Barry Coulter photo

Barry Coulter photo

Jis’ Blue, God: A Pandemic Lament

Yme Woensdregt

I wrote about this poem just over five years ago, and as I was reflecting on the fact that we’ve been living in this pandemic for a year now, I found myself praying this lament again.

Many of us are tired. We’re hanging in there, mostly, but we’re tired. It’s been hard when we can’t get together with folks we love. It’s been not to be able to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. It’s been even more difficult when we can’t gather for funerals. We long for closeness and hugs, for connection. We are impatient with the delays. It’s been especially tough on those who have lost jobs and income. They hate not being able to provide for themselves and their families.

This pandemic has exposed the differences that exist in our society. In some ways it has made us even more divided.

At the same time, there have been remarkable stories of hope and kindness. We are learning new ways of doing things. We’ve offered and received support. We have heard stories of remarkable courage and devotion over the course of the year. We stand in awe of medical personnel who have given deeply of themselves in service to the sick among us.

We’ve managed, mostly. We’ve tried to make the best of it, mostly. But oh, it’s been hard. And we’re tired.

On Ash Wednesday, Diana Butler Bass posted a reflection in which she lamented that “the entire year has felt like Lent, and today is just another ashy day … for most of the year, all I’ve done is reflect, pray, and read, mostly alone, all while worried that I might die, someone I love might die, or I’d unwittingly contribute (by my own carelessness) to someone else dying. Every time I put on a mask, I think of death and dying. In a year of a half-million deaths of other Americans and millions of people around the world, the Lenten discipline of contemplating mortality seems like one more painful day.”

This Lent, we’re surrounded by pain and self–denial and weariness.

I remembered this poem, written almost 100 years ago, called “Jis’ Blue, God” by African American teacher, poet, and children’s book author Henrietta (“Etta”) Oldham (1888–1975).

“Jis’ blue, God,

“Jis’ blue.

“Ain’t prayin’ exactly jis’ now—

“Tear–blind, I guess,

“Can’t see my way through.

“You know those things

“I ast for so many times—

“Maybe I hadn’t orter repeated like the Pharisees do;

“But I ain’t stood in no market place;

“It’s jis’ ’tween me and You.

“And You said, “Ast” …

“Somehow I ain’t astin’ now and I hardly know what to do.

“Hope jis’ sorter left, but Faith’s still here—

“Faith ain’t gone, too.

“I know how ’tis—a thousand years

“Is as a single day with You;

“And I ain’t meanin’ to tempt You with “If You be …”

“And I ain’t doubtin’ You.

“But I ain’t prayin’ tonight, God—

“Jis’ blue.”

In this remarkable and powerful lament, Etta gets real with God. She lays all her frustration out before God, giving voice to her depression and pain, her doubt and sorrow. It struck me again how powerful it is to give vent to our lament, to give voice to our pain and sadness.

I believe this is one of the ways in which we heal from sadness and depression. We give it voice. We speak it out loud. But it’s hard for us to do that. Our natural inclination is to keep it to ourselves, to try and tough it out, to work it out on our own, to focus on the upside of whatever is happening to us.

Or we just give up. I know all of that from my own experience. Sometimes it’s just too hard. In truth, this pandemic has been really tough on people who are dealing with mental health issues.

A lament like this can help us share the burden of the sorrow we are feeling, even as we see the light at the end of this tunnel. We can work together, stand together, support each other as we continue to do the hard work of holding on until this pandemic is truly dealt with.

“Jis’ Blue, God” gives voice to the pain. It falls in the tradition of the biblical practice of lament, of praying out our sorrow and giving it voice. God desires this kind of emotional honesty from us. God delights in our forthright relationship, whether we sing with delight and praise or give voice to sorrow and complaint.

Etta’s language sometimes may seem sharp. Her language is much milder, however, than some of the laments we read in the Psalms (read Psalm 88 and 109, for example). Or read some of the passages in which Job wishes he were dead and ends up blaming God for the horror of his life. Or remember the words of Jesus on the cross when he quotes Psalm 22 and accuses God of abandoning him. Sometimes we are guilty of thinking we have to be polite with God.

At the heart of lament, writes J. Todd Billings, is a deep trust which “throws God’s promises back at him when it seems as if God is not keeping those promises.” Because of their deep faith in God, the Psalmists and Etta have high expectations of God; they take God’s promises seriously, and so they lament and protest and complain and accuse when it seems that God has broken the promise.

If you are a person of faith, it is perfectly acceptable to simply give voice to your depression and fear and sadness and worry. “Jis’ blue.” “So blind with tears, I can’t see straight.”

Lament is one of the ways in which Christians pray their suffering, their pain, their depression. It’s a necessary and helpful way to be. Lament takes God about as seriously as you can. After a year of pandemic, I lament, even as I celebrate the possibility of it coming to an end.

Yme Woensdregt is a retired Anglican Priest living in Cranbrook

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City staff has passed an order requiring remedial action on a building that was severely damaged by fire last fall. Trevor Crawley photo.
City council orders remedial action on vacant buildings damaged by fire

City council has issued a remedial action order relating to vacant buildings… Continue reading

At the library
At the Cranbrook Public Library

By Mike Selby The Library is now open with extended hours (with… Continue reading

Candice Marie Neale was last seen by her family on May 5, 2021 around 11p.m. Cranbrook RCMP are asking anyone who sees Neale to contact police. (Submitted file)
UPDATE: Previously missing Cranbrook woman located, found safe and sound, says RCMP

Candice Marie Neale was reporting missing on Monday, she has since been found

Sisters Becky McArthur and Robin Hansen are the owners of Twisted Peaks, which marked its first birthday, May 11, 2021.
Twisted Peaks marks first birthday

Happy first birthday to Twisted Peaks, the frozen yogurt shop that began… Continue reading

GoByBike week takes place in Cranbrook from May 31st to June 6th. There are several challenges to participate in for the chance to win prizes, and the championship title. (Townsman file)
GoByBike week in Cranbrook returns at the end of May

Ride your bike to school or work between May 31st and June 6th

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

The site of Sunfest, Laketown Ranch, will be open for camping this summer. (Citizen file)
Sunfest country music bash won’t be shining on B.C. in 2021

Annual Vancouver Island Festival cancelled due to COVID-19, along with Laketown Shakedown

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation elected chief councillor Moses Martin, who was also Chantel Moore’s grandfather, speaks to media in Port Alberni on Aug. 16, 2020, during a visit from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh following the police shooting of Chantel Moore. (Elena Rardon photo)
Mother of 2 shot by police in critical condition, says B.C. First Nation chief

Community ‘devastated’ by third member of 1,150-person Vancouver Island nation shot in less than a year

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham promotes the government’s BuyBC food program in 2019. (B.C. government)
Money running out for fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in B.C. schools

‘Looking at ways to support this type of program,’ minister says

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read