On Oneness, Lament, and Seeing with Compassion

VANESSA HAWKINS|GUEST

A few years ago, the PCA Women’s Ministry hosted the One Conference in several cities around the country. I attended many of them, all but one in fact. My favorite moment was experiencing the beauty of a multi-ethnic choir at a Mississippi church singing “Heal Us Emmanuel.” It was a beautiful moment that I will never forget.

The theme of the conference came from John 17:21, “that they all may be one.” Those words of oneness ring in my head now as brazen acts of violence in rapid succession exasperate racial tensions in our nation. In particular, I am deeply disturbed over the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, two African American males senselessly slain in broad daylight. The haunting images of the evil portrayed against these men plague my thoughts and are on constant repeat in my mind, mocking my heart’s cry for oneness. I will confess to you that I am often tempted to look away as I honestly don’t know how much more I can witness and continue to move towards hope. The biggest lesson I am learning in this season is the power of lament as a vehicle to hope.

Lament as Movement Towards Hope

Following the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, I did what I have learned to do way too well – I compartmentalized. I conveniently tucked feelings away so that I could accomplish the task before me and complete the work day. When I finally made it home, I watched the video that was cycling through the news, and I was undone. I couldn’t sleep. I poured out an assortment of complex feelings before the Lord and just wept. Every time I thought about it, I wept. I realized that day that lament is costly and disruptive. It disrupted my plans and made space for emotions I didn’t care to feel. It ultimately pushed me to the throne of the only Help I know. That Help is our only hope; His name is Jesus.

Refusing to Look is Refusing to See

While I am often tempted to look away from the evil and injustice in our world, Jesus never did. He looked. He saw. “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Jesus didn’t look away from injustice. He looked. He saw. This is uncomfortable for us because having compassion is costly. It won’t allow our response of “that’s so sad” to be the end of the conversation. Compassion demands that we do something. In various places in Scripture Jesus is “moved with compassion.” Compassion means acting on the grief our heart feels and setting things right where we can. It’s bringing what access and influence we have to bear on the circumstances of the harassed and the helpless.

Looking Isn’t Always Seeing

While it is necessary to look in order to see, looking doesn’t always equate to seeing. Movement from blindness to sight is a metaphor used repeatedly in Scripture to talk about our inability to fully see. “For now we see in a mirror dimly…” (1 Cor 13:12). While we don’t see perfectly, it doesn’t mean that we can’t see or shouldn’t try to see to the best of our ability. Spiritual sight is Spirit-dependent and is part of our growing in the likeness of Christ.

Most of us would openly and wisely admit that we have blind spots, and that’s great awareness to have. But to know we have blind spots and not seek to overcome them is reckless at best. Having blind spots is not a neutral state but dangerous to the one you can’t see. The inability to see is not a matter of if I injure someone, but when.

This is also true for colorblindness. I have heard well-meaning people claim colorblindness as a way of communicating their refusal to discriminate based on skin color. While not discriminating is a noble idea, colorblindness is a sight problem. To not see color is to not fully see those endowed with beautiful melanin by a Creator who calls what He made very good (Genesis 1:31).  To not see color is to deny the race-based, systemic ills that snuffed out the lives of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and way too many others to name. The Father isn’t colorblind. He celebrates and redeems our ethnic differences (Rev. 7:9).

Good vision affords us the ability to see and celebrate our ethnic differences, not just tolerate them and certainly not despise them. Colorblindness is not a virtue; it’s dysfunction. Scripture calls us from blindness to sight. Our cry should be that the Lord help us see and move us from blindness to sight.

Corporate Lament Unites the Body

Good sight allows us to see the pain of others and to weep with those who weep. We often think of weeping with those who weep as something that happens at funerals, but the prominence of lament throughout Scripture suggests that lament is much more than a funeral dirge. Roughly one third of the Psalms are lament psalms, solidifying their significance to corporate worship and validating the personal and corporate grief of Israel. While personal lament is one person’s movement towards hope, corporate lament is the united cry of grief that moves a people towards hope and each other. Corporate lament refuses to let blatant evil and injustice go unchallenged but with one voice acknowledges the One who is our hope.

In these difficult days, I find myself wrestling to hold on to the words of Jesus in His John 17 prayer, “…that they all may be one,” when so much seeks to divide us. My heart needs to be reminded that hope has a name: Jesus. My tears and grief are not wasted but move me toward deeper intimacy with Him. My lament gives me the resiliency to keep hoping and to use the resources at my disposal to help the harassed and the helpless. It means that I commit to not passing on the pain I have endured but pouring it out before the God of all comfort.

Won’t you join me? May the Lord hear our cry.

About the Author:

Vanessa Hawkins

Vanessa K. Hawkins (MDiv, Covenant Theological Seminary) is the Director of Women’s Ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia. She is currently pursuing her DMin at Covenant Theological Seminary with a focus on cultural apologetics and serves the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) Women’s Ministry as Diversity Adviser. She is honored to be the wife of her third-grade friend Marcus, and together they are the parents of Kayla, Sydney, and Chelsey. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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