I’ve been reading and listening to Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility as part of an online book club with some of my Wool n’ Spinning friends. What began as something to do and a way to connect while we’re all stuck at home has become a catalyst for a good deal of personal reflection.
If you’ve not read it, the “Sense” in the book refers to the Elanor, one of the main protagonists and the older sister. Elanor has deep feelings, but a strong sense of propriety and a ton of self control. “Sensibility” refers to her younger sister Marianne, whose deep feelings are all on the outside. She and their mother both are described as actively feeding their feelings, to the point of making themselves ridiculous, or causing pain to others.
I read the first part of the book feeling disgusted with Marianne and her mother. For personal reasons, I react negatively to any intentional emotional display, even if the intention is directed toward the emotions rather than the display. But our first book club zoom meeting helped a good deal, as my friend Becka described the positive idealization of displays of deep feeling. This was part of romanticism, which has its positives and negatives to be sure, but it made me think.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about vulnerability. A funny symbol of this is my hair. I did a major hair chop a week ago, something I’ve been working myself up to for quite some time. Lacking access to a hair dresser, I asked my husband to just take trimmers to it. As a result my hair is shorter than its ever been.
I love it, and hilariously, at this length it wants to do a little pompadour thing at the front. It reminds me, for some reason, of the tenth doctor from Doctor Who, who is a major symbol of vulnerability for me. What makes him amazing, I think, is that his vulnerability is for him a source of power and strength. This in turn is just a small shadow of the deepest symbol of power through vulnerability: the cross. The submission to a shameful, wrongful death, which saved the world.
In the midst of all these meditations, today’s Daily Office reading hit me like a ton of bricks. One of the Bible tradings was Lamentations 2, which in context is about mourning for Jerusalem having been destroyed. “Their heart cried to the Lord. O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite!”
This is an intentional command to feed negative emotions, specifically to cry out to God for mercy and forgiveness.
In the context of our present moment, even my repressed feelings are near the surface most of the time, and I need to know what to do with them. N.T. Wright wrote a piece about the Biblical concept of lament which explains it much better than I could. I think lament is the answer. If I go my usual route of avoiding my feelings, they will come out sideways as fearfulness and anxiety, as internalized trauma, or as anger. Instead this is a moment to feed the sadness and cry out to God.
This is the perfect moment for this word from God to feel the sadness, to cry out to God. I write this out of my own vulnerability, to process what is going on, and because I know I’m not the only one. We who believe in Christ all must cling to the cross right now, and for me, this reflection is an existential means of doing so.
Are you crying out to God right now?