A sales receipt long tucked between the pages of a book can tell a story of its own. I am known for using the receipt handed to me at checkout as a bookmark for the purchase I don’t wait long to read. Discovered years later, it often seems like a clue, giving away a snapshot of a former day—the date of the transaction, the location of the store, the other books I bought along with the one I chose to read first. Something more seems to be said about the book itself and the thoughts going through my head at the time—a memoir chosen on a road-trip far from home, a hardback on spirituality acquired during a transition in college majors. It is a glimpse at myself in time, a day in the past speaking to the present one: I was here. I was searching. I was alive.
A receipt fell out of a book I was rereading not too long ago. It was tucked in the pages of a small book depicting the fragmented thoughts of a grieving father. Written by a professor of philosophical theology, Lament for a Son relays the beating heart and exasperated soul of a man forced by a tragic accident to bury his son at 25. The sales receipt that marked the pages furthered the illustration of grief therein. The book was purchased exactly a year after my father died.
There is a language of loss that we share as humans, though many of us need help remembering how to speak it. Rediscovering the memory of sitting in a bookstore on an anniversary that almost seemed offensive, I am struck with this thought. We need the language of lament–not a language that simply tries to transport us elsewhere. We need permission to voice the broken hope within our wary bodies.. We need to know lament is a song we are allowed to sing presently, as is.
In the preface of Lament for a Son, author Nicholas Wolterstorff relays a brief interchange with a friend who told him that he had given copies of the book to all of his children. Confused, Wolterstorff asked why he would want to give away a book of so much despair and pain. “Because it is a love-song,” came the reply. Returning to the preface, the author writes, “Yes, it is a love-song. Every human lament is a love-song.” And then he asks a question that begins not the escape, but the outpouring that is the entire book: “Will love-songs one day no longer be laments?”
I remember a story recounted by a Christian counselor that utters a similar sentiment. A woman who had a history of abuse and a difficult past had been coming for treatment and had been showing signs of healing. Yet one day the woman came in and announced what she felt was another sign of her brokenness that needed to be worked on. She described her recent tendency to cry in the presence of her physician as he showed concern for her as a person with significant health problems. She felt her tears were an indication of something more that needed to be examined.
The counselor immediately thought of the woman in the gospels who responded to Jesus with weeping, even washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. Luke writes, “[A]s she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them” (Luke 7:38). Her tears seem at once an expression of life, marking in gratitude the feet of the one who gave voice to the lament within her—in the context of a love-song. The woman in counseling identified immediately with this physical reaction to Christ, eventually learning to see her own tears as a lament of a world that is marked by suffering, and a sign of the God who knows all too well this sting.
The message of a human and wounded Jesus Christ is powerfully relevant to a hurting world. We live before a God who gives us reason to utter the words of loss in the pits of our stomachs, even as we are given the gift a God who physically bore our sorrow. If every human lament is a love-song, Jesus is the embodied hope that God is singing in the midst of it, perhaps at times using our own tears to call us toward his own broken body and the stripes that mercifully, thankfully heal.