The Prayer of Lament: What To Do When We Don’t Know What To Do
“Our only hope is to march ourselves to the throne of God and in loud lament cry out the pain that lives in our souls.” Ann Weems
Our hearts are heavy this day and tears are close to the surface as we watch the unwatchable, think about (and try not to think about) the unthinkable, bear the unbearable, cry out for solutions to the unfixable. Our groanings are too deep for words. Tears come at the oddest moments. Despair crouches at the door, waiting to set up housekeeping in our souls.
“A voice is heard in Ramah [and in St. Paul and in Orlando and in Charleston and in Baton Rouge and in Dallas], lamentation and bitter weeping. Mothers weep for their children; they refuse to be comforted for their children, because they are no more.” (Jer. 31:15)
How does one respond to events that are as tragic and disturbing as what we have witnessed in our country the past few days, weeks, and months?
While there will necessarily be a call to a variety of actions and responses to the injustice and the racism, the hatred and the violence we must eschew, our Christian tradition offers us the prayer of lament. This prayer gives us a way of being with God and with each other during times of deep and incomprehensible loss.
The Lost Prayer
The prayer of lament is that unsettling biblical tradition of prayer that includes expressions of complaint, anger, grief, despair, and protest to God. Many of us have never been taught this way of praying and it is often missing in the worship of many congregations.
As Samuel Balentine describes it, “The church taught me how to pray and, more subtly, how not to pray. One was to praise God, but not protest; to petition God, but not interrogate; and in all things to accept and submit to the sometimes incomprehensible will of God, never challenge or rebel. Yet when life’s circumstances would not permit either such passivity or such piety, this advocacy of a rather monotonic relation to God seemed destined to silence if not exclude me. ‘You must not question God.’ If one cannot question God, then to whom does one direct the questions?”
The prayer of lament is a place to begin as we seek to respond to the sin, the brokenness, and the complexity of our life together as human beings. It is tempting to rush to problem-solving and fixing when the situation is so dire, but I hope we won’t.
Let us stop, at least for a moment, and lament together. Let us stand in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters who continue to experience such tragic loss; let us mourn with them the loss of another black male and affirm that black lives matter. Let us grieve for the law enforcement officers who lost their lives while trying to keep the peace. Let us acknowledge complexity, that we don’t have answers, and cry out to God together for the peace and justice that seems to illude us.
Please join us as board member Rev. Prince Rivers, senior pastor of Union Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, shares his lament offered from within the black community. Let it lead us in opening to God together during these difficult days.
A Prayer of Lament for Those Who Cannot Breathe
Rev. Prince Rivers
Holy God, a cloud of grief hangs heavy over my head and I feel like I cannot breathe, so give me the strength to pray. I raise my hands toward the sky and I lift my eyes to the hills which is where my help comes from. Lord, when the names of people who have been choked, shot and assaulted is too many to count I know that not one soul has been forgotten by mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, cousins and friends. They remember…
…laughs and smiles,
…dreams and struggles,
…talents and personalities.
Now these men and women are gone. Father, how long must we listen to the cries and screams as blood stains the sidewalk? How many videos must we watch before we begin to see a change?
Help me, God. Help us. Help the people of St. Paul, MN. Help Baton Rouge, LA. Help our nation. Help us examine ourselves. Help those of us who are sad and angry not to let these deaths be in vain. We do not pray for vengeance, but we do thirst for justice. We hope for healing between neighbors and officers called to protect and serve. We long for the day when young men will live long enough to be old men and parents will not have to say ‘good-bye’ too soon.
My hope is in you, God. Deliver me from all my fears. O God, come quickly to help us. O Lord, come quickly to save us. In the name of the one who came that we might have life and have life more abundantly.
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