The Journey towards Hope

When it comes to the mood music of the nation, I reckon lament is not our “go to” idiom these days. It feels unpatriotic. The keynote mood of the nation after Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s death was thanksgiving rather than lament. The national narrative at the time was of solemn thanksgiving for a life well-lived, a pause to ponder the decades of her reign, and the mood music of the nation, at least to my mind, was not lament. Respect, thankfulness, and a sense of the end of a chapter in our national life were what I sensed as the song the nation seemed to be singing. The state funeral naturally did include an appropriate amount of material which pondered mortality and lament but more generally, this was not the national mood music of the time.

By Kelly Foster – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Once the Covid19 lockdowns of 2020-2021 were over, while there were church services to remember those who died during the initial phases of this ongoing pandemic, and certainly spaces were created for mourning both in churches and in gestures such as the National Covid Memorial Wall, the national instinct (at least, in terms of how it was presented in the media) seems to have been to nod to this at best, and certainly not to dwell on anything which spoke of lament, perhaps afraid that to lament too loudly would be seen as overt political criticism or somehow unpatriotic in the face of the national effort, notably by key workers.

Perhaps our avoidance of lament as an important step in our national recovery is partly an instinct to cut straight to hope – to hit a positive tone, an upbeat way forward, shaking off the trauma of the Covid years and resolving to get on with life. This is nothing new. The Great War soon gave way to the roaring 20s in terms of how our national tale is told, yet those who returned from the battlefield had a very different tune in their hearts from the celebration of peace which the nation demanded. Generally they never spoke of what they had lived through for fear of disrupting the nation’s focus on “the glorious dead’. It took a long time for other tunes to be heard more widely, and certainly to be accepted as a widening of our national understanding of what had been lived through. If you want to ponder this more deeply, I heartily recommend asking your local library to get hold of a copy of Rachel Mann’s book Fierce Imaginings – The Great War, Ritual, Memory and God.

There are lots of possible reasons why we sidestep lament, or feel it has no place in our national song. But what do we do when our hearts are not ready to hope? How do we honour those who need to lament? How do we create safe spaces where they can weep, and how do we find appropriate ways to weep with them? When our own song is not one of hope, but of grief, lament, hopelessness or depression it is hard not to feel like we are failing, and are not in step with the rest of the world.


Lament is often a very necessary stage in the journey towards hope. In the Psalms we frequently read words of lament, born of exile, famine, persecution, disgrace, death and a sense of abandonment by God – an overwhelming hopelessness. And yet these psalms often end with words of hope, born of faith in God who always loves us, even if our circumstances lead us to doubt that.

In all generations there are times when hope looks a frail thing indeed for many people. I grew up in Yorkshire in the 1970s and 80s when there was a lot of unemployment and seemingly never-ending strikes. My earliest memories include candles in power cuts (which were quite exciting to me at the time), radio reports of a bomb in Belfast (which was troubling but seemingly distant), mills closing (which affected my dad’s work in the textile industry), and the threat of nuclear war (which was just “a thing in the background” for everyone). At a fairly early age I won our village fancy dress competition in a costume which involved my riding a hobby horse, festooned in balloons and pound signs, titled “Galloping Inflation” (and no, I don’t have a photo of this handy, but I was turned into a literal, physical satirical meme by my mother at this tender age, and with good reason!). This was the national mood music. But not everyone’s experience was the same, and certainly my childhood was a happy one, and looking back, I had cause to hope. My generation was the first in my family to be able to consider going to university. Music education was still taken seriously by governments. I joined a thriving local church choir, and then Huddersfield Choral Society, and then the National Youth Choir, and all these opportunities opened all kinds of doors to me in life and gave me experiences and skills which have served me well. I suppose what I’m acknowledging is that hope and hopelessness varies within each generation, and within everyone’s life, as does opportunity. But I do think that every generation can tell its own story of the challenges and sources of hopelessness which had an impact on some more than others.


The world around us swirls like an unpredictable sea, with everyone facing the same storms but some of us in sturdier boats than others, yet there are times for every generation when hope seems to be elusive. And yet the Christian Gospel is a story of hope in the face of the very worst the world can throw at us. The cross is where love met hopelessness, took the burden of sin and death, submitted to its weight, died with it… and prevailed. Jesus met hopelessness head on, took the whole weight of our sin and death when he died on the cross. Hope died with him, too, at least that is the reality his mother and his friends must have experienced. Surely their songs of lament were still going on three days later when Jesus rose from death, still bearing the wounds of the cross. Hope won through, but not before the songs of lament had finished.

Living hope

So after we weep with those who weep, hear their song of lament, and walk with them on their Way of Sorrows, how do we turn our inner hope into a living reality, for ourselves and for the world around us? There are some words which are often attributed to St Augustine, but there’s no actual evidence that they are his, and certainly I can’t tell you which of his writings they are supposed to be from. But despite their spurious provenance, they ring true, if not as words of Augustine himself, then as rooted in the Christian Faith:

Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.

Life can mangle us, corrode us, leave us feeling useless. All kinds of things can lead us to lament.

If we see ourselves as people offering a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death, when we see others who are lamenting, our instinct should be to weep with them, but also to allow our hearts to empathize with their anger at the circumstances which gave them cause to lament. Out of control anger isn’t what we should be offering in response to their lament, but I believe that God listens to the human heart, tunes in to human emotions and responds, and so should we. Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, so grief and lament must be in tune with God’s nature. When we’re faced with folk who lament, anger-empathy helps us pray in a way which opens our hearts to the work of the Holy Spirit and to acting in distinctly Jesussy ways in response. As we pray, we should be seeking the mind of Christ whose empathy with those who were being exploited and excluded caused him to seize a whip and angrily flip tables over in the temple. We should pray in a way which inspires us to courageous, godly action in response to lament.

TL;DR summary

God listens to those who lament, and weeps with them, and so should we. Lament and grief are not signs of failure, just of being human. If we pray in hope, and if our empathy is with those who have reason for anger, God’s Spirit is with us, and as we pray, we can seek the mind of Christ. This can inspire courageous, loving actions, and so the song of lament – on our own account, or in solidarity with others – turns to a song of hope, which we sing as we set out to respond to causes of lament with acts of courageous love.

May it be so. Amen.

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