In Biblical times when someone wanted to express emotions of anguish, lament, regret and pain – emotions that words were inadequate to articulate – they would tear their garments and instead wear sackcloth and cover themselves in ash as a way of expressing those emotions.
We don’t see that very much today, do we? Today it seems to have been replaced by emojis and social media posts. I am not criticising that at all, I think it is healthy that we are able to use technology in this way to express solidarity and see the collective mood of those we know, follow and have ‘friended’. But is it enough?
When words seem inadequate to me – as they have this week with the shooting in the Orlando night club, Pulse, when a two year old was killed by an Alligator at a theme park in Florida, when Jo Cox MP was murdered yesterday, when there was senseless violence in France centred around football matches, when innocent people are being blown up around the world, when vulnerable people are treated like animals and herded or even traded – in times like that it is easy for me to share a pithy comment that someone wrote, change my Facebook status or post an emoji.
Sackcloth and ashes goes deeper than that. It is not only an outward expression of inner emotional turmoil, it is honest vulnerability: saying to everyone around you that life sucks and I don’t know what to do with that; and it’s also a form of praying where the prayer is articulated in actions rather than words.
I don’t plan to wear sackcloth and ashes just yet. But I have decided to try harder to use some words to say how I feel, in the form of a lament:
When the bullets fly and the innocent cry and lives are extinguished by hate
When life is seen as a disposable commodity and some are worth less than others
When violence and anger and fear and selfishness and greed are the fuel that burns in our hearts
And when love, compassion, generosity, hope and service are torn to shreds in lament
My attempts to find the words to say how I feel are like rough, impoverished sackcloth in my mind and the burnt remains of comprehension are all that are left
I want to scream, “Why?” and “No!” and “Stop!”
And live with a heavy heart in the belief that love, compassion, generosity, hope and service, though seemingly in tatters remain stronger than all that seeks to destroy them.
Be blessed, be a blessing