Michael Card. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. [Also: Experience Guide]. Colorado Springs: NavPress.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Grief is a postmodern embarrassment. American society has abandoned the idea of Sabbath rest; even the pre-eminent American holiday, Thanksgiving, is being pushed aside to make more room for holiday shopping. As the pace of life keeps accelerating, the rhythm of life allows little room for honest reflection; honest emotions. Grief often comes as a kind of alien invasion.
In this context, Christian musician, Michael Card, observed after 9/11—we, in the American church, had no songs to sing in response to the horrific attack (7). Songs to sing? When Jerusalem was burned to the ground by the Babylonians, the Prophet Jeremiah wrote the Book of Lamentation. Lamentation is a song of grief.
In his book, A Sacred Sorrow, Card set out to rediscover the lost art of lamentation. He studies lamentation in the OT and NT focusing on the characters of Job, David, Jeremiah, and Jesus. A key verse in this study is found in Exodus 7:16 [Moses said to Pharaoh] The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert. The desert in this context is interpreted literally but also figuratively. It is often in the desert that we meet and learn to depend on God.
In this sense, grief is a walk in the desert that can lead us to God. In our grief we almost invariable get angry at ourselves and at God. Lament helps us turn from self-pity to access our anger and express our grief—the only healthy response to death. Lashing out at God means we finally take him seriously. In turn, God honors our anger. Many of the Psalms are laments which explicitly model both the expression of rage and the subsequent turning to God. Here lies the path of our salvation:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you (Isaiah 43:1-5 ESV).
Card cites this passage from Isaiah and makes the important point that God promises to be with us. He does not promise to give us a care-free life or life without pain—grief exposes the carefree life promised by the postmodern lifestyle as a lie. When we pray, it is accordingly important to ask for and treasure God’s presence. God’s gifts follow his presence.
A Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card deepened my conscious relationship with God. In addition to A Sacred Sorrow, Card also has an A Sacred Sorrow: Experience Guide which is usefully studied in addition to this book. Between the two, the experience guide is more accessible. Both are worth reading and studying either alone or with a small group.