lenten journal: lament

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The last two Sundays I have had the privilege of playing music in church with my friend Terry, who is one of the best harmonica players I have ever heard. Soon after we moved to Durham I was asked to sing at the sixtieth birthday party of one of our church members. I sang “Angel From Montgomery” and asked Terry if he would play along. We have been playing together off and on ever since. We even have a name for ourselves: Oysters on the Half Shell. We are, as we like to say, raw and delicious.

The song we did Sunday is one that speaks to me and one I have always thought would be a good hymn for Lent because it is truly a song of lament. I haven’t sung it before because I never think of it until Lent is already here; this year I was ahead of the curve. The song is Emmylou Harris’ “Prayer in Open D.”

there’s a valley of sorrow in my soul
where every night I hear the thunder roll
like the sound of a distant gun
over all the damage I have done
and the shadows filling up this land
are the ones I built with my own hand
there is no comfort from the cold
of this valley of sorrow in my soul

there’s a river of darkness in my blood
and through every vein I feel the flood
I can find no bridge for me to cross
no way to bring back what is lost
into the night it soon will sweep
down where all my grievances I keep
but it won’t wash away the years
or one single hard and bitter tear

and the rock of ages I have known
is a weariness down in the bone
I use to ride it like a rolling stone
now I just carry it alone

there’s a highway rising from my dreams
deep in the heart I know it gleams
for I have seen it stretching wide
clear across to the other side
beyond the river and the flood
and the valley where for so long I’ve stood
with the rock of ages in my bones
someday I know it will lead me home

I’m grateful to Mike at West Raleigh Presbyterian Church because he recorded us Sunday. (You will notice we left out the bridge so Terry could play a harmonica solo.)

Lament:

  • a passionate expression of grief or sorrow;
  • a song, piece of music, or poem expressing sorrow;
  • an expression of regret or disappointment; a complaint.

There’s a fair amount of scripture and song devoted to lamenting. Grief is at the heart of our faith—a reminder that hope and optimism are not synonyms. We are people of constant sorrow, so it is good to give voice to what and who has been lost, to sing to the night together, even as we remember we are walking towards the resurrection.

The amazing thing about this song is it names “the damage I have done,” which also reminds me grace is at the heart of our faith. If life were simply a matter of getting what I deserved, none of us would fare well. I know of the persistent resilience of God’s love because of those who have weathered the storms I have created, who have picked up the pieces of what I have broken, and continue to love me.

Sunday during the time with the children I told them when I thought of songs I wanted to sing I tried to pick ones that would sound good with harmonica just so I could hear Terry play. I love to play and sing, but there’s another level of wonder when he is standing next to me with his harp, which leads me to believe that laments are probably best sung as choral pieces, or at least in duos and trios. Singing of sorrow all by yourself will kill you. Another voice in the night is the first assurance that all is not lost, we are not alone; the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out.

Peace,
Milton

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3 COMMENTS

  1. In the end, I have to sing my faith, because I can’t believe it with my intellect. Ideas I have sung are closer to the heart than ones from my head.

    I’d love to hear you sing in person again.

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