I have been thinking a lot recently about lament – what is it and how do we use it? I think it is because I have been reading through the books of the minor prophets. They lived through harrowing times and can teach us so much about our dependence on God when things are tough. Many of these books such as the book of Habakkuk uses the language of lament, this passionate expression of grief. It is born of mourning or sadness about what will happen to Judah. Some think we have lost this ability to lament in church life.[i] I think that the pandemic of covid-19 has lead us back to it.
There are many examples of lament throughout Scripture. Look at the book of Lamentations, probably written about Jeremiah where he pleads with God over the evil and suffering of the world. Read the Psalms, that include so many songs of lament. The honesty and vulnerability of the writer stops us in our tracks. And listen to Jesus in Mark 14, when he cried out to God, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Our Christian tradition of the prayer of lament gives us a way of speaking to God during times of deep and incomprehensible loss. We are living through these days when we are all experiencing loss- loss of loved ones, freedom, employment and stability. Loss of even the way we used to grieve at funerals ad wakes.
Some of us do not like lament as it makes us feel uncomfortable. Some even feel it is disrespectful – all those tears and snot. In his book A Praying Life, the author Paul Miller says, “We think laments are disrespectful. God says the opposite. Lamenting shows you are engaged with God in a vibrant, living faith. We live in a deeply broken world. If the pieces of our world aren’ t breaking your heart and you aren’ t in God’ s face about them, then …you’ ve thrown in the towel”[ii].
Lament may not be a common word in our spiritual lives, but it is woven throughout Scripture. A prayer of lament is a passionate expression of our pain. It is honest and transparent talk with God- telling Him how we are and what we feel. There is no pretence. I think when I have heard people lament then it has often been like a plea for help, during a time of distress or a crying out about injustice. It has the same Hebrew root wood as “to mourn” and “to wail.” In several cultures such as Africa, the Americas and even some Celtic nations people cry out a mourning lament called the “death wail “at funerals. Lament can be loud and harsh and extreme or quiet and broken. This lament is not a structured prayer, it’ s not about being polite or holding it all together. Lament is an honest expression of pain- Lord I am scared, Lord I am frightened, I’ m scared I may get this virus and what can I do to help people? I have prayed these prayers over so many people’ s lives. I have lamented for my family; for my Dad in a Care home and my Mum who can’ t see him. Separated by measures in place to protect them both. I have prayed for my family for protection as they head to the work place as front line workers or stay isolated looking after a new born baby.
We are facing a difficult situation now and all I can do is lament. Even writing these few words my heart feels like it is splitting in two and I can only turn to God who sees my heart. Sometimes the words escape as whispers, as quiet as my own heart sounds, the noises generated from my own beating heart. The sounds made by the turbulence as my heart valves shut between each chamber allowing blood to flow to where it needs to go[iii]. God can hear my heart … Lub- DUB… lub DUB… lub-DUB[iv].
Adapted from “The Raw material of prayer”. D Duncan. Published later this year by Authentic Media.
[i] Miller, P (2017). A Praying Life. Connecting with God in a distracting world. UK: Tyndale House Publishers
[ii] Miller, P (2017). A Praying Life. Connecting with God in a distracting world. UK: Tyndale House Publishers
[iii] Huffman, L (2012). Heart sounds: Hear the story. Nursing Made Incredibly Easy!: March/April 2012 – Volume 10 – Issue 2 – p 51-54
[iv] Heart sounds S1 and S2