lament

This is the next in the slightly-less-frequent-than-I-had-hoped series of bloggages about prayer, beginning with buffet. Do explore the others if you fancy expanding your experience of praying. This one is, I confess, one that is mostly ignored in my tradition of church (Baptist). But I think we need to recover our ability to lament.

Laments are a strange form of prayer. They are neither one thing, nor another, they just are… well… laments. They are expressions of emotions (often painful or angst-ridden) about situations and circumstances. They can be articulate rants and they can be distressing howls of pain, they can be shouted at the heavens and they can be whispered through tears. And, for me, the most amazing thing about them is that they don’t have to have a resolution.

In a lament you express to God how you are feeling, you may beg him to do something about it, and you leave it with him. From a therapeutic point of view you might say that it is good to express how you feel and get it ‘off your chest’, but that is not the main purpose of a lament even if it is a positive by-product. I reckon the main purpose of lamenting is to enable us to be honest with God.

If there’s a tragic event that has taken place and you are angry that it has happened – lament.

If you don’t understand why God allowed something bad to take place – lament.

Even weeping aloud or silently about a situation can be a form of lament.

And by not requiring a resolution we do not have to worry about discerning an answer or articulating an outcome that we may not be able to see. We can simply tell God how it is for us. We can even complain about him to his face. He is able to take it, and because he knows all of our emotions he already knows that is how we are feeling so there’s no point in hiding it.

The danger of laments is that they can become part of a downward emotional spiral if that is all that we do. A good lament may not have a resolution but it does ask God to do something about it. It has an expression of faith that may be full of questions, doubt and anguish, but it is still an expression of faith that God might be present and act.

Laments are not often articulated in the churches I attend. Why not? I think we are afraid of admitting how we feel, exposing our doubts and pain, and not having a good answer at the end of it. This coming Sunday I am going to be part of a church service where we will be lamenting about events in the recent past of the church and part of that will be expressing regret, sharing painful memory and yet also declaring a hopeful resilience about the future.

How about you? What do you lament? When do you lament? Do you lament? God welcomes it if you have the courage to give it a go…

Be blessed, be a blessing

lamentation

teardropWhat do you do when you hear tragic news?

This morning we have heard of the apparent shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines passenger aircraft, and while the perpetrator is not yet known, we can neglect to remember that there are many other victims of the on-going conflict in Ukraine; and Israel and the Palestinian territories have been in conflict for over a week – hundreds have died there already through the air attacks and now Israel has mounted a ground offensive.

So what do you do?

Do you give the situations a good tutting and devour the news stories for more details?

Do you speculate about what is happening and decide who is in the right and who is the pantomime villain that everyone ought to boo?

Do you offer up prayers for those who are victims, the families of those who have died, and pray for peace?

Do you rend your garments and sit in a pile of ashes? That is one of the biblical responses to tragedy – to enact your grief in such a way that it is obvious so that others can join you.

Do you lament? Lamenting is also a biblical response to tragedy and inhumanity (isn’t ‘inhumanity’ an interesting word – suggesting that we are innately good and not to be makes us ‘inhumane’? There could be a bloggage there, but I digress…). Where was I?

Oh yes, lament. Lamenting is a way of crying out to God – reaching out with raw emotion and screaming against the events. It is an expression of our inadequacy and impotence in the face of evil and horrendous happenings. It is a guttural screech of pain that articulates the inarticulate emotions within.

And we offer all that to God and say, “This is wrong and I don’t know what to do but I know it’s wrong and I am angry, distraught and bewildered.”

So here goes: a lament for 18th July 2014

Did you hear the 298 30,000 foot screams? Do you know who pressed the button: do you know if they feel guilty? Did you fall with them? Do you share the grief of the parents, partners, children who have an unexpected chasm opened up in their life? Do you know how angry we feel about it?

Do you care about the people of Ukraine, because we have replaced them with new news? Do you understand the depth of division that is so deep that people have given up on politics and taken up guns? Do you know how many people have died unseen by the world’s media and unnoticed by most of us?

