When I think of contemplative practice here at Life Together, I often imagine spacious silence. So our January Third Friday training around contemplative practice, held this year as our nation inaugurated its 45th president, became an experiment of sorts. The trainers that day, LT alumni Lydia Strand and Yani Burgos, decided to focus our contemplation on the forgotten spiritual practice of lament.
Lament, I discovered on Friday, can be loud. Our chant, based on Psalm 6’s “Oh Lord, how long,” rose and fell in volume and intensity as we sang together, spilling over from the training room into the entire house. The sounds of rending cloth punctuated periods of silence. Rather than internalizing our pain, our confusion, our grief at the violence of the world and in our own lives, in our practice we gave collective voice to those emotions.
I realized, in reflecting on my own moments of discomfort during the practice, that we don’t live in a broader culture that encourages lament. Our work for justice often pushes us immediately into righteous anger and action, into fighting for an alternative reality. In our personal lives, we struggle to sit with the friend living with depression or the dying relative. Yet when we don’t pause to lament what is wrong-- to acknowledge the toll it takes on our spirits-- we lose something deep and powerful in our response to the pain we see around us. For those of us who participated in Friday’s practice, vocalizing our lament gave us a more grounded commitment to action in the days ahead.
Both sound and silence can heal. In this newsletter, alumni Matt Gesicki (‘15) reflects on his “religious identity on the hyphen between Catholic roots and Buddhist wings,” grounded in silent contemplative practices he experienced at Life Together. Current fellow Savannah Hague invites us into their fellow experience through a cacophony of sounds in their site placement and intentional community life. Like my experience in Friday’s ritual of lament, for both Savannah and Matt sound is an important part of the journey toward wholeness.
May we all listen and speak so that truth might be heard.