Lament is a rich Christian tradition starting with the Psalms. Modern artists continue to capture a hope that’s not naïve but faces suffering head on. Esther Lu is a Christian musician, composer, guitarist, and vocalist. She’s been writing music since high school, first scribbling out songs in handwritten journals. Here’s her latest album of worship music.
The ancient Jewish sisters Mary and Martha are perhaps best known for their different responses at meeting Jesus. When the Teacher comes to their home, Mary boldly sits at Jesus’ feet, soaking in every word He has to say. Martha, however, is busy in the kitchen. How could the Rabbi permit her sister to shirk her duties like that? Hospitality is a big business. Why leave it all to her? Taking her complaint to Jesus, she is met with the response, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. But only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42a).
This family grew to be on close terms with the Teacher. When their brother Lazarus fell ill, they sent for Him. But when Jesus received their message, He waited two whole days before heading their way. By the time He did arrive, their brother was dead and buried. Jesus met each woman separately, each in a different state of grief. And each says, upon seeing Him, “Lord, if you had come, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32).
“In grief,” Lu explained, “we are seeking or searching for answers or relief. I think during the last year and half I’ve been in a season of searching. I sensed the Lord leading me into a season of lament for the loss or passing of relationships or communities.” When writing O Lazarus, she had this – and these two women – in mind. “Who praises you from the grave?” the Psalmist declares in Psalm 6:5. Mary and Martha may well have been thinking the same thing. Had the Teacher arrived on time and healed their brother, wouldn’t it have been to His own glory? Those comforting the sisters even mumbled, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37) Why, after waiting, did Jesus now come to weep with Mary and Martha? Why, in our own lives, does God wait to answer our prayers?
We wait for you, we wait for youOh Lazarus
We ask of you to see your glory
Of course, when Jesus did come, He went to the tomb, told them to roll the stone away, and “cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out'” (John 11:43).
You weep with us, you heal our woundsOh Lazarus
Raise us from our tomb
Jesus waited till it was too late, but He also raised the dead. Oh Lazarus captures that process. The questioning, but coupled with anticipation. Even when God seems far away, we know He hears us – and that He has promised to never leave us.
“Wilderness feels like a long season of doubt,” said Lu. There’s expectation as believers, but there should also be space to wrestle through pain or doubt. She confided, “these songs have been my relationship with the church,” and added that these new songs have “been a lament to the Lord to bring healing to the church.” Many communities are slow to share or even discuss the more difficult trials in life (rather than willingly “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) as we are encouraged to do), but music has helped. Lu added, “Oftentimes, the only reason I write is because I feel like I have a deep burden that needs to be let go. I think that is the therapy that composing music and lyrics bring.”
Of course, going through trials can bring spiritual growth. Poor in Spirit wrestles with this concept, as we trust the God who shapes us through lament as well as draws us out of it. Jesus promised “the kingdom of heaven” to “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), and in her music, Lu has confidence in this.
In all my pridePoor in Spirit
You bring me to humility
In all my weakness you
Lift me up
Whether on the mountain or in the valley, God is my shepherd. He is working in my life. It’s a promise we often forget, but which echoes throughout her songs.
Throughout the album you will be immersed in a calming, acoustic vibe echoing the calming, rustic wilderness of Lu’s home state of Georgia. “In nature, it feels quieter,” she mused. “It’s not fighting to be heard, it simply rests and asks us to be still.” That rural sense of quietness? You’ll feel that in her music. But wilderness can signify more than rest and reflection. It can also symbolize a state of spiritual wilderness, as she added, “wilderness and lament go hand in hand.” Wilderness is a flexible metaphor, and she’s not the first to use it this way.
Your love, your love, your loveWilderness
Sings to me in the wilderness
Your love, your love, your love
Sings to me in the depths of my searching
Sings to me in the depths of my joy.
Lu doesn’t think we should glance over these trials. Grief, she said, “is often not talked about in our church communities. It’s difficult to answer; there is not a one and done sermon topic. It requires us as believers to question and doubt, which often, in the church, there isn’t space for.” Instead? We should “seek healing together as the Body of Christ. The church should reflect the love of Christ.”
I found this album to center my vision on my Savior. There is a sense of peace, a sense of rest, found between the dancing acoustics and soft, yet urgent, vocals. Rest before God means actively seeking His face, even if chaos abounds. These songs are grounding; they inspire me to bring my soul back into submission before my Creator. It feels right to be near Him.
God knows my story; He knows my name. It is written in the palm His hand. The God who entered this world and suffered for me can be trusted with healing my own suffering. The God who catches my tears in a bottle can be trusted to answer my prayers.
Your love is holy, your love is whole.Wilderness
God is patient, knowing, faithful. Amid seasons of lament, Lu clings to truth. Her music draws us gently towards the Anchor so dear to her.
Esther Lu started leading worship in high school. She has led worship music in local churches across California, in Santa Cruz and the Bay Area. She is passionate about church ministries, God’s work in social justice, and reconciling all people to His name and glory. Currently she works as an Instructional Aide in East Oakland, working with students on the margins. She also leads two ministries at her church, the Veritas Young Adult fellowship and Micah Ministries, a justice and reconciliation focus group. You can check out her music here.