Do you know how many people are buried in the rubble of Gaza or how many have escaped with their lives but that’s all they have left? Do you comprehend the incomprehensible hatred that fires random rockets and retaliates with missiles that infuriate and motivate more rockets that exasperate and lead to invasion? Do you weep with the families of four young boys who had been playing football on the beach until the shells hit?

And then there’s the Islamic insurgency in Nigeria, civil war in South Sudan, ongoing uprisings in Afghanistan, destruction and devastation in Syria and Iraq, and so many more. We name countries because the people are unknown to us and because it makes it easier for us to cope rather than think of all of the individuals.

Does the inhumanity make you weep? Does it make you regret? Does it erode hope?

It’s wrong. So wrong. Words can’t express it. But they are all you have given me.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

lament

teardropI have remarked before on how protestant Christians in the UK seem to have lost the ability to lament. It’s not simply a wringing of hands and ‘woe is me’, it is a way of praying that expresses heartfelt emotions in a raw and honest way. Yesterday’s reading from Scripture Union’s Word Live was exploring a lament in the Bible. I found it moving and helpful in considering my own response to events. And then I read this:

Do-it-yourself lament

In today’s passage [2 Samuel 1:17-27], we have the opportunity to eavesdrop on David at a moment of raw grief. In the poem which he composes on the occasion of the deaths of King Saul and of his best friend Jonathan, we might find some inspiration for writing our own laments. We asked Helen Paynter to lend some advice and encouragement for you to have a go.

The lament is not a common piece of English literature. I doubt you were ever asked to write one at school; you may never even have used one in church. But the book of Psalms contains more laments than any other form of poetry-prayer; many of them written by David. And we also find laments in other places in Scripture, as here in 2 Samuel. Clearly there is something about lament that is important. Perhaps we stiff-upper-lip British types are missing a trick. Perhaps there is a source of healing that can be derived from the frank expression of our sorrow.

What causes you to lament today? The answer to this may be very obvious; raw grief chafing your soul. But for others, it may be less clear – life is fine at the moment. Everything is on an even keel. As we look at this lament of David, we see that it contains two elements. First there is David’s personal grief at the loss of his best friend (see v 26). Does this resonate with you? But David is also lamenting a national disaster – Israel has lost its king (v 14, cf v 21). Sometimes it is national or international events that evoke lament in our hearts. Now do you have some ideas? For me it is the thought of my Christian brothers and sisters who are in fear today because of their courageous witness. It is the thought of the many, many women who are trafficked to make money for others. And it is the thought of the thousands of children who are feral on the streets of so many cities of the world, prey to any who wish to take advantage of them. What evokes lament in your heart?

Next, we might ask for whom David is writing his lament. The text doesn’t give us any clues, although the fact that the poem has survived suggests that it may have been used publically – perhaps for Saul and Jonathan’s funeral. But there is also the strong sense that David is writing for his own benefit. His own personal feelings are expressed, without embarrassment, without shame. For whom will you write your lament? It may be that you will write something to put into the mouths of God’s people – perhaps your own congregation. But it is also fine to write as an expression of your own private prayers and sorrows. It can be just between you and God.|

I’d like to draw your attention to something else in the passage. Remember that David had had a very ambiguous relationship with Saul, who had tried to kill him on many occasions. But there is no hint of bitterness in this lament. On the other hand, David is willing to recall the good times (eg v24). Bitterness will only hold up your grief. Be honest, certainly. But if this prayer is to be useful for your own healing, don’t use it to heap up remembered wrongs.

David uses all sorts of skilful techniques such as assonance and word-play – this is high poetry, Hebrew style. But don’t try to copy David’s way of writing. Use your own words, and your own writing style. Look again at verse 21. The English translations smooth out the way this is written; a more literal rendering would be something like: ‘You mountains of… in Gilboa – no dew and no rain on you.’ It is deliberately distorted Hebrew, as if David is stuttering in his grief. Your lament needn’t be polished; it needn’t be good English. It does need to take your sorrows before the God who is listening.

Go on, have a go. Express your inner emotions and feelings to God. He can take it! It will add a new experience to your prayer life and may well be good for you emotionally too.

Be blessed, be a blessing.