The relationship between suffering and new life was introduced to me in catastrophe.
Three years ago, my husband of 10 years came home, sat me down at our dining room table, and told me he was leaving me.
It felt like the earth fell from underneath me. Everything shattered. My bones, my heart, my brain, and my will.
I became a wailing woman.
Theologian Bruce Vaughn sees joy and suffering as interlocked realities. When we try to avoid the darkness of life, we ultimately must deny the light.
This breeds a sort of numbness to reality. Not embracing our pain and, therefore, never breaking through into ecstasy.
Using Genesis 1, he describes the dark void before creation, saying, “This is where anything that deserves the name life must begin—in the void, in the darkness of chaos.”
And when we descend into that pain, allowing ourselves to feel fully, we begin to live fully. Our suffering becomes a great teacher.
As Vaughn continues, “if we keep our eyes open in this darkness, we find there what the text of Genesis asserts: that the Spirit of God, Spirit of the Creator, is moving around in there.”
”if we keep our eyes open in this darkness, we find there what the text of Genesis asserts: that the Spirit of God, Spirit of the Creator, is moving around in there.”
God, Wisdom Sophia, Word is there in the darkness ready to create new life.
This is the same God who came down from heaven, died, and rose again. The God of life, death, and resurrection. Bringing life out of suffering is the name of this God’s game.
Throughout scripture, readers are introduced to the act of wailing.
Covered in ashes and tattered clothes, ancient Israelites (and some still today) would scream in the streets, lamenting their troubles to God.
While men throughout the Bible wail, this practice was specifically lead by women. Women were specially positioned in society to lead in mourning. These women were called wailing women and are depicted throughout the Bible (at the resurrection of Lazarus and Jesus’ walk to Calvary) women gathering at times of death to mourn.
In Jeremiah 9, we see a special depiction of God calling the wailing women to join in mourning Judah:
“O that my head were a spring of water, and my a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!”
The poem goes on to say:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider, and call for the mourning women to come; send for the skilled women to come; let them quickly raise a dirge over us, so that our eyes may run down with tears, and our eyelids flow with water.”
In his homily on John St. Chrysostom cites Jeremiah in reference to suffering in his own time, saying: ”Now is the time to mourn and weep and lament. It is timely also for us to say now, ‘Call for the mourning women, and send to them that are wise women, and let them speak.’”
“Now is the time to mourn and weep and lament. It is timely also for us to say now, ‘Call for the mourning women, and send to them that are wise women, and let them speak.’”
And while wailing is not a strictly female experience, theologically, giving way to suffering it is a feminine experience.
It is a form of expression attributed to God through a feminine space, and understood Biblically and historically as women’s practice.
Yet in our mindern society we view the tears of women as abhorrent.
Women who cry are overly emotional, manipulative, or troubled. And a woman who screams needs to calm down.
But as Jeremiah, and Chrysostom show calling out in sorrow is the act of the divine.
In the moments of our greatest suffering, the wisdom of God dwells. God is not there to fix these problems; anymore, then God created them.
When my marriage ended, suffering had come knocking at my door, and I had two choices. I could try to avoid the pain, pretend I was fine, put on my prettiest fake smile, and tough it out.
Or I could turn and face the darkness where God my fellow wailing woman, was waiting to wrap her arms of love around me and join in my tears or grief and rage.
And as my tears fell on the shattered parts of my life, seeds of new life were sown.
For further reading on the Wailing Women, read Mourner, Mother, Midwife by L. Juliana M. Claassens
*Did you grow up in Purity Culture? I’ve been studying feminist theology for the past seven years and love talking with women about how purity culture hurts women in the church. Interested in sharing your story? Let’s talk! Schedule a meeting with me here.