Listening in Lament: An Interview with Dr. Keith Anderson

This week on The Allender Center Podcast, Dan Allender concludes a three-part conversation with his long-time friend and colleague Dr. Keith Anderson, President of The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology and author of the recent book A Spirituality of Listening: Living What We Hear. As Dan and Keith have been talking about a spirituality that is rooted in the ordinary, listening to God in the day-to-day moments of our lives, families, and communities, that leads them to a conversation about lament. What does it mean to engage God and listen for God in the midst of pain, heartache, and confusion?

Keith: “At the core of this notion of lament is authentic, honest speech of complaint to God, and a willingness to listen but also a willingness to speak to God in and out of our pain.”

In A Spirituality of Listening, Keith writes about his fascination of the history of The Seattle School’s 110-year-old building, which used to be a fish storage plant and a luggage factory, among other things. Keith reflects on the decision to keep the building’s original floors—scrapes, dings, scars, and all. “That to me is a picture of the honesty of Biblical spirituality, and it leads to this question of lament. That’s the faith that we’re called to live—that’s the way that we’re called to live. Not as if we don’t have flaws, failures, and scars in our life, but to find the beauty not in those scars exactly, but in the honest way, the authentic way that we find God present in the midst of those.”

I have to wonder: when did we start to anesthetize our pain in the church?

Dan and Keith discuss the ways in which our culture—including the church—has traded the Biblical language of lament for the language of grief management. So often in church, stories of hardship are told only in the past tense; we celebrate stories of overcoming and victory while denying the cries of anger, doubt, and desperation that emerge in the midst of pain. “I grew up in a kind of dishonest spirituality that denied the dings, the scars, and the scratches and said ‘Christian spirituality is about becoming victorious over such things,’” says Keith, who argues that it is no accident that a significant portion of Biblical wisdom literature is written in the language of lament.

Keith refers to “The Hidden Hope in Lament,” an old article Dan wrote for the Mars Hill Review, in which he observes, “Christians seldom sing in the minor key.” (We shared that article on our blog earlier this week; you can read it here.)

“If we don’t learn to sing in a minor key,” says Keith, “it’s as if we’re shutting God out of those times. […] We need to learn to listen in the midst of the worst of the pain. I think that’s the honest spirituality of Scripture.”

This is a big, complex, and weighty topic, one that leads Dan and Keith into a discussion of the Psalms, desire, and the gnostic tendency to separate the body from the soul. And even after a three-episode conversation, we’re barely scratching the surface. To read more of Keith’s reflections about an honest, grounded spirituality, be sure to read A Spirituality of Listening. “I try not to say this very often,” says Dan, “but this is one of those books that I would beg our listeners to read.”