kathy had invited me to help do some thinking about this conference.
Kathy had sent me some of their initial thinking about planning for some kind
lament as part of a service of healing during the conference. After taking a look at what they hoped to do… i.e. bring dignity, hope, healing, and community to those who work to bring about poverty alleviation and an end to homelessness, I was moved to ponder how laments would be impacted by such a context. Or perhaps, how would an experience of homelessness affect a practice of public communal lament?
I suppose there is no such thing as a community that could not stand to benefit from learning how to lament. However, when asked to think about lament in the context of poverty alleviation and homelessness it occurred to me that everyone stands to learn from pondering lament in the context of homelessness. It is my guess that those who have experienced homelessness already know rather well something that the rest of us need to learn; our vulnerability and dependence on God and on each other. We who lack the experiences of homelessness may have a harder time allowing that to sink in.
That was when it occurred to me that a lament is a kind of temporary home. Laments — both the poetry of lament, the Psalms and the stories of lament, the prophets, Torah, and Jesus’ weeping — provide embodied experiences and safe places of welcome, honor, acceptance, dignity, and healing for all people in need. But those who have experienced homelessness may grasp this far better than the rest of us.
Biblical laments do not ask for ID, proof of citizenship, or any other form of qualification for crying out to God in distress. For reasons that strike many modern/ post-modern people as outright wrong, anyone who feels qualified in terms of being willing and desperate enough to do so, is taken seriously by some Holy Listener as an authoritative, honorable lamenter; one who is listened to!
The power of this proposed lament is intensified by their plan to sleep there in Boston Commons that night following the ritual of lament and healing. It was the knowledge that the group will sleep in this place that it struck me that a lament is a kind of temporary home, one that all of us need along the way. Grief, anger, and outrage are not the stuff of healthy homes; yet they are part of all lives. Better that we learn what to do with those strong emotions, by finding those safe places where we and our strong emotions are accepted as we are and welcomed to cry out when we need to. That way we are able to unload the grief, fear, anger, outrage, and longing so that we can actually move into a new space, a new home that is not marked by primarily by grief.