Psalm 1131 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.* * *God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.-Jurgen MoltmannSometimes you have to go outside and yell your prayers.-The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, on participating in a march this weekend* * *
Here’s another way to think of what goes into a psalm of lament:
- Protest: Tell God what is wrong.
- Petition: Tell God what you want God to do about it.
- Praise: An expression of trust in God today, based in His character and His action in the past, even if you can’t yet see…
How to remember and honor all those who have died from this virus? 100,000+ names on a wall? Where would you build something so big? 100,000+ stones forming an altar of remembrance? A skyscraper? 100,000+ names read annually? It would take a long time. 100,000+ trees planted to be a forest of new life? I like this idea.
Wiser folks have called for this day to be a day of mourning and lament. On this day, June 1 in 1865, another national day of mourning and lament was declared. The specific focus was response to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. That one act of violence reflected a deeper brokenness in millions of racist acts. The designated day responded to the wounded character of a divided nation, the great loss of life brought with that struggle.
165 years later, religious and political leaders set aside today as another national day of mourning and lament. It was offered as a response to the milestone reached last week: 100,000 brothers and sisters who died of the coronavirus. Along with that deep wound, we’ve been reminded of the great racial divide, brought to our attention by video filmed in Minnesota.
It makes us think about the long tradition of lament, a spiritual practice which I’m sure precedes the psalms, some of them perhaps 3,000 years old. But the psalms (the only book of the Bible found in its entirety in the Book of Common Prayer) guide us in this ancient spiritual practice. Lord knows, we need it now.
Consider with me this Monday what it means to lament. There is individual lament, something we can all recognize because suffering is the promise life always keeps, as one of my mentors says. There is communal lament, perhaps the focus for today. Taking psalms as a guide , a prayer of lament consists of four parts, which I offer for your consideration and reflection on this holy day.
Lament begins by addressing God, on some level recognizing a higher power and purpose. Lament, no matter how angry or sad, confused or disheartened, involves a statement of faith, the amazing grace that we often take for granted. When we call, God is listening. So where do you see God in these moments? Can you believe God is listening?
Then claiming God’s attention, a prayer of lament articulates a complaint, a grievance, which says a lot about prayer. It says God can handle our anger or grief, our confusion and despair, our pain. I suspect that our feelings are not a surprise to the Holy One. We need not hold back. The Bible tells us so. Read the psalms. Read the book of Job. Hear the words of Jesus on the cross: My God, why have you forsaken me? What would be the complaint, the concern, the pain you bring to your prayers this week? Put it into words today, silently or aloud. And as you ask that question, note that sometimes lament is simply our reflection in a mirror. It includes confession, a complaint of complicity, recognition of our part in the problem, through sins of commission or omission, through our actions or our inaction, through our misguided passions and our stultifying indifference. As Pogo said: We have seen the enemy and the enemy is us. What if anything is your part and mine? Confess that this day.
A prayer of lament involves a request: What do we ask God to do in the midst of this all? What would we hope for? How would you articulate a prayer in these days of pandemic, simultaneously marked by the wound of racism and injustice? How might God use you in fulfilling that request?
Finally, a prayer of lament hangs on to hope, even if it makes little sense. As Jurgen Moltmann said: To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: “Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.” Jim Wallis said: Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change. With all that in mind, I’m wondering where you can find a glimmer of hope, in your individual and communal prayers of lament? What kind of better world can you imagine?
Consider this great resource for personal spiritual growth during this pandemic (when many of us find ourselves sheltering in place).
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