Monday, November 23, 2020

Why Must We Lament

Psalms of Lament make up 1/3 (or even more, depending on whom you ask) of the Book of Psalms. We read Psalm 42, for example, and we see that the psalmist is remembering the past:

These things will I remember
as I pour out my soul:
How I would lead the rejoicing crowd
into the house of God,
amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving,
the throng wild with joy. (Ps 42:4)

But things seem to have changed for him. 

He remembers the past, and now laments—lamenting even in a way that sounds at times like complaining. 

We notice how the psalmist can move from praise right to lament: 

…by night I will sing to the LORD,
praise the God of my life.

then in the next verse:

I will say to God, my rock,
“Why have you forgotten me? (42:9, 10)

and then back again: 

Why are you cast down, my soul… ?
Hope in God; I will praise yet again,
my savior and my God” (42:12).


Why must the psalmist lament? And why may we also need to lament what is lost?  

1. First, we lament because we love. “Grief,” says N.T. Wright, “after all, is part of love. Not to grieve, not to lament, is to slam the door on the same place in the innermost heart from which love itself comes” (God and the Pandemic, Zondervan, 2020).

We grieve because we love and because we value what is past and what now seems to be lost. “When we lose the ability to lament, we lose an opportunity to share with our God the things of this world that are breaking our hearts…” (Ryane Williamson, "The Lost Art of Lament").

2. And, second, we lament because, without honoring the grief within us, it is likely that we would be hindered in fulfilling our call to move into the future. We may be unable to see beyond the dried winter leaf on the ground. We may remain stuck in unclaimed grief – or in a sterile and perhaps even unrecognized grief – unfruitful, as opposed to the loving lament that helps carry us forward in love. So we need to name our grief, for what one person grieves may not be the same as what another one of us grieves, even in a similar situation. 

We need to name for ourselves what it is that we grieve, and lament what we have loved and seems now to be lost. And in so doing we are helped to allow the new to be born. Lamenting helps make it possible for us to move into the future, even as the blessing of what we lament and will never forget remains in our hearts and nurtures the future, so that we can say, with the psalmist in Psalm 27:

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living. (27:13)


Psalm quotations are from The Psalms: The Grail Translation Inclusive Language Version
(London: HarperCollins, 2004).


No comments: