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Lamentations: lifting our complaints into song

Using the tools of singing and songwriting to bring more wholeness into the world is not about being happy-clappy all the time. I knew this from my own songwriting and my one-on-one voice students could attest to it as well: bringing our whole selves means bringing our “worst” as well as our best.

But nothing brought this point home to me more powerfully than writing and singing the “Song of Complaints” with “consumers” at a hospital for people facing severe mental illness.

Alan captured this story on video at a recent workshop:

The participants in the video are Clinical Pastoral Education interns, residents, and supervisors — rabbis, rabbinical students, clergy and seminarians of several different faiths, all engaged in the vital work of bringing better spiritual care to people in hospitals, nursing homes, and a variety of other settings. In the video you’ll hear them not only learning about my students at the mental hospital but bravely adding their own voices as well.

As you can hear from the participants’ responses, lifting our complaints into song together:

  • allows us to feel heard
  • creates an “us” out of diverse (and divergent) voices
  • gives us more permission to be our whole selves
  • and one participant even described it as “fun!”

I have brought these group songwriting techniques to settings as diverse as rabbinical schools, yoga studios, hospitals, nursing homes, and summer programs for high school students. We have written songs for facing our fears, songs of “Halleluyah,” and songs about the gifts that are uniquely ours to bring to the world. But simply asking “what are the complaints you have right now” has been as powerful a voicefinding prompt as any. Last time I went to visit folks at that mental hospital, one “consumer” who I hadn’t seen in months stopped me in the hallway just to sing a little bit of the “Song of Complaints” with me.

As we observe Tisha B’Av — a day of fasting and lamentation in remembrance of the destruction of the Temple in the Jerusalem and in recognition of the ongoing human experience of exile — may our songs of complaint, our songs of lamentations, lead us on the first steps of the journey from brokenness to wholeness.