The ‘Common Weeping’: Instead of airing our grievances, let’s uncover our griefs

Our feelings are running amok these days. Anger, yes; fear, yes (and with good reason). But we can also try to let each feeling, when it comes, flow through our mind like a barge on a river. And then do the same with the next one.

Perhaps what we most need to feel in the turbulent times of a global pandemic is sadness, something deeper than our surface emotions, something we usually are not encouraged to feel.

What we are facing today in calamitous degree is the tragic side of life. The Spanish philosopher, Miguel Unamuno wrote in his classic, The Tragic Sense of Life, about what he called “the Common Weeping”:

“I am convinced that we should solve many things if we went into the streets and uncovered our griefs, which perhaps would prove to be but one sole common grief, and joined together in beweeping them and crying aloud to the heavens and calling upon God. And this, even though God should hear us not; but He would hear us. The chieftest sanctity of a temple is that it is a place to which people go to weep in common” (emphasis mine).

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American Christians and the American church tend to ignore the tragic side of life and suppress the Common Weeping.

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The Psalms do not. The Bible’s hymnbook is filled with laments where our common weeping is lifted to God. But we rarely read these psalms. Our hymnbooks used to have a number of lament-like hymns until we put them aside in favor of a sunnier spirituality. “Come Ye Disconsolate” is one example of a hymn of lament, and it has largely vanished from our hymnals.

“As the death toll mounts, we can occupy our hearts and minds with anger and blaming, or we can weep.”

So, where did these laments go when they left the church? They surfaced in folk music, country music and blues. For example, Joan Baez’ “Blowin’ In the Wind” and Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and these blues’ lyrics: “De blues ain’t nothin’/ But a poor man’s heart disease.” And the Spirituals, born in the black church, still nourish our souls.

I think if we truly enter into the Common Weeping during this time of tragic suffering we can be saved from our cruder emotions. Instead of airing our grievances, let’s uncover our griefs. The first destroys community; the second builds it.

What if after 9/11 our nation and its faith communities had stayed longer in the Common Weeping? Instead, vengeance soon filled the air, and the prevailing attitude was that we had to do something. Soon after, the United States military invaded Iraq.

As the death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic mounts, we can occupy our hearts and minds with anger and blaming, or we can weep. Weep with the sick and dying. Weep with those who are afraid. Weep with the poor and the powerless who will suffer the most. Weep over our human frailty and folly. Weep over a new disease sweeping the world and invading our human bodies with little natural defenses against it.

So, let us make a temple when few of our temples are open – a temple of our Common Weeping where we join arms with all people and receive into our deepest places the comfort of the God of all comfort.

EDITOR’S NOTE: BNG is committed to providing timely and helpful news and commentary about ways Christians and churches are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Look for the hashtag #intimeslikethese. You can also use this form to help us identify compelling stories of faith and ministry in these challenging times.

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