Saturday, June 23, 2012

On the Costly Loss of Lament in Worship

Why are so many Psalms (i.e. the hymn/prayer book of God's people for millennia) songs of lament (i.e. honest, raw, petitioning of God because things are not the way they ought to be, and the covenant God who has promised to be faithful needs to come and act), while in many people's private worship and many church's corporate worship, completely omits this genre from its songs and prayers? What is the result of this loss? Some choice quotes from Walter Brueggemann...

In these Psalms, Israel moves from articulation of hurt and anger to submission of them to God and finally relinquishment. Functionally and experientially, the verbal articulation and the faithful submission to God are prerequisites for relinquishment. Only when there is such relinquishment can there be praise and acts of generosity. Thus the relational dynamic vis-à-vis God corresponds to the move of the formal elements. (58) 
One loss that results from the absence of lament is the loss οf genuine covenant interaction because the second party to the covenant (the petitioner) has become voiceless or has a voice that is permitted to speak only praise and doxology. Where lament is absent, covenant comes into being only as a celebration of joy and well-being. Or in political categories, the greater party is surrounded by subjects who are always 'yes men and women' from whom 'never is heard a discouraging word'. Since such a celebrative, consenting silence does not square with reality, covenant minus lament is finally a practice of denial, cover-up, and pretense, which sanctions social control (60). 
Lament occurs when the dysfunction reaches an unacceptable level, when the injustice is intolerable and change is insisted upon (62). 
The lament Psalms, then, are a complaint which makes the shrill insistence: 1. Things are not right in the present arrangement. 2.  They need not stay this way but can be changed. 3.  The speaker will not accept them in this way, for it is intolerable. 4. It is God's obligation to change things (62). 
The claims and rights of the speaker are asserted to God in the face of a system which does not deliver. That system is visible on earth and addressed in heaven with the passionate conviction that it can, must, and will be changed (63). 
A community of faith which negates laments soon concludes that the hard issues of justice are improper questions to pose at the throne, because the throne seems to be only a place of praise (64). 
It makes one wonder about the price of our civility, that this chance in our faith has largely been lost because the lament Psalms have dropped out of the functioning canon (66-67).
From "The Costly Loss of Lament," JSOT36 (1986) 57-71.

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