In what the Christian religion calls, the Old Testament, and the Jewish religion calls the TANAKH/Hebrew Scriptures, is the book of Jeremiah, the Weeping Prophet. Located in the Nevaiim (the Prophets in the TANAKH), the book of Jeremiah provides a universal archetype for our own spiritual journey. How the Weeping Prophet’s story and example can provide us with a light of hope for our own journey, especially when we’re in a time of great struggle.
Our lives are full of many seasons. And during each season of our lives, the changes, challenges, and movement in and around us brings us new challenges. If you’re like me, you have learned to enjoy those peaceful lulls, the calms, the times in-between, for you have learned as I have, they pass. Our lives and the world we living in are dynamic in nature. Always changing, and we are unchanging in one respect–we want things to stay peaceful and calm, comfortable and familiar, routine and predictable. However, we know that is not how life works.
And so we learn as we live more of life, to ‘go with the flow’ or adapt and adjust, or ‘get used to it’, whatever ‘it’ is. As we live life, we learn to accept new opportunities. We come to understand that when werun into obstaclesand meeting challenges, we have to learn to think on our feet. We find out we can take unusual or jolting experiences as they come. We dicover new levels of ourselves that help us cope. Such discoveries might come in the form of a greater reliance on our faith, or gaining a new perspective. It may come as we learn that what we feared is not insurmountable. We may also find that we have limits and we have to learn to set better boundaries or come to appreciate what we have instead of always needing to do or be something else. With life experiences, we have mixed feelings. Our beliefs and understanding come into conflict with our observations and direct experience. During some seasons, we are more joyful and relaxed than others. And then there are those times, that seem unlike any others, the we run up against something that overwhelms us. We reach a point where we have no choice but to feel and think about things differently. We find ourselves in the middle of uncharted territory. Just when we think we have ‘life’ figured out, something happens to knock us off center.
A way of life that we have worked hard for or grown used to or treasured, is no more. Something we knew and could count on, has gone. Disappeared, is no more. This change may have been precipitated by a death or divorce or loss of something of great value. It may be the uprooting of one due to famine, flood, war, or some other type of disaster. Things happen, regardless of how well prepared, educated, or self-assured we may be. We are caught off guard, and then have to adjust to a new way of living, often with a new vision of who we are and a greater understanding of what our purpose in life is.
This crack in the mirror of our reality, causes us to have to see things differently, and to feel differently than we may have felt before. One thing we humans do is feel loss and sorrow. And we have a need to express that sorrow…to lament our sadness, despair, or disappointment.
We lament when we are mourning a death or great loss. We lament when we express deep grief and suffering, and when we experience disappointment, sorrow, or regret. The book of Lamentations in the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament expresses such grief–the sorrow and despair of the Prophet Jeremiah, also called the Weeping Prophet. In the book of Lamentations we come to understand how Jeremiah found hope even during the most troubling of times. For many of us, no matter where on the planet we live, we find ourselves aware of a deep sorrow and sense of loss.
At a time when wars have raged nearly non-stop in one place or another on the planet for generation after generation, we have remained hopeful people. What my old mentor, Fr. Henri LaCerte called, Easter people. A reference to the Christian holy time when Christ demonstrated the eternal nature of our human soul, being Easter people for Fr. LaCerte meant maintaining hope and relying on faith to weather the storms and to cope with the despair we experience. The idea within all great spiritual and religious traditions, that a reliance on something greater than our own understanding coupled with an innate sense of hopefulness, even in the worst of times, is what gives us strength to rise above the storms of our lives.
As I write this article in the middle of the Lenten season, I realize our season of despair has tested each of us for quite some time, from well before the transition from Fat Tuesday to Ash Wednesday. In terms of spiritual practice, the holy seasons are turning points where we move from mundane, every day, daily life time to sacred time. It is a time set aside intentionally entering into a period of fasting, reflection. It is a time when we are challenged to contemplate the turmoil, toil, and struggle–our own personal struggles and those of others and the world we live in. Many holy seasons overlap. Easter season coincides with the Jewish Passover because after all, Jesus was an observant Jew who was celebrating the Seder with his companions. We now call that meal, the Last Supper, but it was part of an ongoing tradition that had been observed for centuries before.
