Honest Sadness: Lament in a Pandemic Age


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Book Details

Rating: ★★★★

Format: Paperback (166 pages)

Publisher: Sacristy Press

Date of Publication:

ISBN: 978-1-78959-161-3

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​In the present century, from 9/11 to COVID-19, there is much to disturb our securities and beliefs. The Old Testament presents us with similar situations of bewildered suffering, and one persistent theme of response is that of lament. John Holdsworth examines lament as a means of articulating faithful incomprehe​nsion, and as a resource for what have been called communities of honest sadness. He traces the development of lament through the Old Testament and questions why it is apparently absent from both the New Testament and much of the life of the Church today, at just the point where many think it could be most useful. Those who work with disabled people and with abuse victims, for example, are realizing the importance of lament. Liturgists are wondering how it can be reintroduced into worship, and whether it is legitimate to do so. Biblical scholars are looking afresh at how and why lament died out.

The book brings these various questions and insights together, suggesting that perhaps the early Church got it wrong about lament, and attempting new definitions for communities of honest sadness. It is written not only from the perspective of lived experience in the wider world in such places as Beirut and Bosnia, but also from the intensely painful personal experience of the author’s own bereavement. It will be of interest to all who are reflecting theologically seriously on our times, or supporting others in doing so.

​​John Holdsworth is Honorary Director of Ministry in the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf and Canon Theologian of the Anglican Cathedral in Nicosia.

Honest Sadness is a vaccine for traumatized souls. Masterly surveying lament in the Scriptures, John Holdsworth regrets the Early Church (too dazzled by fortitude and resurrection) downplayed it. He boldly re-imagines lament in South Wales, Cyprus, Beirut and Bagdad, and every place where love is outraged. As he passionately seeks hope even amidst communities racked by COVID or abuse, he centres each chapter on searing personal reflection as the love of his life disintegrates before his eyes. Throughout, he dares to let love be dangerous in places where any words will be wrong. All those baffled-by-tragedy-broken-hearted-folk will find rich solace here, as they realise the silence of God is not a disaster. All those stiff-upper-lipped-alpha-Christians will so lament they never even shed a tear.

The Rt Revd David Wilbourne, Honorary Assistant Bishop of York

This book stands in some sharp contrast to aspects of our ecclesial organisational culture. It bids us to let go of that which we cannot control in order to deepen our faith and to be able to integrate its love with our experience. This is a task of faith at all times but especially today as we move out of lockdown. We shall need to lament that which is lost and possibly never to be reclaimed.

We shall possibly need to think and feel our way into a different way of living and praying – more honest, certainly more relational and hopefully more deeply faithful to a God who is bound up in our struggles to flourish in community. Holdsworth establishes in the book a map, some skilful theological process and transformative biblical teaching.

This is theology at its best for Pandemic times. It deserves to be widely read and used as an enabler of growth in wisdom.

The Revd Canon Prof. James Woodward, Principal of Sarum College

This is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. “Honest sadness” and “Faithful incomprehension” are just two arresting terms summarising what is a no-holds-barred engagement with suffering, and its effect on how we make sense of ourselves and our faith in God.

John Holdsworth combines a lifetime of bible study, pastoral ministry and personal experience to bring lament to the fore as the Bible’s neglected medium in response to personal, communal and global suffering. It is deeply moving, theologically enlightening, pastorally sensitive and, yes, relentlessly honest. A heartfelt gift to journey with us through such vales of tears as may come our way and threaten to upend our faith.

Rt Revd John Saxbee, The Diocese of St David’s

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