Get up, God! Are you going to sleep all day?
Wake up! Don’t you care what happens to us?
Why do you bury your face in the pillow?
Why pretend that things are just fine with us?
And here we are — flat out on our faces in the dirt,
held down with a boot on our necks.
Get up and come to our rescue.
If you love us so much, Help us!
That seems like a petulant and irreverent prayer, doesn’t it? But it’s one that the Jews included in their ancient song book and used in worship. And it’s in our Bibles — Psalm 44:23-26 (Msg). There are plenty more passages like that in what we call the psalms of lament.
We are currently considering the place of lament in Scripture, in our individual lives, and in the life of our community. We read the whole of Psalm 44 in our pop-up group on lament on Monday night and also discussed some more of Walter Brueggemann’s insights into lament.
Last Sunday morning I preached on a different lament psalm, Psalm 13, and reflected on its movement from plea to praise (to use Claus Westermann’s terms) and from disorientation to new orientation (Brueggemann’s terms). There are seasons when honest heartfelt lament to God seem appropriate. Sometimes that will be because of our own personal situations of distress, but it may also be because of the suffering we witness in others or worrying situations in our world. The weather this week has reminded me that even while we are enjoying the new life of Spring, Winter still breaks in sometimes and upsets our equilibrium.
Tonight (Wednesday 28th) we have the opportunity to explore the process of lament further in another way. Rebecca Hilton will be facilitating a creative writing workshop which will include time to write our own psalm or prayer of lament. There will be the option of sharing this if you want or keeping it private, just between you and God. Tonight’s workshop will be face-to-face only at the Church from 7.30-8.30pm. Next Wednesday (4 November) Rebecca will conduct a similar session but only over Zoom.
There is much excitement in Victoria, and Melbourne in particular, in response to the lifting of the COVID lockdown overnight following two days of zero new COVID infections and zero deaths. I resisted the temptation to join in the celebrations having 2 doughnuts on each of those days, but am delighted nonetheless, as we all are. The prospect of further easing of restrictions in Victoria and other states and even the opening of borders before Christmas is also exciting. As I watched TV footage of Melbournians revelling in their new-found freedom after their months of restrictions, I couldn’t help thinking about those refugees and asylum seekers who are still suffering in detention after 8 years of inhumane restrictions because of the policies of our Federal Government. Sorry to be such a killjoy, but that’s one of my main laments at the moment.
This coming Sunday Belinda will again be preaching on lament but looking at community lament this time. As part of the children’s spot, there will be a creative activity requiring paper, pen and scissors so if you are Zooming with your children please have these ready. This will be a Communion so also have your bread and juice prepared beforehand.
Thinking a bit further ahead, a brief update on our review into ministry and staffing needs. Ted Bell and Andrew Dodd, the consultants, have met with the Deacons, Belinda, Cecelia and me to obtain some background information and ideas. They have also been supplied with considerable written material on the Church and its ministries. We have encouraged them to seek the views of the wider church constituency as well and so they are currently preparing a brief questionnaire for distribution in coming weeks. Usually their preferred mode of operation is to conduct interactive face-to-face forums but that is problematic with the current restrictions. The questionnaire is a way of trying to maintain moment with the review. We are still hoping to have open gatherings of some sort with the consultants as well, depending on when COVID restrictions are eased.
Finally, on a more positive note, a reminder that lament is not the end of the story. Most of the lament psalms conclude with an affirmation of trust in God and hope, and the laments themselves need to be considered in the broader contexts of the whole book of Psalms, all of Scripture and God’s overall plan of the redemption of all creation. Even Psalm 44 includes this verse:
O God, we give glory to you all day long
and constantly praise your name. (v8, GNB)
May any of your seasons of lament be short and your seasons of praise prevail.
P.S. I also wanted to mention last Sunday’s Sunday@6 over Zoom, but it was such a great time together that it didn’t fit with the lament theme above. Thanks so much to Penny Jackson for sharing about significant aspects of her spiritual journey and to everyone else for the stimulating discussion with her.