During my grief journey, I did a study of the psalms of lament. These are the poems in the in the Biblical Book of Psalms that express rage, frustration, and grief. I can't speak for how Jewish people relate to these psalms, but it does seem like many Christians have a tendency to avoid them. They are after all pretty gloomy, and express images of God that can feel uncomfortable.
The Psalms of Lament
have a distinctive place in the biblical Psalter. This link draws from theologian Walter Brueggemann's book Message of the Psalms. In this video is a interview with Walter Brueggemann, where he talks about how our culture has tended to deny pain.
Understanding the psalms of lament helped me to deepen my understanding the human-divine relationship. It also helped me see that facing the reality of pain and struggle in life was a much better way to healing than avoidance. These psalms show us a window into the grief journey of individuals and a nation who are able to be real about the pain and doubts of life and eventually live into wholeness.
Modern psychology has taught us that stuffing our pain and anger inside doesn’t work. It will come out eventually. If our anger and sorrow isn’t dealt with in ways that bring healing, it will come out in ways pass pain on to others. The lament is one way to help deal with our deep inner pain, sorrow, and anger. Expressing my anger to God during my grief journey helped me get my pain out in a way that I hope didn’t cause harm to others.
Writing your own Laments
Grief Journaling with laments
provides questions following the structure of the lament. You can use these questions for reflection on your own grief journey or as a written or spoken prayer. You may find it helpful to have at least glanced over the structure of laments in the link above.
If you are interested in reading another person's laments, Ann Weems' book "Psalms of Lament" gives psalms that she wrote out of her own grief journey following the loss of her son.
Praying with the Psalms of Lament
It is often hard to find words to express our feelings and so stuffing our pain inside seems like the only possible option. William Styron in "Sophie’s Choice" (p.506) shows example of a psalm of lament being used to comfort. Toward the end of the story Stingo journeys from Washington to New York to bury his two close friends who have committed suicide. He is visibly upset and feels beyond comfort. His seatmate, a black woman asks him what is upsetting him. He can give her no response. At her suggestion together in unison they read Psalm 88, along with other passages of lament. Though he is still in the thick of his grief, the words help bring comfort to the moment and give voice to the anguish of Stingo's soul. One helpful strategy for
Recovering from Grief and Loss
praying or journaling with the imagery of the psalms of lament.
A book I have found helpful is Nan Merrill's Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness. Merrill uses the Biblical Psalms and rewrites the psalms taking out much of the violent language and replacing references to “enemies” with more general words such as the word “fear.” This creates prayers that are more applicable to many of our our currently life situations. On
Prayers for Grief
you can see how she writes Psalm 13 and 23.
Lament and Worship
The psalms of lament have largely fallen from use in present day spirituality. Shortly after the tragic events of 9/11, Calvin Seerveld, author of Voicing God’s Psalms, wrote singer and songwriter Michael Card observing that American church had no songs to sing in response to the horrific attack. He asked Card to write some songs and help equip worship leaders to lead the church in lament. This led Card on his own study of lament, which later developed into the book A Sacred Sorrow. One of the things I found most intriguing about this book was the emphasis on the notion that true worship must incorporate lament. In the article
God and Grief,
I write about my reflections from Michael Card's Sacred Sorrow.