Our only hope is to march ourselves to the throne of God
and in loud lament cry out the pain that lives in our souls. (Ann Weems)
For much of 2020 and on into the first weeks of 2021, it has seemed that things could only get worse, beyond our wildest imagination and greatest fears. What do we do? Where do we turn?
When Jesus was facing his death on the cross, in anguish and likely at a loss for words, he quoted Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In the Jewish and Christian traditions we are blessed with the practice of lamentation – though it is largely lost in many circles, especially in our North American culture. We worry that a lament sounds like a lack of faith – when in fact it is just the opposite. Despair is lack of faith - doubt is a seeking, a desiring of faith, a questioning in search of relationship. A lament, then, is not giving up on faith, but a faithful cry to the one who weeps with us. In fact, the purpose of a lament is to help renew trust and confidence in God.
Some laments are personal, some are communal. Some refer to outside situations like captors or pandemics; some refer to personal loss or failing. All include acknowledgment of our relationship with God, a complaint or description of suffering, a plea for help, and a “vote of confidence” in God’s ongoing presence.
With God we can be our truest selves. God’s family is not one of those where you have to put on a front and pretend that all is wonderful when it’s not. And that is the purpose of the prayer of lament – for individuals or families or communities or nations. Trusting that God is with us, in a lament we share our pain – and ask for help. And while we can tell God the outcome we desire, like Jesus in the garden we hope we can say “Not my will but yours be done”. Knowing that God’s will is for us to live fully in freedom.
At this moment in history, the prayer of lament might be the only appropriate response. Honest prayer strengthens our relationship with God, who will guide our decisions and actions in the days ahead.
For Jesus and his Jewish companions, and for Christians and many people of good will today, the Psalms are models of many kinds of prayer, with over a third of them lamentation. Here is a selection that might spark your own prayer in the coming days. (and a link to prayers for the end of 2020.)