free me from my foes, that I may serve you well. For your great Name’s sake, my griefs and fears dispel; let your Spirit lead through level pathways still. Keep me safe, O God, and help me learn your will;
show me how to walk, for I will trust in you. When the morning dawns, make known your love anew; do not hide your face, or I will cease to be. Answer soon, O God; my spirit faints in me.
thirsty as parched earth, I lift my hands in prayer. Hopeless, numbed by fear, I ponder all your care; I am like the dead or those in prison bound. Hounded by a foe who crushed me to the ground,
knowing my own faults, I trust in your just Name. Judge me not, I pray; no merit dare I claim; faithful, righteous One, give ear and answer me. Hear my prayer, O God, and listen to my plea;
Ah, a classic Lament inside Psalm 143, retold in a classic hymn. Lament is a fine form of a prayer pattern: 1) address God, 2) make a complaint to God, 3) spell out our trust in God no matter the complaint, 4) appeal to God to help or fix something (occasionally someone) then 5) praise God, and if we can bear it, praise God with a promise of our own faithfulness to God.
This form of prayer and plea to God has a long history over millennia because it helps. It works. It’s a Holy literary device because it’s a tool that releases us. It makes us set out the bare bones of our despair as we write our truth, it exposes our weakness and need, it acknowledges God’s unlimited active grace and it lets us pour ourselves into God’s profound care. If we feel the need, we can lay blame as we spell out our weakness. In the Psalm we read, ‘my enemy pursues me.’ We might write, ‘they didn’t hear me yet again.’ Lament is an exposing trusting encounter with our or others’ truth, held in the extraordinary presence of God. God hears.
Like other Lament writers, I find that when I’m despairing, confused, angry, betrayed and more, I choose to force my horrendous situation into a Lament. It makes me spell it out and at the same time, whether I feel it in the moment or not, remind myself that God always knows and loves more than I can ever know. I start by blubbing out the issue, then I go to the pattern. It always makes me write that I trust God, and if I was wondering, the very writing reminds me that it’s true. In times like these, I encourage you. Trust, Lament in truth, trust even more.
Oh Dear Holy God, We are overwhelmed. Hunger, debt, worry. Our planet and our hearts ache as we watch greed, destruction, death. You have shown all this and more to be utterly changed by love; We plead. Open hearts and minds. Shower courage on people to change into love and give us all energy to act it. We praise you, tireless eternal God. We praise you with our lives. Amen
The Rev’d Elizabeth Gray King, North Western Synod Pastor, Member St Columba’s Oxford