Lament is the prayer language for hurting Christians. Lament is a biblical way to share our grief, pain, anger and frustration with God, rooted in the hope that God in Christ alone can bring. We all began to learn in March to stop saying, “This year couldn’t possibly get any worse,” with 2020 clearly being a year for lament. Over a third of the Psalms are laments, and the apostle Paul says that the entire creation groans (Romans 8:22). The created world in which we live, while beautiful, is contaminated with the broken effects of sin – both our personal sinfulness, but also sinful structures that are built up and sustained by humanity. While death is the ultimate reminder that all is not well with the world, there are many other daily examples: COVID-19, failed relationships, abuse of creation, loneliness, sexism, homophobia and racism.
Alongside the devastation wrought by COVID-19, this summer has brutally reminded us of the devasting legacy and present reality of the sin of racism. The deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, amongst so many others, have not only shone a light on anti-Black violence, but have highlighted the persistent and insidious nature of structural racism, both in the U.S. and here in Canada. As a white woman of privilege, while I am aware that the sin of racism infects my own heart, I also acknowledge that I cannot fully understand the impact and effects of racism on my racialized brothers and sisters. This summer, as part of my own education, I am reading The Cross and the Lynching Tree by the late James H. Cone. If you haven’t read this seminal work, do.
I can’t breathe were the last words of George Floyd. I can’t breathe are the words of many who have been suffocating under the weight of systemic racism and violence for centuries. Racism is smothering the beauty of God’s rich and diverse creation, and racism will smother our ability to follow the God of mission in the Diocese of Toronto. Racism sucks breath and life out of people, so we can be comforted and rejoice with the prophet Job (33:4) that “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
Lament is not simply the shedding of tears but is crying out to our Heavenly Father in pain. It is prayer, at the invitation of God, to renew our confidence that in Jesus Christ all things are being made new and the Spirit of God is being poured out on all flesh. As the current Diversity Officer for the Diocese of Toronto, I am working closely with the Intercultural Committee to bring anti-racism and anti-bias training to our diocese this fall. This training will be mandatory for all clergy and leaders of diocesan committees. While under no illusions that such training will “solve the problem,” it is my hope that it will raise awareness about systemic racism and galvanize the people of God across our diocese to pray and work alongside each other on this painful, yet hope filled, journey.
Part of our vocation, as people learning how to follow Jesus, is to allow the breath of the Almighty to call us to truth telling, and then repentance and reconciliation, so that more and more people, reflecting the marvelous diversity of creation, can experience hope and new life. The well known and beloved prayer of St. Francis seems an appropriate prayer to pray together as a diocese as we journey forward in these extraordinary days.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.