Break the Silence…Lament!

Read Psalm 74

We are told all the time that all our problems are solvable.  The wars are solvable – we need either more or less troops.  Our illnesses are solvable – we just need the correct diagnosis and the right medicine.  Our poverty is solvable – “those” people just need to work.  The problem with this assumption is we all know it is not true.  Life is more complex and intricate than we often assume.

One of the powerful messages we are reclaiming during the Lenten season at Wesley is that the Hebrews did not feel that masking the emotional pain of life was appropriate.  They brought their pain to God and cried out in God’s presence.  They were not afraid to speak these prayers of darkness to God.  They believed that this was the only way faith worked – you bring the good to God and you bring the bad to God.  You bring all things to God.

The lament of Psalm 74 is a communal cry and prayer of the Israelites as the Babylonians destroyed the temple in 576 BC.  You can hear their cry as the elements and carvings of the temple are destroyed.  You can feel the pain as they desecrate the holy space.

Professor Walter Brueggemann gives us some wonderful insights regarding the Psalms, especially the lament Psalms.  This “outline” of lament may help us to reclaim our cry. (Spirituality of the Psalms)

First, Brueggeman says that a lament is a cry of expression that always addresses the Lord God. What is said to God may be scandalous and offend some of our sensibilities; but the ones who lament are completely committed, and they believe whatever must be said must be said directly to God who partners with us. We have permission to speak freely, but that speech is always directed to God – honestly and openly.  We bring all we are TO God.  A lament is not a cursing of God, but it is an honest prayer and expression TO God.

Second, the Rev. Dr. Claus Westermann, the great 20th century Old Testament scholar, pointed out the distinctive pattern of the lament.  There is an inherited way it is done.  There is order to it.  This order of the prayer was/is recognized by the Israelites.  The lament has two components:

  • The Plea which is a complaint that God should correct a skewed situation.
  • The Praise where the one praying always moves from a sense of urgency and desperation to joy, gratitude, and well-being.

In Matthew 8:1-4, there is a brief healing story.  “When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; 2and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” 3He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.””

In his book Psalmist’s Cry: Scripts for Embracing Lament, Walter Brueggemann shows how this healing story models for us the way that lament works as a powerful means to address the emotional pain in our lives and not just mask the symptoms.

First, the leper comes to Jesus and admits his status and despair – his “plea”.  He doesn’t pretend to be anything other than one of the most wounded. He doesn’t come to Jesus on his terms, pretending to have control over his life.  He kneels before Christ and says “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  I am unclean, I am broken, I am weary and I am downtrodden – but you can make me clean.

Second, we notice the trust this healed man places in Jesus.  What if Jesus wouldn’t heal him?  But is more than that, there is an ongoing trust.  He trusted Jesus with not only his initial healing but also with whatever was to come after – to go to the priests and present offerings (and keep the healing quiet).

We have seen this trust in all the lament Psalms we’ve read so far this Lenten season.  There is a definitive plea and always a move to praise…even in the midst of fear and pain.

The lament points out that there are no easy and quick solutions to many things in life.  Not every problem is “solvable”.  But that does not mean we lose our voice.  The Psalms of lament say to us, “you can go to God in darkness and despair and speak to God, and in that plea we can place our trust in God.”

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