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Saturday, September 27, 2008


Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour
out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your
hands to God for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at
the head of every street.

- Lamentations 2:19

The Book of Lamentations is not the only Hebrew text where we find
laments. There are other laments throughout the Bible. Loss and
fear, pain and despair are such a normal part of life that this is
not surprising. Some listen to the voices of lament in the Bible and
hear that humans have cried out to each other and cried out to God
for thousands of years. Philosophers and poets, and the philosopher
and poet in each of us, have always asked why there is suffering and
what meaning can we draw from it.

Where do you hear lament in our contemporary world? I hear it in
country western songs and pop love songs. I hear it in ballads and
in the blues.

Our 21st century lives are not appreciative of lament. We dismiss it
as useless, as whining, as weak, as complaining, and as
embarrassing. Lament has to go disguised as outrage or ranting. We
see these as strong. When the disguised lament asks for a particular
redress, it sounds demanding and, again, strong. We dismiss as
beneath our compassion someone who "just complains and never does

When we dismiss and denigrate lament, we are skipping an important
and probably necessary step in our emotional and spiritual health.
It is no accident that lamenting passages can be found in the sacred
texts on which we base our own encounter with the divine. Some see
the Bible as a carefully constructed explanation of the cosmos. I
see it differently from that. I see the Bible as the collection of
encounters with the essence seen through the lens of specific
writers, their world view, their vocabulary, their societal norms,
their time, and their experience. Further, the Bible is the
collection of those encounters in which people in other times and
places, thousands of years ago and still today, have found meaning.
I say that "it is no accident" that we find lament in the Bible
because I believe that lament is part of the way humans deal with a
world in which bad things happen. I believe we skip this part of the
path at our peril.

One of the times in which our God is present for us is in our times
of sorrow and pain. When you have some lament that rises from your
soul, the healthy and appropriate thing to do is to let it out.
Problem: To whom will you let it out? Perhaps you have a partner or
a friend, a counselor or a pastor with whom you feel safe enough to
reveal your lament. For many of us, there is no one like that or we
don't want to burden that person for most of our lamenting. We may
know "she's always there for me." We also know that we don't want to
overdo it.

Call out to God with your lament.

God is the one who has always listened to lament. God is the one who
hears your cries.

Mind you, I'm not talking in this letter about asking God to fix
what's wrong. I'm not referring to "intercessory prayer" for someone
you know or some population you've heard of who needs your prayers.
That's another topic for another time.

It's the baseball playoffs in Major League Baseball in the United
States and Canada. There is bound to be some lamenting ahead! Let
me borrow a metaphor from baseball.

When you pray, asking God for help is like getting to third base.
What about first and second? Well, try this. You get to first base
by addressing God, identifying yourself, and thanking God for what
you see as blessings. You get to second base by uttering your
lament, laying it all out there between you and the one to whom you
pray. Then, as you get to third base, you are asking God for
specific strength to carry on, help through difficulty, aid to an
ailing acquaintance, world peace, etc. Bring it home by telling God
that you trust that God's holy power will be at work, whatever happens.

Of course, that's only one way around the bases.

As I think about you, I pray for you. I pray that the Spirit will
visit you in a special way and make clear to you, if it is not
already clear, that you are loved and known.

Peace and Blessing,