Lament: I wither away like grass
- Psalm 102:1-13 “Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry come to you.”
The cry of the Psalmist teaches us to pray….to lament
Hear my prayer, O God; let my cry come to you. Psalm 102: 1
The Psalmist wails to God. It is a biting plea to God from the depths of distress. Anguished reality is spoken bluntly and directly to God:
Hear my prayer,
O God, let my cry come to you.
Do not hide your face from me.
Incline your ear to me.
Answer me quickly……..I….am….in….distress!
The Psalmist’s lament – as all true lament – is addressed to God:
O God… God is being addressed.
Let my cry…. The address is a cry of distress, that is a lament.
Come to you …The pray-er intends to address to God; to let God know about my situation-in-life. The Psalmist will not let God off the hook, knowing that God does not let me off the hook. This is a serious essential confrontation between me and God.
The Purpose and Power of Lament
To lament is to cry out in grief or complaint ( Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary ).
Lament is not an action or emotion that comes easily to us. Serious and faithful lament rarely and reluctantly crosses our lips. The Psalmist was not afraid to wail lament to God!
It is notable that the only book in the Bible with the name of an emotion is Lamentations. A teacher of Hebrew Scriptures and colleague of Walter Brueggemann, Kathleen O’Connor has written a powerful commentary on Lamentations and the Tears of the World . In the twenty-first century and especially the post 9-11 world, Kathleen O’Connor locates biblical people today in these laments of long ago through the power of tears drawing us into these prayers of truthfulness, hope, justice, solidarity and resistance (Brueggemann’s “Foreword” to O’Connor’s Lamentations , p. xi).
A leading scholar on the Psalms, Claus Westermann, has written much on the Psalms as lament. “Lament is the basic form of [the Psalms]. Most other Psalm forms are derived from or responses to lament. The lament Psalm expresses the basic moves of faith in God, ranging from deep alienation to profound trust, confidence and gratitude” (Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms , 18).
If we are to be honest with ourselves and with God, we must learn how to live prayers of lament. I dare say that lament is the only prayer – perhaps even the only human act – that will keep us honest and, therefore, keep us from despair or revenge.
The Psalmist knew lament and knew we need to be taught to pray our laments. That is one good reason for coming to Psalms often and letting the Psalmist speak to us and for us and teach us all the ways to pray, especially to pray prayers of lament.
Anyone who is in any way aware or honest knows the pain and grief of one’s own life and other lives near and far. Some of what we lament is profoundly personal in our lives and those we love. Our cause for lament is also very global. So many people — and so much of creation — suffer such great grief! How could we not lament?
In these days, almost unknowingly, I have found lament to be my most common prayer. I suspect your heart, like mine, is wrenched and wrought with lament whether we know it or not. I had not named lament as my primary prayer until this week as I was living with this Psalm and preparing for this worship. That is what the Psalms and our worship are supposed to do to us – make us conscious of what is and where we are in the midst of it.
Impulses and Inspirations for Lament
If we are human, we must cry out! We must complain! Our complaint must be with God!
Let me name some laments I hear and hold in my heart.
** A young mother whose own mother dies of cancer at the prime of mid-life. She cries with anguished grief, “Why?” Why has this happened to my mother? Why is this happening to me? Where are you, God? If you are God, how can you refuse to intervene in my mother’s death? She also cries, ‘God, how can you not intervene in a Tsunami or a war on terror that leaves so much more suffering and death in its wake?’
Where are you God, when a young mother grieves for a dead mother and for deadly terror inflicted on innocent people?
** Christian Peacemaker Team leader Greg Rollins anguished as he left Baghdad a few days ago. He lamented how helpless he felt in the face the disappearance of four CPT companions and many Iraqi friends inhumanely abducted. Greg’s words on leaving Baghdad were, “I am not a soldier, but I understand what soldiers mean when they say,
‘Leave no one behind.’ It is never something that you want to do. It is a break in your bond. To have to leave now breaks my heart.” (Jan 17, 2006 CPT Iraq Reflection).
Where are you, God, when Jim, Tom, Harmeet, Norman and many innocent Iraqis are seized and held against their will?
** Konnie Landis’s death last June, when she was only 36 years old and married for 1 year and 1 day to Bill Sutherland. In deep faith and great compassion, Konnie gave her life personally and professionally as a doctor to hurting people in Everett, American Samoa, Uganda, Belize and wherever she went. The world needs her but she is dead.
Where are you, God, when a sister dies in the prime of life and her sister and family is left in long and deep grief?
** On the other side of the world, Pakistanis in the mountains are freezing and without food in the aftermath of an earthquake that destroyed what little they had. On this side of the world a city is wrecked by hurricane winds and floodwaters once again leaving the poor and the powerless with the greatest loss.
Where are you, God, not only when natural disasters strike, but also when leaders bent on lying rather than leading, add suffering to suffering for the most vulnerable?
** Or when one of the most harmless homeless men among us—one who most Sundays is here to worship and break bread with us — is arrested two days ago on a past warrant he knew nothing about.
Where are you, God, when the last and the least do not ever find themselves “first” as Jesus promised?
** Perhaps the most frequent and wrenching global lament of the past year is, “Where was God in the Tsunami?” O God, where are you in such great suffering?
** I cannot let our lament pass without naming Dietrich Bonhoeffer whose 100 th birthday was yesterday. Bonhoeffer was hung in a Nazi prison camp at 39 years old on April 9, 1945, only days before the end of WWII. And also naming Paul Rusesabagina, who was almost the only glimmer of hope in the hell of genocide in Rwanda a decade ago. He shared that tragic story here in Seattle last night. See the film “Hotel Rwanda!”
O God, let my cry come to you. We cry lament upon lament upon lament!
Closing Prayer of Lament
The current issue of Radical Grace , from the Center for Action and Contemplation, is on “Lament.” I want to end with a prayer of lament from this issue of Radical Grace.
Lord, Plunge me deep into a sense of sadness
At the pain of my sisters and brothers
Inflicted by war,…Prejudice,…Injustice,…Indifference
That I may learn again to cry as a child…Until my tears baptize me…
Into a person who touches with care…those I now touch with prayer.
Amen. (From Guerillas of Grace, by Ted Loder, on the cover of Radical Grace , Jan-Feb 2006)