Reviving Lament

4 mins read

Prayers of lament can lead to a rebirth of hope.

But are we comfortable with lament? In today’s society, the answer is probably closer to a “no” than a “yes.” And even if we are comfortable, we don’t necessarily know how to lament because it’s become a bit of a lost practice.

At just 150 pages, the book “Rachel’s Cry,” by Daniel Migliore and Kathleen Diane Billman,

 makes a profound case for reviving the use of prayers of Lament.

True to its name, “Rachel’s Cry” begins with the story of Rachel’s cry of lament in Jeremiah. Her children have been slain or carried off into exile and she won’t be consoled (Jeremiah 31:15). Rachel dwells in the moment of pain that hasn’t been truly named a lament Biblically, but it was heard by God and given a response.

Set in contrast to Rachel’s cry is Mary’s hope as presented in the Magnificat in Luke 1. Billman and Migliore note that we, the church, are all too quick to look to Mary’s hopeful prayer while forgetting that she prayed this with full knowledge of Rachel’s pain. The authors suggest that Rachel’s lament made room for authentic doxology and Mary’s praise holds prophetic faith (p. 3). This tension between praise and lament holds throughout the rest of the book. Lament is presented as a precondition of praise.

The “church” has played a more active role in suppressing lament than some might realize. The church has taught most of us how to pray and how NOT to pray. As a result of this training we’ve received over the years – praise, not protest; petition, not interrogation; submit, don’t challenge – many of us aren’t even comfortable with Psalms of Lament.

Making the discomfort more tangible, staggering numbers of Psalms of Lament are left out of our lectionaries, books of prayer and books of worship. We aren’t exposed to lament regularly.

In order to renew our prayers of lament, we must look to the Bible. Through iconic Psalms like Psalm 22, through the experiences of the marginalized who found hope through lament in the Bible and through a variety of Biblical narratives where people are open and candid with God about the pain they are experiencing, we uncover the truth that lament on behalf of ourselves and others is necessary.

In rounding the corner to bringing back proper lament, Billman and Migliore offer up that lament gives us a language for pain. Some people might not need that language. However, as long as there is pain and heartache in the world, some will. By not offering language for that pain, we are not properly providing space for the feelings/moods/emotions of pain – “the very emotions that terrify us,” p. 14. As the authors note, “In a society and world with many volatile tensions and violent conflicts, this is a serious failure,” p. 14.

Take a moment and read through a Psalm of Lament today. Pray it if you are in a situation where that feels appropriate. How was the experience?

Psalms of Community Lament

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

Psalms of Individual Lament

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

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