Today commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem as well as other severe losses in Jewish history, most notably of course the shoah or European holocaust. During the service of Tisha B'av, the rabbi reads through the book of Lamentations in Hebrew, and if you're in a non orthodox synagogue, he'll (or she'll) also read through it in English. Tisha B'av is a holy day that isn't "celebrated" just as Yom Kippur isn't "celebrated" since both are considered deeply solemn days. In other words, you don't say to a Jew "happy Tisha B'av" or "happy Yom Kippur" since these days aren't meant to be happy but painful and necessary reminders of our sinfulness before a holy God and of a deeply broken world in desperate need of God's shalom.
As a Christian Tisha B'av is also personally important to me, since I experienced my own deep loss and sorrow 13 years ago last month with the unexpected death of a woman I loved very much and who also loved me. And then two weeks later I attended the Tisha B'av service with her family at their synagogue. Listening to the rabbi read through Lamentations as the prophet wails over the destruction of his beloved city and holy temple struck home with all of us that day as we too wailed over a much closer tragic loss of one so beloved.
Any religion or spirituality worth its salt so to speak knows how to ritualize loss and pain. To be human is to, at some point in your life, experience unexpected loss or pain. And even when it's expected, that doesn't make it any less painful; just a differently experienced pain. Judaism has Tisha B'av, Christianity has Lent and Good Friday, and I'm sure many of the other world religions have their ritualizations of loss as well. And that's how it should be. As an evangelical Christian in America, I often wonder at the total lack of a serious sense of this part of our spiritual and physical reality in American evangelical circles. I consider myself very fortunate to have discovered the book of Job as a child as well as Ecclesiastes. Having grown up in a pretty disfunctional family environment these dark but honest books of the bible gave me a voice I didn't always have for myself in my own words. It asked the questions I could only murmur. It also had the honesty to not answer those questions to my satisfaction. Any god who offers up a happy clappy or neat little theodicy isn't a god I want to deal with. As unsatisfying as not getting a clear answer is, I'll take that over an all too easy answer that I know instinctively isn't true.
In the days and weeks (and yes, even years) after my deep loss and sorrow, my only word to God was "why?" I still don't have an answer to that question that satisfies me, and I hope I never get it. But I am glad that there is a God who honors that question by including it in his word, thus giving me the freedom to ask it with a brutal honesty knowing that God's big enough to take it and even absorb it into himself. I want a God who understands grief and sorrow and pain and anger at wrongful loss. I want a God who knows what it is to ask in a dying breathe "Why have you forsaken me?" This is a God who I can understand, even if only dimly, because I know that this God can understand me.