On November 14, our church held a day of lament. It reminded me, in case I had forgotten, that lamenting to God, or Whomever or whatever you believe in, is OK. More than OK, actually.
One pastor lead the Adult Education class and spoke about the book of Lamentations and, of course, Job, but also the Psalms. Over 40% of the Psalms in the Bible are psalms of lament.
Then the other pastor gave a great sermon on the topic. “What was going on in the lives of those psalmists. Life is not as they expected it to be. They call out to God for an account asking how long? and where are you? They are lamenting. They speak out of their experience, their reality – nothing seems to be off-limits. Thankfully we have this witness as part of our Bible. We have these lament psalms.”
This took place at a fortuitous time. I had been recently talking to a devout Christian, a hard-working person who was feeling a loss of faith because of a situation in life. And the situation WAS certainly unfair and debilitating and frustrating and worthy of lament.
My pastor quoted Old Testament scholar Kathleen O’Connor. “Laments are prayers of the discontented, the disturbed, the distraught. They protest God’s rule of the world, bemoan the speakers’ physical condition and whine about enemies. But remarkably, in the process of harsh complaint and resistance, they also express faith in God in the midst of chaos, doubt, and confusion.”
My own distress
I suppose it also gave ME a sense of comfort when I’ve complained, sometimes on these pages, of feeling distraught. Recently, it was about COVID-19, and the country’s resistance, to my perception, of ending the damn thing. Some people of faith have suggested that, if I had REALLY believed, I wouldn’t be distressed.
Now, I KNEW, instinctively, that this was… crap. But the class and the sermon that week created the framework for a more specific response. “We need these psalms – we need to lament. Lament psalms provide us a blueprint for how to lament – and how to lament well. We live in a society that doesn’t lament, at least not to God. To lament is to cry out, to express our despair.”
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
At least that Psalm ends with an upbeat thanks to God. Compare with the other scripture of the day, Psalm 88, which has no happy ending.
But yes, it’s all right to rail against God, or the heavens. “The psalmists aren’t afraid to do that.” Why shouldn’t we?
In fact, the First Church of Albany, along with the FOCUS churches, is offering a Blue Christmas service on Thursday, December 16 at 6:30 pm in person and on Zoom. It is for those who approach the coming holidays with heavy hearts due to loss or other reasons. You’re not alone.