Blog July 7th “Laments”

“Did they not do enough on that awful day ?” from Risen! The Musical – featuring the London Touring Cast at the New Theatre Royal

“Restore Us Lord God Almighty” featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard from the album “Where Would I Be Without You?” recorded and produced by Ross Gill

Over the past few weeks I have been offering songs as a means of responding to the tragic and awful events in Manchester and London. Today’s featured song is another “lament” taken from Psalms 80 and 88.

I use extracts from a paper “Psalms of Lament” by G. Brooke Lester to describe what exactly is a lament. However before that may I tell you a bit of the story behind the writing of this song? I had the idea of a lament after reading a devotion by Selwyn Hughes in “Every Day With Jesus.” God had inspired the melody to the chorus by “placing it in my head” but He had not given me a tune for the verse- so I made one up. When I sang the song to Lucy Stimpson- Maynard she loved the chorus but when I sang my melody for the verse she looked at me as if to say “What is going on?” I instantly knew exactly what she meant – but also instantly remembered a melody she had written as part of a school play- and yes it fitted the verse lyrics perfectly -so that is what you hear in today’s featured song “Restore Us Lord God Almighty.”

If many of us have been taught to put on a happy face, to let a smile be our umbrella, to keep our complaints to ourselves, then the Hebrew Bible offers a welcome corrective in the complaint psalms, or psalms of lament.

Lament, as a genre of psalm, is not the same as lamentation over the dead. In a lament psalm, a petitioner addresses God directly on the occasion of some calamity. Given God’s history with God’s people, the psalmist is comfortable charging God with “dereliction of duty” and unabashedly urges a favorable response.

Psalm 44 illustrates well the typical features of the lament psalm. A lament usually contains some direct address to God (Ps 44:1, “O God”), a complaint describing the occasion for the lament (Ps 44:9-22), a petition for redress (Ps 44:23-26), some statement of trust concerning God’s proclivity to save and vindicate (Ps 44:1-8), and a vow to offer public thanksgiving after God has intervened favorably.

As a response to crisis, the lament psalm is best understood in comparison to the other major genres of psalms, namely, praise and thanksgiving psalms. Psalms of praise, with their celebratory language, portray a just and life-sustaining created order. They reflect the comfortable embrace of a status quo whose conditions favor the speaker. Thanksgiving psalms speak to the gathered community of their deliverance from a crisis by God. They reflect the resolution of the crisis and the speaker’s progress toward moving on after trauma.

Between these two forms sit the lament psalms, which respond to a crisis that disrupts the life of an individual or community. In laments, a critical event calls into question the conviction that God reliably protects the speaker from injustice, chaos, and death. The lament psalm, then, looks backward at praise (recalling God’s saving acts), and it looks forward to thanksgiving and salvation (praising God’s inclination to save). Lament gazes unflinchingly at the present reality of pain and at God’s apparent slowness to save.