William Blaine-Wallace, When Tears Sing: The Art of Lament in Christian Community. Orbis Press, Maryknoll, NY, 2020.
By Ruth Anne Friesen
This is a book full of movement. The threads of wailing – grief, lament, solidarity, joy and justice – run throughout When Tears Sing as Blaine-Wallace speaks of the theology of lament in the Bible. Lament is seen through the sorrowful and suffering traumatized communities that pursue life beyond oppression. Salvation history remains a work in process, advancing toward more just communities where people are valued for who they are and were created to be.
The author, an Episcopal priest and counselor, listens deeply and respectfully to people’s experiences and gives both space for silence and attention to experiences that need words not yet found. Lament, he says, is relational; a testifier’s story needs both words to convey meaning and a witness as an active listener. Toward the end of the book, where the witnessing process happens in retreat style, I thought of sermons from my CPE experience at Rush Hospital, where the process of narrative reflection was very similar to what is described in this book. Such narratives can open a person’s life to relationship and become a transformative experience for everyone.
Although American society expects its citizens to be self-sufficient and climb the ladder of success, this book suggests that a spirituality of tears brings us to understand more about Jesus’ acceptance of the vulnerable caught in sorrow. The spirituality of tears and loss helps us to slow down, lets the stories and experiences be shared, and allows the caring to emerge. The solidarity becomes real so that persons from very different backgrounds and perspectives may find ways to be in relationship. Out of these lamentational conversations, perhaps everyone could claim their citizenship in an interconnected society of fragile and resilient persons who live life as it really is, and who can give prayerful attention to the wounded self and to the neighbor next door and far away.
Ruth Anne Friesen, BCC, is a chaplain at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago.