Or am I? Because in the world I’ve grown up in, women don’t wail. Yes, there might be tears, but appropriately, and often in private. Especially as a woman of faith, a preacher’s kid, I’ve been taught to be proper, to reign in my emotions, to reflect joy.
Certainly, not to wail.
I don’t blame this on my family, in any sense of the word, but the culture in which I am part of. Which has been falling apart as of late, I’ve noticed. Have you?
Recently I found myself in the book of Jeremiah. Not my favourite reading by any stretch, this weeping prophet had a lot of warnings, grim poetry, and is rather depressing. But here I was, in the middle of Chapter nine, and read this:
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: Consider now! Call for the wailing women to come; send for the most skillful of them. Let them come quickly and wail over us, till our eyes overflow with tears and water streams from our eyelids.” vs. 18
And he goes on to say: “Teach your daughters how to wail, teach one another a lament.” (vs. 20)
The rest of the chapter is quite gloomy, but I got stuck on the wailing.
I seem to need permission for this sort of thing, always trying to get things right. I want to be positive, cheerful, considerate, and as a fun-loving friend would say, I’m stuck on decorum.
But in recent weeks, months, I’ve been feeling this collective weight, a knot formed in my belly, and I’m suspicious others might feel it too. There is this cry, longing to rise up out of my throat, to wail.
This is not an “I feel sorry for myself” kind of cry, but a body-felt, all encompassing, heart-aching, soul-wrenching cry over our broken world.
A world that niceness won’t fix, a polarized world where the strongest of opinions divide and there seems there is no room for listening. A world where those of colour feel the wounds of systemic racism, and find themselves explaining, over and over again how that impacts their lives.
Perhaps it takes a pandemic for us to wake up and see how broken we are. That we have lived for ourselves, and cared little for others, cared little for the earth. I hear the earth weeping too, why have I not noticed it so clearly before? The earth God gave us to care for, and she has too been mistreated.
I still don’t think I could wail. I tend to bottle in my frustrations, and you might of heard me say, grace under pressure. There’s been a bit more venting lately. Which is uncomfortable for me, and I suspect would be for others.
Actually wailing, or as some would call “professional mourning” is brought up many times in the Bible. It is part of various cultures, notably, Egypt and China. In history and in some countries today, women in particular are called to express deep grief, or wail, as a response to national tragedy. There are times men wail as well, but gender roles aside, this seems to be a task for women.
Tragedy has come, to our nation, to our global community. Not only do we mourn the many who have died, but the economic upheaval, the social impact, the mental health crisis, and the racial tensions that all seem to be simmering at the same time.
So, I’m asking, is there a time and a place for wailing? It’s not like I’m going to invite you to the nearest hill to collectively pour out our hearts. Or maybe that’s not such a bad idea. Do you ever feel like howling with the coyotes on distant hills?
There is time to mourn, a time to weep.
There is a time to listen. To listen to those who suffer, to pay attention to those who do not have a voice.
There is a time to cry out, perhaps with words on a page, perhaps with our conversations, perhaps with our voices to speak out against injustice.
A time to wail.
And a time to listen to those who wail.