The Wailing Times of History

Light of truth

“If you want to humble an empire it makes sense to maim its cathedrals. They are symbols of its faith, and when they crumble and burn, it tells us we are not so powerful and we can’t be safe.”

This is exactly what happened with the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. by the mighty hand of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II. Jews even today wail at the western wall of the Temple Mount where the first and second holy temples stood together for 830 years. This city had been the last holdout of the nation of Judah; in its fall, the national shrine, the king and nobles, the lives of many residents of the city, and all their valuables were lost. The history of it is narrated in 2 Kings 25:1-21.

In addition, the city was vital to the identity of its citizens and closely related to their faith and to their understanding of their relationship to God. The book of Lamentations is a response to the fall of Jerusalem, an expression in poetry of the meaning of that event. The book describes the penitent mood and cries of the Jews after their fall, but the book is never like the Greek tragedies; it paints a great horizon of hope. Meaning is ultimately not found but made. This fact becomes even more plain once one realizes that meaning is expressed in language, which is inevitably culturally and contextually dependant. There are no brute facts unmediated by some interpretive process. All traditional religious interpretations of the catastrophe fail before the magnitude of the destruction and the agony of the suffering.

Such catastrophic events happen also within the church; they could be moral failures, economic disasters and the such. We would see the book of Lamentations as part of the great biblical tradition of struggling with the incomprehensible in the light of a community’s relationship with its God. Meaning might be found in the effort at maintaining a continuing relationship with that God in the light of tradition, in the midst of unbearable and incomprehensible suffering.

The cry is primarily a protest in bitterness and anguish. On the way of the cross, women of Jerusalem wept for Jesus, it was a protest against the unjust fate thrust on him and a way of clearly taking position with the persecuted. Force is as pitiless to the man whose fate makes Him a suffering.

The human race is not divided up into conquered persons and conquerors. There is not a single man who does not at one time or another have to bow his neck to force. Such a heaping-up of violent deeds would have a frigid effect, were it not for the note of incurable bitterness though often only tears mark its presence. At the very best, a mind enclosed in language is a prison. The God of truth shines through the spaces of lamentation.

In weeping I am at war with myself, I say things that contradict each other. That composes me, that makes me live, and that will make me die. This war, I see it sometimes as a terrifying and painful war, but at the same time I know that it is life. I will not find peace except in eternal rest. Therefore I cannot say that I assume this contradiction, but I know too well that it is what allows me to live, and to pose the question, effectively, that you posed: How to learn, how to live? Thought can be defined as “the anxious anticipation of death.” Can one imagine “deconstruction” as an interminable ethos of survival? Eyes can not only look but can also cry. There are different sorts of looks, looks that kill, burn, humiliate, objectify, belittle, dehumanize, dominate and subjugate. In all these looks the reality that is looked at can never reveal itself. An angry look never sees, because the eyes are weapons of domination and subjugation. When one cries his dominating look fails and his self stands without power and becomes passive. Only the eyes which are wet with tears can see the truth of the matter.

Survival is life beyond life, life more than life, and the discourse I undertake is not death-oriented, just the opposite. To feel joy and to lament the spectre of death, for me is the same thing. In our tradition we are under the surveillance of the agency of the glance and the metaphor of light. One such image of vision is that of seeing tears and of seeing in tears, in such a seeing we are in truth. I would like to conclude here with the suggestion that we need to believe in these weeping eyes, those seeing tears and in a visionary ethics.

Leave a Comment