The Loss of Lament
First: I’ve been having serious writer’s block for the past…month. Not like, “I started a post and couldn’t finish it” writer’s block. More along the lines of “I couldn’t even think of a topic” writer’s block. So if you guys have any questions/topics that you’d like to see a post on, PLEASE comment on here, message me on Facebook, or email me. I’d love to hear your ideas! In fact…I’d like to start getting some guest posts on here. So if you guys have any advice for teenagers about living the faith, or if you have a faith experience you’d like to share, or just something cool you found out about your faith — same drill! Message me, comment, or shoot me an email.
Today (and last semester as well) one of my professors brought up the theologian Walter Brueggemann, who talks about how the lament tradition has been lost in Christianity. This form of prayer was recognized in Israel and was one way that people responded to God’s silence in the face of suffering. Laments can be found throughout Scripture, but there’s a concentration of lament in the Book of Psalms. These psalms are characterized by the accusatory language they use towards God and by their urgent pleas for God’s intervention. An example of this is Psalm 88:
LORD, the God of my salvation, I call out by day;
at night I cry aloud in your presence.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.
For my soul is filled with troubles;
my life draws near to Sheol.
I am reckoned with those who go down to the pit;
I am like a warrior without strength.
My couch is among the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave.
You remember them no more;
they are cut off from your influence.
You plunge me into the bottom of the pit,
into the darkness of the abyss.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me;
all your waves crash over me.
Because of you my acquaintances shun me;
you make me loathsome to them;
Caged in, I cannot escape;
my eyes grow dim from trouble.
All day I call on you, LORD;
I stretch out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the shades arise and praise you?
Is your mercy proclaimed in the grave,
your faithfulness among those who have perished?
Are your marvels declared in the darkness,
your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
But I cry out to you, LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why do you reject my soul, LORD,
and hide your face from me?
I have been mortally afflicted since youth;
I have borne your terrors and I am made numb.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day they surge round like a flood;
from every side they encircle me.
Because of you friend and neighbor shun me;
my only friend is darkness.
THAT’S some pretty strong language there! Or, as we say in Arkansas, “them’s fightin’ words”. I don’t think we’d be very comfortable praying this at Mass…or anywhere else for that matter. The psalmist here accuses God directly, names God as the cause of his suffering. “Because of YOU my acquaintances shun me; YOU make me loathsome to them.” “I have born YOUR terrors and I am made numb. YOUR wrath has swept over me,” the psalmist cries. You can almost picture someone shaking his/her fists at Heaven while writing these words.
That makes us feel a little uneasy, huh? In Christianity, we’ve lost this tradition of lament in so many ways. We often think of suffering as being the result of our sin — it’s something that we deserve. Most of the time, we wouldn’t dare to call God out and demand a reason for our suffering, much less lay the blame at God’s feet.
Laments, though, aren’t expressions of hatred. They’re part of the human experience. Let’s face it — life just isn’t always sunshine and daisies. Sometimes things happen and we just can’t figure out why the weight of the world has suddenly shifted to our shoulders, and we feel crushed by pain we feel and the responsibilities we have in the midst of our suffering. Israel recognized that. I think I love the Book of Psalms so much because it teaches me to bring my entire existence before God. Having a great day and want to sing God’s praises for it? There’s a psalm for that. What about those days when you can’t even stand the idea of getting out of bed? There’s a psalm for that. Or those days when it just couldn’t get much worse and it looks like God’s gone AWOL? Hey, there’s a psalm for that too. We don’t need to pray only when things are going right and we have nice things to say. Pray when you’re angry and frustrated, too! Believe me — God can handle that.
Offering a lament to God means that you trust that God is listening to you and believe that He has the power to intervene and help you in your situation. It’s not an insult! You don’t have to hold any parts of yourself back. If you’re having the worst day of your life up to this point, trust that God has the power to change your situation — and take all of that anger, confusion, and frustration to God in prayer. Let it all out…in a lament.
Posted on January 27, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged anger, frustration, lament, lament psalms, lament scripture, psalm 88, shaking fists at heaven, suffering, what is a lament. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.