What does the heart do when it is full of sorrow? It cries out, and the cry of the heart is a song.
That is why so many of our songs are about sadness and grief. That is why we have a whole genre of music called the Blues. That is why we have a whole book of poetry in the Bible called Lamentations.
The heart takes on our burdens and bears them in silence until it can bear no more, then it blurts out a song to give expression to our sense of loss. The song itself is painful to sing; but like a toothache we rub because "it hurts so good", we sing just to feel the pain.
Leroy Carr wrote a song called "Blues Before Sunrise:" "I have the blues before sunrise, Tears standing in my eyes. I have the blues before sunrise, Tears standing in my eyes. It was a miserable feeling, Now babe, a feeling I do despise."
We despise the feeling, but we cannot let go of it until we have purged our souls of the darkness that has overtaken us. We cannot stop washing our hands until all the soap is rinsed off. Hopefully, this process finds resolution, and we emerge like Phoenix from the fire, renewed but changed. The blues are not for us to be mired in, but for us to emerge from, cleansed of spirit. The Greeks had a word for this cleansing, katharsis, from which we get our own word for spiritual purgation and cleansing.
People who do not share our grief can find it hard to understand. When Hannah sat outside the temple mumbling to the Lord for her barren condition, Eli, the priest on duty, assumed she was drunk. Those outside our universe of grief imagine a timetable by which we should be through, and judge our progress according to their own experience. If we take too long, we should get over it. If we finish too quickly, we are too calloused, or we have buried our feelings with denial and false courage. While any of these things may be true, it may also be true that we are right on schedule, just not their schedule. The process is different for each of us, and time is our friend-eventually.
In the book called Lamentations, the people of Israel catalogue their woes like an inventory at a general store. They even put it in alphabetical order (the poem is acrostic, with each stanza beginning with the letters in their alphabet, in order).The temple has fallen. Devastation is evident everywhere. Disease and poverty have begun their cruel work. God has turned his back on the chosen people once and for all.
Then, in the middle of this cheerless directory of lament comes this surprising line: "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning.Great is your faithfulness" (Lam 3:22-23). Did this line somehow fall from some other psalm of praise and land on the scroll out of place? Or is it sarcasm that brings these words to parchment?
Neither, I suspect. For as the heart cries out its song of sorrow, it eventually rediscovers the song for which it was originally created. The song of praise was there all along, and as our heartstrings strum its tune, they vibrate sympathetically with God's redeeming work.
Healing begins in darkness, and comes to completeness in daylight. The gloom of solitude gives way to the warmth of God's presence. God was there all along, waiting for the chorus, to sing with us in two-part harmony.
Brian Dale is the pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.