Lament and Hope

We are all holding so much in these unnerving days. Heavy stuff…the stuff of lamentation and heartache. But alongside our laments, there exists the stuff of rejoicing and thanksgiving. So recognizing this tension, in the month of November, I invite you into this “moment” . . . to breathe . . . to settle into quiet thoughts or silent prayers for the people, places, and circumstances that you hold close in your heart . . . your lamentations as well as your thanksgivings.

When we feel blessed in life, when we experience goodness and wholeness, we turn to God in praise and thanksgiving. But what happens when we experience just the opposite? What happens when we are overcome by the presence of chaos, brokenness, suffering, and death, or by a sudden sense of our human vulnerability, as in the COVID-19 pandemic?

When we hurt physically, we cry out in pain; when we hurt religiously, we cry out in lament. Lamentation can be described as a loud, religious “Ouch!”

Laments in Scripture address themselves to God: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!” (Psalm 130:1) and “My soul, too, is utterly terrified; but you, O Lord, how long…?” (Psalm 6:4). In more modern terms we might put it this way: “I call to you, O Lord, and all I get is your answering machine!” We take our cries directly to the top, to God. God, however, may seem far away, “O my God, I cry out by day, and you answer not; by night, and there is no relief for me” (Psalm 22:3).

We can ask heartfelt questions: “How long, O Lord? Will you utterly forget me?” (Psalm 13:2), which implies: I am at the end of my rope, and I cannot hold on much longer. “Why, O Lord, do you stand aloof? Why hide in times of distress?” (Psalm 10:1), which implies: “I do not understand what is going on; this makes no sense. How long? Why?” These are not requests for information, but rather cries of pain.

The afflictions of the speaker in these passages are described in broad, stereotypical ways that enables others to identify with: sickness—” . . . heal me, O Lord, for my body is in terror” (Psalm 6:3); loneliness and alienation—”My friends and my companions stand back because of my affliction” (Psalm 38:12); danger and mistreatment by others—”O Lord,… save me from all my pursuers” (Psalm 7:2) and even aging—”Cast me not off in my old age…” (Psalm 71:9). Finally, the ultimate affliction is physical death – “For my soul is glutted with troubles and my life draws near to the nether world” (Psalm 88:4). All this manifests chaos and brokenness invading and pulling our lives apart.

We might feel, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and then think, “I should not feel this way! Am I losing my faith!” Laments offer a correction to false, naïve, and overly rationalistic views of faith. In Scripture, faith is not viewed as an intellectual assent to some statement about God. Rather, it is the process of entrusting ourselves to God. While we may experience God’s absence; we may feel alone and confused, and we may even doubt. Doubt in this case is not the opposite of faith; despair is, because in despair we give up on our relationship with God. Doubt, on the contrary, is a sign that our faith is alive and well; it is part of the rhythm of faith itself and urges us to greater faith as we resolve our doubts. These difficult feelings are real and will not go away if we do not recognize them and deal with them constructively.

Laments, then, are not failures of faith, but acts of faith. When we cry out to God, deep down we know that our relationship with God counts; it counts to us and it counts to God. Lament is a constructive way to deal with the difficult feelings of life.

Almost all the lament psalms end with a sudden turn to praise (e.g., Psalm 6:9-11; 22:23-32). So, it is only after we lament, after we face and express the pain and negativity and get it all out, that the healing can begin. In more theological terms, we can say that it is only by facing and going through the experience of death that we can come to a new life, to resurrection.

Perhaps we are just beginning to realize, as a society and as a nation, that we have been more traumatized by recent events than we initially thought. So, there may still be lamentation work to do. How helpful it would be if we had some models to allow us to express and acknowledge our grief, our pain, our confusion and our anger; to offer each other strength and support in difficult times; to help us, individually and communally, move forward with the tasks and challenges of life to help us discern what is a good and proper response to any situation. Gratefully, we, as Anglicans, do have such models – in the Scriptures and in the Book of Common Prayer.

The loss of lament has been costly; we have much to gain by recovering it. Maybe if we do, we may find ourselves spontaneously turning to praise as we realize that God, far from being absent from us, has been carrying us all along. Just maybe, we have something to teach our world about how we can emerge from the darkness and gloom into a place of peace and genuine thanksgiving.

Source: Rector’s Blog

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