Written by Kristi C Johnson
"Dear hospice, this is what I want you to know." This is how I started my letter to acknowledge the end of my hospice career. I had decided to go away for a silent retreat after tending my resignation to my hospice work and found myself overwhelmed with emotion at saying goodbye to a well-loved career. I pulled out my journal to write a letter to my hospice work as a way of honoring this ending. Particular stories of people I companioned in their last days of breath came to gently greet me. I began to gather all the graces and gifts I received from this work while acknowledging all that was incredibly hard. I wrote until I found my way to the end of language.
Suddenly, I felt moved to get up from my chair to dance this letter. I let all the co-mingled grief of mine and those I companioned to move through me. I moved my body and let it express all that it had been holding and witnessing- to allow the emotions to inform my motions. I allowed my body to find the place where this work was held and to give it room to acknowledge its need and voice. I discovered the work was held mostly in my hands. My dance turned into a movement of envisioning the hundreds of hands I held in this work. My hands began to weave back and forth between holding on and letting go and I began to feel the grief working its way in and through me.
I danced until my hands had fully remembered, received, integrated and processed the sacredness of what this work held for me. I danced until my hands began to lift up and praise God for this lived experience of tending to the dying. The words of Psalm 30: 11-12 (MSG) became my prayer.
“You did it: you changed wild lament into whirling dance; You ripped off my black mourning band and decked me with wildflowers. I'm about to burst with song; I can't keep quiet about you. God, my God, I can't thank you enough.”
We are in times of wild lament. And again, I am reminded of the physicality of grief and how it occupies a place within us that needs space to be witnessed, held and integrated. I was challenged by a friend recently to record myself dancing to a song about letting go as the grief I was holding was piling up — the racial unrest, political divisiveness, the pandemic, and the wildfires burning so much of my beloved state. In dancing, I again felt all the unwitnessed and untold parts of my laments finding expression and form. I rose my fists, I wept, and I felt lost and then found again — all within the first refrain. At the end of the dance, I was left with a hollowed out space that had felt crowded by the piercing pain of this year. It is a space in my heart that I only want Christ to fill. So much of the spiritual life invites us to remember and to receive and I needed to remember once again where my hope dwells. In this season of wild lament, my prayer is that I will continue to remember to accept the invitation into whirling dance receiving my life, my presence, my body as an instrument of prayer.
“Your whole life is a prayer and your body is in the midst of it.”
— Jane Vennard
Laments often have a set format:
An address and complaint to God, the description of suffering/ anguish which one seeks relief, a petition/request for help or deliverance, statement of trust in God and a vow to praise.
I encourage you to consider writing out your own lament with this format with your own words or to take one of the lament Psalms and form them into your own lament. Sixty-seven of the Psalms are considered laments- more than any other type of Psalm.
The individual lament Psalms are:
3,4, 5, 6, 7, 9 -10, 11, 13, 16, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 35, 36, 38, 39, 40, 42, 43, 51, 52, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 62, 63, 64, 69, 70, 71, 77, 86,88, 94, 102, 109, 120, 130, 140, 141, 142, 143.
The community laments Psalms are:
12, 14, 44, 53, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 90, 106, 108, 123, 126, 137
If you feel led, see if your body might want to express this lament in some form. It does not need to be a dance but could be some way that your body might want to pray that is new to you. I believe that laments are meant to be embodied. So many narratives in the bible involve people expressing laments in a bodily way — falling on to their knees, ripping off clothes, putting on sackcloth and ashes, raising cries of distress, fainting/ pouring out and many more.