Jumping off from last week's post, we're allowing the context of Lent to provide an opportunity to offer seven thoughts on lamentation. The first is this:
Part of the concern about incorporating lamentation into corporate worship and one's private devotional life is that we're not always "there." We're not always in a place where lamentation feels natural or right. Lamentation is for those who are suffering, oppressed, and downtrodden, and perhaps that's not our experience right now. Briefly noting that this is a very privileged thing to think or say (there are many whose lives are nothing but movement from one sorrow to the next), we still recognize that this is true on the ground, in many of our experiences serving and worshiping in our local churches. "If we engage in lamentation in corporate worship, or if I engage in it now devotionally, it will feel forced and unnatural...it will stick out like a sore thumb." We can call this "untimely lamentation"—lamentation that doesn't fit with where we're at.
We need to recognize that sometimes, for us, lamentation in a given moment will be untimely...more like going to the gym and less like running the actual marathon. Leading thinkers in the spiritual disciplines tell us that those disciplines work like this—they train our "spiritual muscles" for the day of testing much like training at a gym prepares us to actually get on the field and beat the opponent. Lamentation, even when we don't feel like it or think we need it, offers our souls that kind of training.
The reality is that if we live long enough, we will all experience suffering in one form or another. Suffering is the great moment of testing, the arena where all the training (or lack thereof) reveals itself. If lamentation has been a part of your worship and prayer training regimen, chances are that it will offer its spiritually muscular response in that moment: "How long, O Lord?" Lamentation is one of the significant muscle groups of our spiritual anatomy. The Psalms spill an extreme amount of ink over the sufferer's cry. Lamentation is significant because suffering is simply unavoidable for every last human being, and the scriptures point out that there is a Christian way to suffer. That way is lamentation.
So again, if we learn to join in lament, to pray those prayers with other sufferers who perhaps are feeling it more acutely than we are, we learn to put those kinds of words on our tongues: "How long, God?" "Why, God?" "Where are you, God?" "When will you act, God?" And if they're on our tongues on a regular basis, they are more likely to be on our tongues when we need them most.
If you're looking for some gym time, try on Psalm 13 by praying it repeatedly and aloud, or singing this great setting from City Hymns.