I cry aloud to Yhwh;
I lift up my voice to Yhwh for mercy.
Before God I pour out my complaint;
before God I tell my trouble.
When my spirit grows faint within me,
it is you who watch over my way.
Set me free from my prison,
that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
because of your goodness to me. - Psalm 142:1-3a, 7
In a preaching conference, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Long told about the time he was approached by a parishioner with an interest in contemporary church music: "Could we start a praise band?" Dr. Long replied, "Sure, as long as we start a lament band, too."
Perhaps it came across as a flip answer, but Dr. Long was also guarding the deep wisdom of scripture: we have as much need of lament as we do of praise. We know God both ways: both when we cry out in anger or hurt or despair and when we cry out in wonder or adoration. Often you can't truly get to the praise until you've given vent to the lament.
Like loving well, or living well — to praise well or lament well takes practice. They are more than instinctive expressions like tears or laughter. God is in the details: praise and lament tell about specific splendors and particular pains.
When I exercise my ability to tell my joys and my sorrows, my relationship with God becomes richer, as with friendships made deep by shared experiences. "Remember when you rescued me?" "Remember when we raged in fury against a community's suffering?" "Remember when we despaired of relief? And then relief came?"
The psalms remind us that a living faith won't always be sweetness and light: sometimes it will be bleak and bitter. They also help us remember that God has a particular interest in hearing our deepest and tenderest experience, both good and ill.
Expansive God, today I remember that you want to hear everything that is part of me: the hope and the hurt; the sour and the sweet; the beauty and the blight. Let me tell you now my praise and lament, and bless them to become the dance that carries us deeper in love. Amen.
Small Group Discussion
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John A. Nelson is Pastor and Teacher of Church on the Hill, UCC, in Lenox, Massachusetts.