The prayer of suffering

Another insightful passage from Ellen Davis on the Psalms:

The preponderance of laments in the Book of Praises is a fruitful contradiction from which we can learn much. But we live with a second discrepancy that should trouble us more than it does; namely, the contrast between the biblical models of prayer and our own contemporary practices in the church. It seems that ancient Israel believed that the kind of prayer in which we most need fluency is the loud groan, and they have bequeathed us a lot of material on which to practice. Therefore it is troubling that most Christians are almost completely unfamiliar with the lament psalms. Except on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, these psalms almost never appear in worship services. Evidently modern Christian liturgists define the business of worship more narrowly than did ancient Israel, and as a result our lives as individual believers and as a church are impoverished. The shape of the Psalter–the fact that the laments are brought to the fore–suggests that our own worship is deformed by our failure to bring the language of suffering into the sanctuary as an integral part of our weekly liturgy. (“With My Tears I Melt My Mattress,” Getting Involved with God, pp. 15-16)

There’s a tendency among Christians to see the expressions of raw emotion in the Psalms–including despair, anger, and longing for vengeance–as sub-Christian and to conclude that they have no place in public worship or private prayer. But as Davis points out, most of the psalms of lament have an internal movement that finishes in praise. “[T]he lament psalms regularly trace a movement from complaint to confidence in God, from desperate petition to anticipatory praise” (pp. 20-21). Bringing the experience of suffering into God’s presence is necessary for that suffering to begin to be healed.

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