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Lament

I’m sorry, I cannot remember where I saw the online discussion about there being no space in traditional church practices and classical Christian disciplines for lament.

Actually, I think there is a strong lament tradition in the great Christian liturgical tradition. That great tradition builds on solid Jewish foundations – the daily, systematic praying of the psalms that we call the Daily Office.

You can classify the psalms into different categories. Within the Psalter, lament psalms are actually the most numerous. These psalms cry to God from distress, pain, or sorrow. Lament is not only for those who are suffering; lament is solidarity with others who are suffering.

On Sunday, we gathered around the story of Jesus making a whip of cords, driving people out of the temple, pouring out the coins of the money changers, and overturning their tables – the situation Jesus encountered is certainly cause for Jesus to lament. And for us to share in that lamenting.

The regular discipline of praying through the psalter – whatever our current situation – provides us with a wide emotional vocabulary that we can draw on in different situations.

There are individual lament psalms (e.g. Psalm 13; 22 – Hebrew numbering) or community lament psalms (e.g. Psalm 74). Often, such psalms begin with the question “Why?” and end in an affirmation of faith in God from the midst of the pain. Lament is honesty – to God, to ourselves – about our terrible situation.

Community Lament
Psalms 12, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 89, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129

Individual Lament
Psalms 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 36, 39, 40:12-17, 41, 42-43, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 70, 71, 77, 86, 89, 120, 139, 141, 142

Penitential Lament
Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143

Imprecatory Lament
Psalms 35, 69, 83, 88, 109, 137, 140

You can learn to lament – take up the disciplined praying of the psalms.

Photo by Francisco Gonzalez 

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2 thoughts on “Lament”

  1. I don’t know if I do right in church terms with this Bosco but for many years now I have spent a portion of the day’s prayer and reflection in thinking about a sadness or suffering from that day. Sometimes my own, sometimes other people’s.

    We can be in universal community with others knowing that at any moment human suffering and overwhelming emotion can become our own experience.

    It is the resulting compassion and empathy which directs our prayers and plans and actions towards kindness in the light of Jesus’ teachings.

    There is a book in the current Bible of actual Lamentations, I don’t think it is used much in liturgy any more because it is so specific and we all look for what you have called ‘flattening of the narrative’.

    1. Thanks, Tracy. I think you are right – the book of Lamentations might turn up in Holy Week for some, but is not much read as part of our common prayer disciplines. Interestingly, however, it is in the Daily Office of A New Zealand Prayer Book:

      1 The steadfast love of the Lord ′ never ′ ceases:
      God′s mercies ′ never ′ come · to an ′ end;
      2 they are new ′ every ′ morning:
      your ′ faithfulness · O ′ Lord is ′ great.
      3 You are ′ all · that I ′ have:
      and ′ therefore ′ I will ′ wait for you.
      4 You Lord are good to ′ those who ′ wait for you:
      to ′ all ′ those who ′ seek you.
      5† It is good to ′ wait in ′ patience:
      for the sal′vation ′ of the ′ Lord.
      Lamentations 3:22–26
      Tuesday Morning

      Blessings.

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