Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Four Books that Changed My Life, Episode 1:Lament for a Son

The past few months I have mentioned "Four Books that Changed my Life" in a variety of contexts. It seemed logical for me to take a minute to say a word or two (or four) about these books that have had such a profound impact on me.

The first book is the actually the last one that I read. Nicholas Wolterstorff's Lament for a Son.

I first discovered this text when Cindy was in graduate school at Truett Seminary in Waco. Wolterstorff is a brilliant thinker and has several compelling works on social justice, education, and even art. Lament for a Son, however, is a much more personal text. After losing his adult son in a climbing accident in Europe, Wolterstorff journalled his grief experience. A trained theologian and philosopher, Wolterstorff journalled his struggles with God and his struggles with humanity after the tragedy. That journal later became the basis for Lament for a Son.

It is a powerfully honest text. It is a text that reveals a father who is not in search of answers, but rather, in search of community. It is a text that shows a man who doesn't want practiced, well-rehearsed, canned, ministerial answers, but someone who will practice a ministry of presence.

I discovered in this book an honest quality of prayer that I too often lack and an honesty that is all to present in the Bible (I am always troubled when ideas that are so novel to me turn out to be so biblical). Practiced piety and rehearsed prayers are comfortable. In Wolterstorff, I found a man willing to take who he was was, where he was to the divine--even when "who he was" was angry, and "where he was" was a valley of deepest darkness--even when "who he was, where he was" was uncomfortable for those around.

Though certainly sad, Lament isn't hopeless. Like the laments of the psalms, Lament for a Son has its moments of hope. I found hope in two places. First, this book taught me that "lament" is worship. I shouldn't have been surprised by that. By some counts, half of the hymns of ancient Israel (in the book of Psalms) contain lament characteristics. Israel knew that life in this world will bring humanity to cry out, and those cries needed to be taken to the divine.

The second hopeful lesson from the book was Wolterstorff's willingness to authentically welcome us into his grief and his invitiation to join him as he continued to wrestle in grief. He is willing to lay his soul bear and invite ministry and community. His humility, his willingness to be low and accept ministry truly inspires me.

Its discussion of grief and faith goes beyond just the loss of a son. It speaks to grief in a number of settings. Everyone who has been sad and angry or confused should read this book.  I joke that this book has become a track for me. I recommend it, and I hand out my personal copies. I just received my 10-12th (lost count) copy in the mail last week.

It is short, deep, well-written, relevant...and it changed my life.

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