The Via Negativa: Grief, and the Lamentations from Jeremiah

There is much to grieve about today.  Grief is a sign of our times.  It demands our attention.  So much is being lost in the Amazon fires, Bahama hurricanes and well beyond.

Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Stern. Photo by the Academy for the Love of Learning

Recently it was my privilege to attend by live streaming a powerful event sponsored by the Academy for the Love of Learning in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The Academy is the brain child of Lenny Bernstein and Aaron Stern, its current and founding president.* 

The occasion was a celebration in honor of Lenny Bernstein and featured was his first symphony, that of the Lamentations of Jeremiah—what could be more fitting for our moment in history when the Amazon forest is burning like never before (many fires started intentionally by agricultural conglomerates) and so much else being lost from Mother Earth?

“The Lamentation” Photo by Jon Evans; sculptor unknown. Flickr

There are many ways to grieve and the ancient songs of Jeremiah (or a different author) present some poignant laments. A number of them Christians have appropriated over the centuries to be sung on Good Friday and applied to the death of Jesus at the hands of the empire.  Today they apply to the death of the rainforest at the hand of new empires.

All you who pass this way, 
     look and see
Is any sorrow like the sorrow
that afflicts me?…
A fire has been sent from on high
down into my bones;      
I am brought down;
and left deserted,
ill all day long. 

(Jer 1. 12f.)
Lament of Saint Peter (1630) Claude Vignon. Wikipedia Commons

The memory
        of festivals and sabbaths has been wiped out;
King and priest have been repudiated.
The Lord has come to loathe his sanctuary,
and handed her palace walls
over to the enemy;
From the uproar in the Temple of Yahweh
It might have been a day of festival….
Even her prophets receive
no further vison from Yahweh. 

(Jer 2.6-7, 9)

My teeth have been broken with gravel,
ashes are my food.

My soul is shut out from peace;
I have forgotten happiness.
And now I say, ‘my strength is gone,
That hope which came from Yahweh.

(Jer 3.16-18)
“Lamentation.” Photographer unknown. Wikipedia Commons.

They hunted me, harried me like a bird,
they who hate me for no reason.
They tumbled my life into a pit,
they threw stones down on me.
I said, ‘I am lost’.

(Jer. 3:52-54)

The elders have deserted the gateway;
the young men have given up their music,
Joy has vanished from our hearts;
our dancing has been turned to mourning.
The garland has fallen from our heads.

(Jer 5: 14-16)

*By way of transparency, I am a visiting scholar at the Academy.

See: Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 132-177.
Scriptural quotes adapted from The Jerusalem Bible.
Banner image: “Praying Hands” Photo by wsilver, Flickr

For Deeper Contemplation

Stop at a phrase that moves you in this reading.  Be there with the phrase.  Let it wash over you and through you.  What is it making you feel?  What is it telling you about 1) staying awake?  2) Not forgetting?   3) what you can do?

Go to Google and listen to Bernstein’s Symphonie # 1, his “Jeremiah Symphony.”

Or listen to these Gregorian chant versions of Jeremiah’s Lamentations:

Recommended Reading

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

In this book Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology). Here Fox lays out the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.

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