Slideshow image

February 2023. The Turkish rescue worker looked at the camera when asked to describe what he’s experiencing. He answers, “Hell” and says no more.  

There are no words to describe that devastation. When the scale of the disaster became clear, the word “disaster” became meaningless. What happened is so far beyond what that word can hold. Silence is the appropriate response. Silence and then the cry of lament. There are factual, seismographic words and numbers and there are the accounts of eyewitnesses and survivors. Leave it at that.

Lament and despair are not the same thing. Despair says, “all hope is lost, the rescue we waited for will not come”. Lament says, “let us remain here in profound mourning; perhaps one day, the light will return. We will wait.”

The expression on that rescue worker’s face was despair. He and his team had been working around the clock but in the previous four days, they had not found anyone else alive under the rubble. All hope was lost. Yet people may have still been breathing and conscious under that rubble, waiting for help, the help that will not come. With all our hearts we pray that God was very, very imminent to them in those days and in hours of their death.

There are lines in the Psalms of Lament which sound like despair. To paraphrase - “My God, my God, why have you forsaken them?” Who will lead us in honest lament? Biblical scholar, Walter Brueggeman, teaches the practice of lament.  “Jesus sees that only those who mourn will be comforted. Only those who embrace the reality of death will receive the new life. Implicit is that those who do not mourn will not be comforted and those who do not face the endings will not receive the newness."

Wars, plague, extreme weather, species extinction, the refugee crisis and natural disasters have had encounters with us in the last years. We are numb. Watching TV news makes us even more numb. The earthquake in Turkey/Syria makes many doubt the goodness of God, if there is a God. Yet the Muslim families who have lost so much in that quake are heard to say, “Allah will help us. Allah makes us strong”.

The farmers in this diocese have had reasons to despair. Endless rains last year, then the drought. Loss of market fruit and vegetables for farmers is heartbreaking; they operate on such a slight profit margin already.  All their expenses; fuel, insurance, fertilizer are higher every year.  

Not to mention gardeners. Many gardeners gave up. We may put off seedings this year until we are sure it’ll be worth it. But there is no surety of that. It seems embarrassingly trite to put weather woes on the same page as the earthquakes of February 2023. The point of this:  we are always in some adversity, always have been. When you deny that, you are not in “fullness of life”. Facing the endings, may we remain tender hearted and generous while growing in resilience.

The Nobel Prize winning poet, Czeslaw Milosz, lived in Warsaw during WW II. (If you do not know much about the war time destruction of Polish nation, land culture, cities and people, you may not have the courage to find out.)  A devout, and doubting, Roman Catholic, all he could do, he wrote, was “to hope for hope.”

Part of the lament we need to practice is an honest admittance of our own recoil when we first hear of horrific events. Part of us does not want to go there. There is a tendency to distract ourselves with the relatively little, though seeming large, disturbances of our own tiny lives.

Where is the source of hope? Psalm 126 gives us a clue how to segue into hope.  You must go out weeping, fearing the worst. You sow seeds in tears. Then you notice something has turned, you give praise. You come home with shouts of joy, carrying your harvest with you. Can we imagine that for the Turks and Syrians? For the Ukrainians? Hoping to hope, I cannot, yet.  

Admit to despair. Remain in lament, your tongue coated with ash.  Eventually, some appropriate words may be given to us; let’s not rush to that place.  

  “Blessed are those who mourn." One day, singing may return, as the mourners go out with hope, “the thing with feathers’’ on their shoulders. In the words of the Iona Prayer,


Gathered and scattered
God is with us

In suffering and in hope
God is with us

Now and always
God is with us.

Part 2 of this essay, HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS, will appear in late March early April on this blogspace and in May's issue of Topic.

Hannah Main-van der Kamp gardens in Powell River. She went out in soggy February to seed cold-loving greens and peas. Guess what happened next. 


Grief tears and grieving feeling as a sad rose symbol crying out of agony and sadness iStock photo ID:1337374070 Credit wildpixel