Evensong for Peace

- by Sister Emily Malleis


Scripture taken from Lamentations
1:1-2, 2:11 -12, 3:17-18, 21-23, 31

How lonely sits the city
That once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
She that was great among the nations!
Bitterly she weeps at night, tears upon her cheeks,
With not one to console her of all her dear ones

My eyes are spent with weeping;
my stomach churns;
my bile is poured out on the ground
because of the destruction of my people,
because infants and babes faint in the streets of the city

They cry to their mothers,
“Where is the bread?
as they faint like the wounded
in the streets of the city,
as their life is poured out
on their mothers’ bosom.

God will have compassion
The favors of God are not exhausted,
God’s mercies are not spent;
They are renewed each morning,

Restore us to yourself, O God,
that we may be restored;
renew our days as of old.


Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing floods left thousands dead, countless refugees, ecological destruction, and untold suffering to come. Our lonely city, once full of people, is like a widow. Bitterly, she “weeps at night, tears upon her cheeks with not one to console her.” She is no longer the distant Iraqi whose husband was trampled in the collapse of a bridge or the far-away child starving in the Darfur. She is our poor neighbor who perished because she had no means to evacuate the city. She is our cousin who held onto the hand of her father as long as she could before the water absorbed her. She is our sister in religious life who evacuated the motherhouse that she will never again inhabit.

With such proximate suffering and filial ties to the victims, we question with greater urgency what we can do to calm the widow’s weeping. And so we act with great generosity and love. We send aid and relief. We donate money. We take in refugees. In our anger, we even address the deeper issues – funding cuts, misappropriation of resources, poverty, and unjust war – that contribute to this multifaceted disaster. And we call our government and President to accountability. All of our actions transform us and those around us. They bring us closer to recovery and to peace. But none of those acts restores the widow’s dead husband or consoles her grief. We hear her. “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears upon her cheeks, with not one to console her.”

In order to console her, I must not only act on her behalf but also be with her in her agony, be with her in her lament. I must console her without silencing her or leaving the room when her anguished cry causes me discomfort. I must hold her story tenderly without the need to fix the pain, allowing her merely to cry. As I enter into her story, I grow in my own compassion. And by breathing into her suffering I become one with her and her suffering. Take a moment now to breathe into the cry of the grieving widow, the cry for her lost husband, for the death of her frail mother, for her hungry baby, for her lifetime of scientific research washed away, for her poor family who lost the few possessions they had, for her motherhouse destroyed, for the trauma that will haunt her for a lifetime, for her demolished past and her uncertain future. I breathe into her suffering and we become one.