The Book of Lamentations was written after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Its author, who remains nameless, laments the terrible destruction of the Temple, the city, and God’s Chosen People. The book’s tone is bleak, its descriptions vivid. The depictions of overwhelming suffering are coupled with an admission of the people’s sinfulness, that is, the part they played in their own destruction. But contained in the lament is a proclamation of a belief in God’s love and power, a belief rooted in the remembrance of God’s goodness in the past.
The Book of Lamentations, then, is not exactly a cheerful book. Perhaps that’s one reason we shy away from it. (When was the last time you read it?) Some people might think that prayers of lamentation are too “whiny,” too complaining—maybe even disrespectful of God. Nevertheless, there is a rightful place for this form of prayer in our spirituality. I was remined of this by a priest friend of mine recently. After a conversation concerning some of the gloom and doom of this past year—and especially the past few weeks, he suggested that, since I am a writer, I take some of my feelings of anguish, fear, and anger, and then compose my own prayer of lamentation akin to the ones found not only in this book, but elsewhere in scripture. (Even Jesus prayed in this form. See Mt. 23:37-38.)
So here it is: my lamentation which focuses primarily on COVID and a few other contemporary headlines.
O God, my God, where are you? Don’t you see us wallowing in pain and suffering? Don’t you realize we are on the brink of despair? Look around! COVID has disrupted everything we once knew as “normal.” It has taken away millions of our loved ones! Many of them are dying alone with no family member or friend to hold their hand or give them comfort. Can’t you see our overcrowded hospitals? Our medical workers being pushed to the edge? The refrigerated trucks parked outside our hospitals ready to receive more bodies? Our funeral homes overwhelmed with the number of our deceased?
Oh God, my God, where are you? Because of COVID, we must wear masks, constantly wash our hands, stay socially distant from one another, and refrain from hugs and handshakes… This is a real hardship for many of us. But far worse, millions of people have lost their jobs… countless businesses have been shuttered… people are lining up for hours just to get food for their families for another week… They live in constant fear of eviction. Oh God, just when I think things can’t get any worse, they do… How bad do things have to get before you help us?
And God, there is another virus besides COVID that is wreaking havoc among us. The plague of divisiveness is afflicting your people—especially in this land. Tell me, God, how did we get to this point where anyone who is not a member of our particular political party is an automatic enemy? Why have we become a people of “us” and “them”—and not a people of equal citizens all belonging to the same nation? How did the aisle in our Congress become a chasm so wide that very few of our elected officials can cross over it to the “other side”?
Oh, God, help us to see and repent of our sins–especially the national sins that were woven into the very fabric of our nation’s founding: our sins of racism and sexism in all their forms… Even today we continue to suffer the residual effects of these founding sins… We acknowledge too our sins of material greed which led us to believe that having more things is always better… our sin of disregard for other nations throughout the world whom we exploited many times for our own selfish gain… and we confess the terrible violence we have done and are still doing to our beautiful earthly home in the name of profit, expediency, and lust for power.
Of God, my God, you alone can bring healing to our broken world. You alone can give us the wisdom and direction to bring about the better world we all long for… Help us (help me!) to acknowledge how we are (how I am!) complicit in the sufferings that surround us. Give us (give me!) the courage and strength to work untiringly for the common good. Open our eyes (my eyes!) to our (my!) innate biases, prejudices, and blind spots. Stir us (stir me!) to always ask: “How are those who are the ‘least’ among us doing?” Cleanse our hearts (cleanse my heart!) of self-centeredness, pride, laziness, and hate. With your power and help, God, what is sick in our society, we can heal; what is divided, we can bring together again; what is broken, we can restore.
And above all, Beloved God, give us a renewed sense of hope for the future. Help us to endorse these beautiful words of Bryan Massingale, SJ: “The best way to predict the future is to help create it.” May we all become co-creators with you in fashioning a more just and beautiful future… Oh God, my God, you have been our help in ages past; we trust, even in this time of anguish and turmoil, you are our help today… and always. Amen.
Did anything resonate with you in this lamentation? Did anything bother you?
Why not try your own hand at writing a lamentation?
I chose a healing song today: “Cry of the Broken” by Hillsong Worship. To me it has some of the qualities of a lamentation.
Thank you for reading my blog, “Sunflower Seeds.”