I expect that many of you, like me, have been feeling a profound sense of loss in relation to the many people, activities and freedoms that you have lost over the past year.
One day, when I was working at the University of Glasgow, I emerged from the building where I worked into the sunshine and encountered a colleague taking a break. As I greeted him there was something in the way he responded that indicated that a simple exchange of ‘good morning’ wasn’t enough. He then poured out a list of dreadful things that had happened in his family, ending by saying “I just want to yell at God”. “Well why don’t you?” I replied, to which he said “Is that allowed?”.
The answer is: “Of course its allowed, the people of the Hebrew Bible were doing it all the time”. You should have seen the look of relief on his face.
It’s now Lent and our Lent Study this year is ‘Lament and the Psalms’. Lament is a process for addressing what my colleague was feeling and also how I’ve been feeling, however it’s not just another way of being miserable. Lament has a discernable form and purpose, seen very clearly in the 40 or so Psalms of lament.
Firstly, the psalmist cries out to God in anguish, pain or despair, often unable to articulate exactly what’s wrong. A good example is verse 1 of Psalm 22, which Jesus quoted on the Cross – “My God my God why have you forsaken me?”. The psalmist just wants to be heard and helped.
Secondly, he lists one or more complaints, often pulling no punches and accompanied by a list of reasons why the complaints should be heard and responded to.
There follows a recollection of past times when God has come to the rescue and perhaps the realisation and trust that He might again this time. Finally the psalmist remembers the good times when they felt better about the world and this usually blossoms into thanksgiving and praise.
So lament is a process, which may take place over a period of hours, days, weeks or months, by which overwhelming sadness, grief and pain gradually transform into memory of and thanksgiving for the many good things experienced and received. Lament in the lands of the Bible isn’t primarily an individual process and is often communal. Some people may be sharing in the loss or anguish or grief directly, but there will be others lamenting with them to support them in the process. Of course we see this at work in many communities in the mourning that takes place when one of our own has been taken from us.
Lament can be a powerful process to help with any sense of loss, so give it a go, you’ll probably feel better for it. As Psalm 30 says: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
Whilst I’ve been writing this, the sun has come out, it’s started to feel quite warm and I’m beginning to remember the good times and trust God that they’ll return in some form.