Lament starts grief journey

A plastic bottle on a beach.
 on August 30, 2023

Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing. (Hosea 4:3)

There’s a term for the feeling many of us have in the pit of our stomach these days – ecological grief. Grief, we all know, is the normal human response to loss, so ecological grief can be defined as the grief felt as a response to the environmental losses we hear about all the time – loss of species, ecosystems and meaningful landscapes we have known, due to climate change.

I would also suggest it is a form of disenfranchised grief, which is grief from a loss that is not readily acknowledged in society. When a close family member dies, there is a general social understanding and acceptance of the loss, and a period of grieving is accommodated and encouraged. But some kinds of loss, although they can be deeply felt by individuals and groups, do not elicit the same kind of acknowledgement and support. These would include losses such as an abortion or a miscarriage, being fired from a job, betrayal by a friend, or the death of a pet.

As the environmental crisis humanity faces, including its human causes, dawns on each of us, grief is often among our many complex emotional responses. However, since one of the other dominant social and individual responses to the climate crisis is denial, there is little social acknowledgement of ecological grief, which makes it very difficult to even internally name the sadness and anxiety many of us feel as the deep grief that it is, let alone process it effectively.

Ecological grief is not only often disenfranchised, it’s also complex, because it is often mixed up with other complicated reactions such as guilt, anger and helplessness. This complex, disenfranchised grief cannot be borne entirely alone. To be processed well, grief also needs to be shared, brought into a beloved community to be processed with others who lovingly understand. Such a community can be family, or a group of dear friends, or a worshipping community. In such a loving context we can begin to name our grief together, to share healing rituals, songs and prayers.

I suggest that, along with repentance, and before a community can get to healing and hope, part of the communal sharing and processing of ecological grief needs to be lament, the liturgical naming of grief, pain, anger and despair that seems to have been mostly lost in the Western Church. There are raw expressions of lament throughout scripture, especially in the Psalms, but I have not often heard it expressed in modern liturgy. I offer this Prayer of Lament as a starting point on this grief journey.


A Prayer of Lament

Holy Mother, you created human beings out of the earth, with material from the stars.
You breathed your spirit, your ancient love, into us and imprinted us with your image.
We remember Jesus’ words that the one who has dominion must be the servant of all,
And that you have called us to care for your magnificent earth creation, to serve our kin,
All those who share the earth with us.
Lord in your mercy,
Save us.

But we have forgotten our place.
We imagined we were masters, not servants.
The more we learned about your evolving creation masterpiece,
Instead of rejoicing in wonder and gratitude,
The more we took and used, burned and destroyed,
without care for your beautiful work, our human siblings and our non-human kin.
Lord in your mercy,
Save us.

Because we have abused our calling, forgotten our place,
desecrated what we did not understand,
now we stand on the precipice of climate disaster.
We, your human children have done this.
Lord in your mercy,
Save us.

Many of us, especially the powerful, rich and comfortable among us,
ignore the terrifying evidence of climate disaster and continue as we always have,
Living with the tattered illusion of an inert earth with unlimited resources.
And those of us who are beginning to see, to understand, what we have done,
Ache with anxiety and grief at how we have wounded the living earth, our Mother,
At the climate changes and catastrophes that are picking up speed,
despairing at times, doing small things that make small differences,
Knowing it is not enough.
Lord in your mercy,
Save us.

Creator God, in your mercy, save us!
Spirit of love, help us in our weakness,
intercede for us with your sighs too deep for words.
We hang on to the promise that even this peril cannot separate us from you,
And from your ancient love, from your vision of a beloved earth community.
Holy One, teach us our place once again. We are listening.


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