You think you’re smart
You broke my heart
Left me to cry here alone
But you’ll return
One day you’ll learn
The heart you break may be your own.
In Austin, Texas, the “live music capital of the world,” lyrics from the best classic country singers are still sung every night of the week. Many of these country songs of old, like Patsy Cline’s “The heart you break may be your own,” sing of heartbreak and the low points in life, and many have wisdom sewn in as they turn the heartache of life into melody.
At this year’s General Convention, the Episcopal Church began trying to figure out the the new music that emerges from its most recent heartbreak—division about marriage. It will take a bit to work out what this new music sounds like, but it’s encouraging to be reminded that we, like musicians, don’t stop playing. Instead, we are always growing, learning, and playing, even through rough spots. Willie Nelson, the Austin legend, is still singing and playing guitar at ninety. In those ninety years he’s experienced and seen a lot of the pain that comes with life. And he keeps making music. At this General Convention, we decided together to keep making music, too.
It has not been an easy two decades for Episcopalians. We have been wracked with controversy, deeply hurt feelings, disrespect, and misunderstandings on every side. There have been disagreements resulting in the sense that there is no way to agree again. Hearts have been broken, and lamenting voices remain to be heard speaking haltingly of their pain. But, I hope, we have chosen to turn heartbreak into music, rather than let it defeat us.
It has not been an easy two decades for Episcopalians, but we have all the resources we need to continue—heartbreak, unfortunately, is not new for the church.
Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly;
the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
They utter lies to each other;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. (Psalm 12:1-2)
The communal lament psalms* give words to the pain that our church has felt in different ways over the centuries. As the people of God, we are a community that laments together. This General Convention we experienced the need to hear and feel the lament in our church around issues of race, gender, and creation care. These are laments that individuals cannot carry alone. Patsy Cline is onto something when she describes the pain of one person being felt by another. When we bear our pains together, we have the most hope and strength to heal deeply and find an honest way forward. By being in the Church, we chose long ago to make our way forward together.
Thankfully, lament psalms are not the only kind in our psalter, and even the lament often resolves into praise prior to the full resolution of its cause. At this General Convention, there was lament alongside praise, laughter, welcome, celebration, and conversation. This togetherness may seem stronger than ever because we are improving at naming and listening to our divisions and heartache. People love the Episcopal Church but they are also hurt by it. We must know the pain of division in order to have real communion and reconciliation—hurt cannot just be covered up. We return to lament psalms because they are valuable to authentic praise. In the midst of this General Convention, desires for a deep kind of healing and coming together again were evident and gave hope of what we can be together.
The Holy Spirit is powerful, and we are meant to share that Spirit with one another and the world. There is much to lament in our world, and, if we can learn to lament and then rejoice together, we have an invaluable resource to share. We are learning to lament together, not to dismiss the pains of others but to hear them and regard them as inseparable from our own. There is no way truly forward except the way we go together.
Country singers sometimes have more wisdom than I expect: “The heart you break may be your own.” Our brother’s and sister’s pain is our own to carry in our hearts, and we as the church can be an example to the world of what it looks like when we walk the journey from lament to praise with honesty. Together we can turn our heartbreak into music—which makes for some very good dancing.
*Psalms 12, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129