Features

Yelling at God: How Stephanie Powell Became More Faithful Through Lamentation

by Jilleen Barrett, A&E Editor

366 days after Stephanie Powell was originally scheduled to speak at Agape Latte for Women’s Week, she finally got the chance. Although it was different– it was held in the student commons instead of Jasper lounge, most of the audience was online and the free carrot cake from Lloyd’s was individually wrapped– Powell managed to make the event feel as normal as possible.

Powell was the first in-person speaker at the event since before the pandemic, according to student volunteer Harriet Swager. Swager is a senior who has been involved in planning the event since her freshman year, so she has witnessed the event change over the last year.

Stephanie Powell shares her shory at the Agape Latte in Kelly Commons. 
JILLEEN BARRETT / THE QUADRANGLE 

“Last semester I was fully remote and living at home, so being able to be involved with planning and then attending the Agape Latte event in the fall virtually was really nice, and made me feel connected back to campus and to the community that Agape Latte brings together,” Swager said. “Being back on campus and attending Agape Latte through the in-person option of the hybrid form was a bit strange. For the past 3 years, Agape Latte has always looked like dozens of people crowding into Jasper Lounge to eat carrot cake and drink coffee and listen to the speaker, but now it is much more distanced and the majority of people attended virtually. Overall, I’m just really glad that Agape Latte has been able to continue in any sort of format.”

As an adjunct religious studies professor, Powell spoke about coming of age, rejecting her religious upbringing and realizing her sexuality. Most notably, however, she explained how she found herself “lamenting at God” as a young adult and even today. Although it may seem disrespectful, she justifies the emotions that she expresses all people can relate to. 

“It is a catharsis to yell or to cry or to let things out,” Powell said.

She first had experiences with this when she was young and faced rejection from several service jobs she thought she was made for, which many college students can understand.

“I was angry, embarrassed and hurt,” Powell said. “…and why would God not bless me with one of those positions? I have been a faithful Christian my whole life and I wanted to do something in the service of others… so for several days I yelled at God.”

She showed a clip from the film “The Apostle,” in which a preacher screams at God after he lost his church and discovered his wife had been having an affair.

“Lord God Jehovah, if you won’t give me back my wife, give me peace,” he yelled. “Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me – give me peace.”

Powell explained that several years after her first experience of unsettlement with what she believed was God taking something away from her, she learned more about the meaning of what she had done, and that it was not all that bad.

“It was not until a few years later when I started seminary that I learned that what I’d been doing was lament,” she said. “I discovered that far from being faithless, lament was a sign of an active and engaged faith that has its roots in the Bible itself.”

She also spoke about how life is not meant to be lived in a linear motion, which is often the reason why people get upset with God.

“The greatest lesson… is that we have to live in the present, and see losses as an opportunity to embrace the circumstances in which we find ourselves,” she said. “And I really do carry that lesson with me and it was like this really formative moment in my life as I faced similar challenges.”

She concluded her talk by speaking to how she has grown because of her emotional experiences with God.

“…I’ve been made better able to cope with disappointments and I’m more resilient when things don’t unfold the way I imagined,” she said. “And this doesn’t mean that I don’t still yell at God from time to time, I certainly do… but now I see that my prayers of lament are a way of engaging God where I am neither a helpless victim or a hard-hearted citizen, but rather, I’m a beloved conversation partner with the divine.”