Posted by: Joe LaGuardia | August 27, 2013

Jeremiah the prophet speaks to our grief

sorrowI’ve spent a lot of time with Jeremiah these past couple of days.  You know him.  He’s the prophet whom God called to declare judgment upon Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, around 600 BC.  He’s the prophet who faced traumatic adversity, house arrest, and exile.  He is the one known as the “Weeping Prophet.”

I had to hang out with Jeremiah because it was from his book that I had to preach my first sermon upon returning to the pulpit after losing my father to a fatal shooting several weeks ago.  I didn’t want to hang out with Jeremiah (would’ve rather spent time with somebody more cheerful!) but that’s what God had me to do.

So, Jeremiah and me, we just spent time together to see what happened.  The first thing Jeremiah told me about was his calling.  God called him when he was very young and, like Moses, he felt ill-prepared.

Then God gave him the outline of what was to be said, “I appoint you over the nations: to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10).

Then Jeremiah told me about the long days of preaching, the oracles of judgments, the hostile crowds.  He told me about his eventual house arrest, how he lost his land, and how he had wept.  Oh, did he weep.

Then Jeremiah told me that it got so bad, he had to speak in poetry because no normal speech–no prose–would do.  I knew what he was getting at: He was trying to describe what its like to walk that fine line between clarity and chaos. It’s when the chaos comes that our prose-world comes to an end.

Poetry erupts when someone’s grief and despair become so bad and catastrophe so great, silence and speechlessness and sound itself cease to exist.  The narrative a person lives by, a narrative that helps make sense of the world, no longer works and is dismantled by tragedy.  It’s what one theologian calls “narrative wreckage.”

Jeremiah told me about his poetry.  Some of it was lament, some of it was consolation, but all of it promised to birth something new, even if it wasn’t familiar, even if something was missing.

After our time together, Jeremiah’s testimony kept resonating with me, and I realized that we had some things in common and some other things that were different.

God put him into a position he didn’t want to be in.  I could relate.  He had to come to a point in his relationship with God in which words—prose at least—became useless, “narrative wreckage.”  Check!

Jeremiah had to find some redemption somewhere in the whole mess, and it was at this point that we differed: Whereas he had words to describe what God was doing in his life, I still found myself struggling and wrestling with God.  I was still at a loss for words.

Whereas Jeremiah could rest assured that God was there for him, I still had difficulty finding consolation in a gospel I was so sure would bring hope in my life no matter what happened to me.

And, unlike Jeremiah, who had a powerful prayer life, my only prayers come right now by way of singing hymns.

So, Jeremiah and I, we have spent some good time together this past week, and he has shown me how to put some things into words and some things I need to work on.

He taught me that even though all of us have similar experiences in the midst of grief, our own individual journeys of lament, and prayer, and of processing our sense of sorrow is uniquely different, and that’s okay.

He taught me how God works even in the face of tragedy.  God puts people in your life and songs in your heart.  He shows you scriptures that come at the right time because God is in the business of bending our will to His own.  It hurts some times, but it happens one way or another, even if we find it nearly impossible to respond, even when we can only take it one day at a time.

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