“It’s time to call for the wailing women”
Those were the words I’d hear from time to time in the church of my youth, led by my Granny and, then my Aunties. When I went away to college and attended a church filled with strong praying women, I’d hear that refrain again: “It’s time to call for the wailing women.” When situations got tough around us, in our homes, neighborhood, communities or the nation, I was raised to “call for the wailing women.”
Who are the wailing women?
17 Thus says the Lord of hosts,
“Consider and call for the mourning women to come;
Send for the wailing women to come. (Jeremiah 9:17)
The wailing women were professional mourners in ancient societies and still exist in some contemporary cultures. They were skilled and trained in the art of grieving for the community in a way that helped the community face its death, name its tragedy and express its grief. This was necessary to occur before the community could move forward.
Surely what we are experiencing as a nation is collective grief, triggered by the tragic killing of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Triggered I say, because we were still reeling from the deaths and failure of the justice system to bring accountability to the deaths of so many unarmed black men and women unjustly killed at the hands of violent police officers.
I say triggered because we were still lamenting the disproportionate rates of death of Black and Brown people at the hands of COVID19.
I say triggered because we were still reeling at just the latest call gone viral of a white woman “sic’ing” the police on a man whose crime in her mind was wearing black skin.
Yes, the protests are a sign of collective, enough is enough. And yes, some protests have led to violent clashes, some spurred by the inordinate amount of force in which police in some communities met peaceful protestors; some occurring as people work through the stages of grief; some lit by a powered keg of pent up anger at years of communities suffering from unemployment and under-resourced education; and some set off by those who would hijack the movement.
And now we have the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania avenue calling for domination, threatening to send out the US military on his own citizens. Talk about turning a deaf ear to the cries of the protestors.
Today, as in Jeremiah’s time, God is calling for the wailing women, to lift up our voices in lament. According to Juliana M. Claassens, in her article, “Calling the Keeners: The Image of the Wailing Women as Symbol of Survival in a Traumatized World:”
“The image of the wailing women…is closely related to the metaphor of the God who weeps (Jer 8:22-9:1)…and is a powerful symbol of survival to injured people seeking to come to terms with tragedy.”
“Moreover, for people in our traumatized world, who on micro- and macrolevel may experience the world as falling apart—the proverbial mountains shaking, the heavens turning dark, and their joy disappearing like birds flying away—the image of the wailing women calling upon the community to join in wailing and weeping may offer resources to deal with the trauma that had so violently broken into their lives.”
The tradition of the wailing women is well documented in ancient and contemporary societies and speak to nontraditional leaders emerging bringing the community together and resisting the powers that be.
Wailing women were older women of the community. Not saying older women today can’t march and protest. Yet the tradition of wailing women being older women who have had their own share of loss and have seen too many of these lifeless black bodies strewn out in the street, acknowledges that mature women can empathize with these tragic losses and can add “liquid prayers” to the protest cries. I know for me, seeing George Floyd’s body beneath that officer took me back to 1992 watching the endless loop of corrupt LAPD officers beating Rodney King like a wild animal. I’m old enough to remember too many of these images replaying on the projector of my mind.
Wailing women were wise women who were skilled in knowing what community situations called for tears. They were skilled in being able to “draw on the reservoir of laments handed down through the generations” and “skilled in adapting these laments to the particular needs of the current situation.”
In my black Pentecostal tradition, I learned songs of lament such as:
“trouble in my way, I’ve got to cry sometimes.”
“You know the road gets rough and the going gets tough and the hills are hard to climb…”
As a younger person in that tradition, I heard these as personal cries of our parents’ or grandparents’ individual hardship, always with the hope that Jesus would fix it after a while.
Now those songs of my youth are adapted to include our communal pain, our collective grief, still with the anticipation and expectation that Jesus will fix it.”
Now my adaptation is that we followers of Christ are the feet, hands and mouthpiece of Jesus who the Spirit has anointed to work for the fixes that our community needs. And the time is now.