Why do I write about these religious traditions when dealing with our need to lament? Because our traditions, whatever they are, have developed because of our human need to reconnect to our spiritual nature. To gain perspective of who we are amid the times in our lives when we suffer and struggle the most. If we look at the Prophet Jeremiah, we see from his life that his prophecies were warning his community of their impending imprisonment and captivity. They of course, ignored him and shunned his warnings. Jeremiah himself didn’t have an easy life. He experienced a great deal of disappointment
Prophets were those who for better or worse, had the gift of being able to discern God’s message, to know without knowing why, what struggles lay ahead. Not fortune tellers, but discerners, who listened with their hearts and souls. No one much cared to hear the prophet’s messages. And prophets themselves, more often than not, were reluctant to see themselves as someone worthy to hear God’s Word and then deliver the messages to the people. We all have a bit of the prophet within us. We sense what is coming our way. We dream and envision possibilities. We are capable of discerning how our current actions, thinking, and direction will potentially lead to future consequences. But we often choose to ignore those messages, thinking instead that we aren’t sure enough or capable enough to discern for ourselves how we are cope with what our lives have become.
This series of essays looks at how the Weeping Prophet’s experience can help us in the discernment of our own journey. To begin with, one of the qualities of a Prophet is that the prophet’s life is not a smooth and easy path. We may think to ourselves, “How can my life be anything at all like that of a Prophet who lived thousands of years ago? How can that person’s life and problems or dilemmas compare to mine?” Well let’s look and see.
As Jeremiah’s story begins (3:1-16) we discover he’s suffered a series of troubles. waiting for life’s fulfillment and blessings, he was disappointed and thought he’d waited and had faith in vain. When his own actions or those of someone else, caused him pain or robbed him of what he felt was rightfully his, he refused to change his ways. When there was drought and his crops dried in the fields, he refused to ask for help. Jeremiah also suffered a sense of feeling abandoned, lost, and cut off from God’s grace. He got angry and turned his hate on others. He did it ‘his way’ not relying on or even turning towards the source of goodness.
After so much time of dwelling in despair, anger, frustration, disappointment, or the need to control, he felt distant from the Divine. Separated, disconnected, and cut off from the Source of goodness. How often do we try to ‘do it ourselves’ or blame ourselves or someone else for what disturbs us. How often could change our thinking, perspective, and turn toward the principles that we say we are grounding our faith in? Examining our own conscience to see what we’ve done today to improve a situation for ourselves and others. Examining our own behavior to see where we are making things worse, wasting time and energy complaining, or digging ourselves into a pool of self pity. It’s not that we are not all capable of feeling upset or dwelling on negative thinking, but when we refuse to make any effort to move beyond the dark places, we are further separating ourselves from the Light, the understanding we need to move forward.
The Weeping Prophet, Jeremiah also suffered physically. As Louise Hay said, “Our biography becomes our biology.” When we suppress anger or grief for too long, it takes its toll on our health and well being. When we let our obligations and lifestyle weigh us down, sometimes by taking on too much or by procrastinating, or maybe simply by not appreciating the gifts in the garbage, we find ourselves carrying heavy burdens. Our relationships with others suffer as well, and when the times get tough, when real tragedy strikes, we already feel we may illequipped to deal with it.
When we go through the tough times, one of the hardest things about it is the loss of peace and sense of goodness. We can deal with just about any loss, as long as we are able to maintain some peace. We can adapt to change, as long as we keep our sense that there is something good that can come out of whatever we suffer. Like the Weeping Prophet, Jeremiah, we find ourselves at rock bottom when we lose our sense of peace and well being. Another thing that happened to the prophet also happens to us when we are copying with grief, loss, despair, or a great disappointment. We lose our strength and the hope that things will ever get better. Our strength is grounded not so much in external things like success, wealth, power, or achievements, but more so by our inner strength, health, balance and well being. We can handle a great deal, when we still connect to a sense of inner peace and tranquility. We can cope with great losses as long as we maintain a sense of harmony and balance in the course of our day.
And from where does that sense of hope and well being come? If it were left to us to depend solely on ourselves and our own capacity to navigate and cope with life’s journey, we might find ourselves rooted in alienation, disconnectedness, or an overdependence on our own ego and ego fulfillment needs. This may work for a while, but we are more than the limitations of our physical being. We are spirit-infused beings, designed to use the full expression of the gifts we’ve been given. Like a prophet chosen by God to listen and deliver messages of hope and love, we too are chosen to live out the expression of our Divine nature. We do this in so many different ways, and when the obstacles, heartbreaks, disappointments, or disconnections take place, we need to find a way to reconnect and reawaken that Divinity within. The awakening begins by turning towards that light that shines, even it the light is hidden temporarily in the shadows.
Next: Coping with Challenges, Appreciating Gifs.