William Blaine-Wallace – When Tears Sing

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The Society of the Fragile and Resilient

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When tears sing:
The Art of Lamentation in the Christian Community
William Blaine-Wallace

Paperback: Orbis Books, 2020
Buy Now: (Amazon) (Kindle)

Reviewed by Rob O’Lynn

There are times when things just seem to work together. I am pretty confident that William Blaine-Wallace, the author of When tears sing (the subject of this review), typed out the last lines of the manuscript that was to become this book on his computer in his Maine study and later signed the publication contract that he had no idea what the world would be like if his book was published.

How unfortunate that a book about the complaint in Christian life came out at a time when the world was constantly complaining. Or maybe how happy.

Blaine-Wallace has played many roles in his many years of service experience. He was hospice chaplain, seminar leader and campus minister, pastor, rector of the historic Emmanuel Chapel in Boston and director of a health organization that developed the first inpatient acute ward for people with AIDS. As he mentioned in this volume, his doctoral thesis dealt with grief and grief therapy and also published an earlier volume, the scope of which is similar Water in the Wasteland: The Sacraments of Suffering Together (Cowley Publications, 2003). He is certainly approaching this topic as a kind of expert who has been honed over decades of practice.

The central thesis of Blaine-Wallace's book is: "We belong to the society of the fragile and resilient, but we often accept God's invitation to relate the more broken dimensions of ourselves only slowly" (xv). He continues to outline his central thesis by saying that our relationship with God invites us to "say goodbye to the excessive amount of balancing activities invested in maintaining a thin bare minimum – the polished veneer of an intact self" (xv). In short, when we look at everything that is going on around us, our natural (God-determined) answer should be to fall into God's loving and supportive arms and find the "rest in you" about which Augustine above all prayed over the years. What happens instead, Blaine-Wallace argues, is that we make a brave face and refuse to appear vulnerable at all costs. It is not that we cognitively ignore the emotional and spiritual scarcity around us. However, when we fully see this emotional and spiritual shortage around us, we reach for everything we can to make sense at the moment.


The ideas presented here are not new or groundbreaking as they have been with us since the scribes wrote the Hebrew Bible books of Job, Preachers, and Lamentations, not to mention the poets who wrote the various Lamentations in the Psalter. Concepts of death, mourning, and lament were the focus of work by all founding scientists in modern psychology, including Freud, Jung, and Kierkegaard, as well as modern scholars such as Kubler-Ross, Worden, and Becker (who were awarded a Pulitzer posthumously) for The denial of death). There are bookshelves by numerous scholars on this topic. What distinguishes or needs this book from Blaine-Wallace?

The answer lies in the question itself: we need books like When tears sing because despite all the contrary evidence, we do not know how to complain, mourn and live with our grief. This seems to be the case today more than ever, at least in modern history. In this short, 175-page volume, the author invites us to see the lament as an essential worker in the Christian experience, from whom we must learn to truly experience God's wisdom, mercy, and love.

There are two chapters that best articulate this. In Chapter 1, aptly titled "Towards Sadness: The Arch of Mourning," Blaine-Wallace does not guide the reader through the often trodden ground of the stages of mourning. Instead, he introduces the reader to the common nature – and common narrative – of the lawsuit. As I am often reminded of in my work as a minister, professor and chaplain, grief is no longer the same. However, the narrative, the cycle of grief and complaint is the same. Once we have gone through a lamentation cycle, it is easier for us to recognize it. In addition, we can hear the plaintive words in Scripture better, especially the psalms, and better share those words with others.

In Chapter 6, entitled “Choir Rehearsal: Practicing Lamentations,” the author introduces the reader to a number of practices that support the expression of lamentations – practices such as silence, listening, hospitality, and flagging absence. It was this last practice, the "mark absence" that caught my attention. As one who has done more than his fair share of funerals, I have spent a lot of time leading a coffin to its final resting place. Blaine-Wallace discusses how events like the coffin going to the grave serve as part of the lamentation process and help us mark the absence of the loved one that I had never really thought of before.

Overall, this is a solid handling of the lawsuit, both articulating what the lawsuit is and showing how to get involved in the lawsuit. One of the book's strengths is the use of stories that show how the lawsuit took place in Blaine-Wallace's life. It includes a draft lamentation workshop (including handout for interviews; Chapter 7) and a case study of a time when the Emmanuel Church experienced a significant lawsuit from the congregation (Chapter 8). Although this book has some concerns, especially a continuous sense of separation, it's a much needed resource as we learn to sue in a way we've never had before.


Rob O & # 39; Lynn

Rob O & # 39; Lynn is Associate Professor of Sermon and Ministry and Director of Graduate Bible Programs at Kentucky Christian University, and an additional faculty member at Johnson University and Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the senior minister of Beech Street Christian Church in Ashland, Kentucky, and previously served congregations in Arkansas, Texas, West Virginia and Kentucky. He has also served as a hospital chaplain in West Virginia and Kentucky. Find him on Twitter: @DrRobOLynn

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