Wailing women, “took the lead in naming the traumatic events.” It was these wailing women who were tasked with finding the words when there were no words. They were the first to “vocalize” what has happened and in so doing serve in the role of leader as sense maker—trying from the depths of the spirit to help people make sense out of the nonsensical.
Wailing women brought the community together to say it’s all right to grieve and to express your sorrow. I believe on the other side of sorrow, there are solutions. I received an email from my friend Helen today. She leads a financial literacy ministry and starts out her email to a group of her trusted friends;
I woke up this morning with my heart heavier than the last few days. I’ve read enough articles, watched enough news and heard enough stories to break my heart.” She continued: “With that said, I asked God, “what should I do?” “how do I help?” Out of her wailings and cries in the Spirit, the Spirit gave her an action she can take.
Yes, out of her wailing, came a solution of how she could use her Mastering Money platform to help bring about economic change in our communities.
Then as I was finishing up this blog I received a call from a client who is a Deputy Chief in one of the largest school systems in the country. After handling the business at hand, I asked her, “So how are you doing with everything going on?”
She said “I’m doing better now.” She continued, “Because I shared in a very transparent moment with our principals how I was really feeling. I expressed the pain, concern and emotions around being the mother of a teenaged son and young daughter. I expressed how I was feeling. I told them ‘yes, we are strong, and passionate but we are also human.” Her transparency gave the other leaders permission to acknowledge their grief .
Today wailing women are women who lead in corporations, educational systems, small businesses or at home who create space to help others express their hearts in times of tragedy and turn those expressions into transformative action. Wailing women are all around us and in our own ways God is asking for us to begin to name the devastation, name the grief, and create communal sites for releasing our sorrow. For in the releasing of the sorrow, come the solutions.
So, wailing women of today, God is calling for you. Bring your circles of influence together and wail, lament, pray, share, acknowledge and then listen. We will need to act on many fronts. There needs to be and will be calls for collective action nationally and regionally. Yet there is always a need for each of us to make change where we are in our own circles of influence.
Here are two things I’m doing:
- For going on three years I lead a prayer call, every Wednesday morning for the women of my church and others who want to join us. Weekly we pray for the issues of women in our community, our churches, our nation and our world. This month we are focusing on praying for the men in our lives. Each week in June I am doing a short devotion on lament and we are naming the men in our lives and praying for them. Praying for their safety, their protection, praying against the hand of the enemy that continues to strike out against black men and women. If you are interested in joining us this month, reach out to me in the Contact form on this site and we’ll send you the login information.
Update: Here’s the information on the prayer call:
Date and Time–Every Wednesday in June, 7:00 AM (Central Time)
- June 3 — Call the Wailing Women
- June 10 — Prophetic Lament
- June 17 — Praying with our Men (Invite a man or men in your life to join you on the prayer call. My husband and I, Pastor Carl King, will lead the prayer. They may dial in, or you may connect them on a 3-way call, or they can be in the same room on speaker phone)
- June 24 — Praying For Just Mercy
Dial In #: 712-770-4160
Please mute your line upon entry
Send specific prayer requests to firstname.lastname@example.org
2. I will be posting summaries of books on antiracism and social justice. People who have previously been silent are now asking how to learn more about racism. Others are reaching out asking how do they deal with the anger and disappointment. The readings I will share may help raise awareness and knowledge, but also inform you in ways that you can more powerfully be a part of the transformation that is needed and is coming. From there, you may start a book club and read these recommended books and articles together.
In Jeremiah 9:17-20, God calls for the wailing women or the women who mourn, and calls all women to teach their daughters a song of mourning. My grandmother, mother and her sisters left a legacy of strong black women of faith that I am now a part of. We now adapt the wailing of our mothers into prayers, protests, preaching, leading, organizing, planning and activism.
Join us in creating space in your circle of influence to call for and ignite change!