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Lament as an Act of Hope

Updated: Jun 14, 2022

by Beth Norcross & Meighan Fraga

It is difficult to take in the news of the world these days without becoming disheartened and despondent. We watch and grieve as our sisters and brothers in Afghanistan and in Haiti are suffering. The recent U.N. climate report has made the precarious and uncertain future of our natural world painfully clear. Standing on the brink of calamity is terrifying -- and our despair is multi-faceted. In this particular world problem, we are both victim and perpetrator, angered and guilty, vulnerable and culpable.

Many of us have complex feelings swirling within us -- helplessness, shame, grief, anger and fear. How do we untangle, process and hold such feelings, let alone have the energy and inspiration to act on behalf of those most at risk?

One spiritual practice that has been used for thousands of years, by individuals and communities alike, to work through sorrow, is the lament. In the Bible, a full third of the Psalms can be classified as lament psalms. Each of them, theologian Roland Murphy says, is an opportunity to “complain in faith to God.” They are full of language that is raw and brutally honest, as the authors rail to God against hunger, sickness, injustice and violence.

Sitting in discomfort, experiencing and expressing the full weight of sorrow, can provide an important path to moving through and eventually beyond the grief. You might try writing your own individual lament psalm or share this experience with your community. In so doing, you might find it helpful to follow the form of most lament psalms, outlined by Hebrew Bible scholar Denise Hopkins:

  1. Address—short, often emotional query—Why, God? How long must we suffer?

  2. Complaint—an explanation of the grievance

  3. Petition—what do you want God to do

  4. Motivation—the argument, why God should help

  5. Statement of trust —usually starts with “But,” expression of faith in, and praise for, God.

This form, of course, can be adapted as needed to express your own grief or that of your community. Most importantly, be as honest as you can, and go as deep as you feel comfortable. Have it out. Trust your transcendent partner to hear you and grieve with you.

As we consider lament, it is important to remember that virtually every one of the Biblical lament psalms ends with a statement of trust in, and praise for, God, the Divine Unity, the Source. As you write your own lament, use your own words, as you can, to express what you know to be real and trustworthy and praiseworthy. Perhaps it’s the seasons, the turn of night into day, a flowering plant, a towering tree, the love of another. Here is where the seeds of hope are planted.

Peter Schuurman writes: “Our laments lead us to listen, and to spiritually discern collective action.” This ancient practice not only allows us to express and process tough emotions but also re-orients us to possibility, to gratitude and to hope. And this re-orientation gives us the wisdom and energy to act.

As we work to participate in the many fine efforts on behalf of those who are suffering right now, we might also take a moment -- individually or collectively -- to weep, to despair, to rant, to rage, and then with clear eyes move forward into hope.

Resources: This lament psalm form comes from Denise Hopkins’ Journey Through the Psalms (Chalice Press, 2002). More on this practice and other helpful spiritual practices can be found in Inside Out: Practices for Going Deeper in Nature.

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