Do Not Our Hearts Burn Within Us?

I hope I do not turn my face away from the flames.

A White Christian’s prayer

Pentecost fires are burning this week.

I hope the fires burn away my apathy as a white Christian in a racist society. I hope my malaise burns away too. I hope I do not turn my face away from the flames.

Pentecost fires remind me of other biblical fires.

  • “Did not our hearts burn within us?” the disciples on the road to Emmaus asked. They thought they were traveling with a stranger. The stranger was Jesus. Crucified. Resurrected. Walking the way with them.
  • A bush burns but does not burn up. God calls to Moses in the flames. Moses says “yes.” But he doesn’t want to.
  • The Israelites follow a flaming pillar through the wilderness. It is night. They are afraid. God’s fire shows the way.
  • A fire warms Peter’s hands. He breathes words of denial into the night air. They float away. Hot embers on the wind.
  • Jesus builds a fire and cooks breakfast on the beach. His followers taste resurrection in the ash-smoked fish. 

In Scripture, in the days and months after Pentecost, the church wrestled with its identity. Who are we? Who are we to become? What is our purpose?

What about us today? Who are we? Who are we to become? Can we imagine and ignite a new thing? A more hopeful way? A way of justice?

I pray we can.

But before that can happen, we must confess and lament. We haven’t confessed our complicity in racism. Not really. And we haven’t lamented the deaths of black and brown people in our communities. Not really.

We need radical lament.

Radical is from the Latin radix and means root or base. We need to lament the root cause of violence against our sisters and brothers—the sin of white racism.

We need radical lament. And we must lament radically—with our whole bodies. God is calling to us through Pentecost flames to take action, to stand against racism, to stand for justice.

So, we confess. We lament. We pray.


God of Wind and Fire,

Make our hearts burn within us–

We feel the heat of so many flames, O God.

Fires of revealing.
Fires of guiding.
Fires of denying.
Fires of resurrecting.

Make our hearts burn within us–

Fires of confessing.
Fires of lamenting.
Fires of acting.

And if we weep, O God?

May we weep tears of cleansing,
not tears of dousing, dampening, diminishing
fires that rage against injustice.

Make our hearts burn within us—

So many winds blow around us, O God.

Winds wailing with pain.
Winds howling with agony.
Winds stirring up the dust of our humanity.

            Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Stir us up, Holy Wind.
Stir up Wisdom.
Stir up Mercy.

Make our hearts burn within us–

No more crushed windpipes, O God.
Let justice breathe.
Blow your radical love into us.
Through us.
All around us.

God of Wind and Fire,

Heal us.
Resurrect us.
Put our feet on the road to justice.

Make our hearts burn within us–

Summon the Wailing-Women

Lament is a revolutionary act because it refuses to hide the raw realities of life beneath a veneer of sentimentalized spirituality or triumphant overcoming.


“Lamenting Woman,” by Sheila G. Hunter. Taken at God’s Acre, Home Moravian Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Come Lament.
Bring your tears.
​​​Scatter them along rocky trails,
​​​dissipating petals of unrefined truth
​​​to water dry paths.

​​​Lean in close, Lament.
​​​Place your wizened head
​​​on weighed down shoulders;
​​​whisper-sing in aching ears.

        –Jill Crainshaw

Three public acts of violence shattered innocent lives this week. Pipe bombs were sent to political leaders and news agencies. A white man shot and killed two African Americans at a grocery store in Kentucky. Another white man shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire on worshipers at Pittsburgh synagogue. These acts of hatred and others like them across our nation summon us—yet again—to consider what we can do each day to resist the culture of violence that is growing in our nation.

These acts also summon us to lament, for the resisting work we need to do begins, I think, with human communities learning again how to lament. People in ancient communities like the prophet Jeremiah’s community understood lament. Lament was a way people of faith cried out to God in the face of pain and loss that seared hearts and battered souls. Lament was a communal act. Lament was a ritual act passed from one generation to the next. Why? Because the heartache that accompanies great loss is deeply personal and the cloud of witnesses, both historic and contemporary, that surround those in pain—to listen, hold vigil, weep with—prevents weeping from being an isolating experience. Lament arises from and returns to communities of faith and trust, and because of this communal dimension, lament—and lament’s wordless, soundless contortions of pain, anger and grief—is sometimes the only thing that keeps people going when everything good about life seems lost. The very fact of our humanity—its fragility and mortality—needs lament.

As we face the violence in our world today—against black and brown bodies, against immigrants, against people in the LGBTQ community, against women and children, against religious communities and others—and as we seek ways to respond, acts of lament are necessary. Lament is a vital and even revolutionary act because it refuses to hide the raw realities of life beneath a veneer of sentimentalized spirituality or triumphant overcoming. Lament turns her eyes and looks with grief-ravaged love on the violated bodies and weeping family members we see too often in news-feeds from towns and cities across our land. Then, Lament beckons us to see the pain and hear the heartbreak, to repent and seek God’s grace. Lament beckons us to stand with each other. Weep with each other. Wail in grief and rage with each other. And then work with each other across our differences to resist hatred and restore love and grace.

Hear these words of lament from the prophet Jeremiah in the Hebrew Bible:

7 Thus says the Lord of hosts:
Consider, and summon the wailing-women to come;
  send for the skilled women to come;
18 let them quickly raise a dirge over us,
  so that our eyes may run down with tears,
  and our eyelids flow with water.
19 For a sound of wailing is heard from Zion:
  ‘How we are ruined!
  We are utterly shamed,
because we have left the land,
  because they have cast down our dwellings.’

20 Hear, O women, the word of the Lord,
  and let your ears receive the word of his mouth;
teach to your daughters a dirge,
  and each to her neighbour a lament.
21 ‘Death has come up into our windows,
  it has entered our palaces,
to cut off the children from the streets
  and the young people from the squares.’     Jeremiah 9

Indeed, death has come up into our windows and entered our palaces, and we wail. But our weeping is not enough. Our heart-brokenness is not enough. When Lament is allowed to live out loud as a part of faith, people have the freedom to express not only their deep sorrows but also their outrage and protest when violence, death, and injustice persist. To embody lament as a community is to resist as a community those systems that perpetuate hatred. To join Lament’s journey is to walk into tomorrow and the next day and the next determined somehow, by the power of God’s persistent Spirit, to make space for God’s promises of peace and abundant life for all people.