Lesson One: The Heart of Lament
Focus Scripture: Psalm 22:1–19 and Matthew 27:45–56
Singing Our Lives
Songs in the Key of Life, that’s the name of Steve Wonder’s landmark 1976 album. It’s one of my favorite album titles of all time. I recently discovered that the album’s working title was Let’s See Life the Way It Is. Both titles say the same thing, I think: real life includes a wide range of emotions and actions and opportunities and dangers. If we are singing in the key of life, we are singing in major and minor keys. We are singing songs in major keys with minor accidentals showing up occasionally. We are singing in minor keys that resolve to a major key at the end.
Looking at life the way it is helps us embrace the major and minor tones, the accidentals, the surprising harmonies, and the complete dissonances that we encounter as we live. I’m not sure we let our lives include all the emotions that make up the key of life. Into the Light: Finding Hope Through Prayers of Lament will, I hope, help us reclaim the practice of singing in the key of lament.
I don’t know of anyone who looks forward to situations that bring us to the point of lament. If we see life as it is, though, we must acknowledge that in the world there are times and places when lament is the appropriate response. As children of God, we need to have lament as a response option. Because we seldom lament, either individually or communally, we need to relearn to lament, just as our ancestors in faith did. The best way to learn is to practice.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Do you remember how you learned to write? My classmates and I had a workbook that first showed us how to make each letter—upper case and lower case together. There were small arrows showing the individual strokes that made up each letter. A circle and a line combined to form lower case a, b, d, p, and q but we learned which letters had the straight line on the left and which were on the right, which went above the baseline and which descended from it. We got better at making a smooth curve at the top of the f and not mixing up the direction of the descending swoop of a p and a q.
Over time the circles became more confident and the letters became more regular. We had arrived as writers. But we weren’t done. Once we mastered printing we started over with cursive writing. The initial letters might have been rocky, the connecting lines more shaky than swoopy, but we practiced and soon the letters became words with smooth-flowing lines.
I suspect that today, no student from my elementary class still has handwriting that looks like those examples we copied. We learned the basic framework and then went on to make the letter forms our own.
That same pattern will probably characterize our laments. Our initial efforts may not be perfect, if they are objectively considered, but remember, our first efforts at handwriting probably weren’t perfect either. As we practice more, our efforts will begin to more fluidly express the heart of our laments.
Once More Into Process
We can’t get to the “more fluid expression” if we don’t start. On page 16 of Into the Light, the section called “Practicing Lament” offers a narrative approach to composing a lament. On the PW YouTube channel you’ll find the video of the introductory webinar. At 40:15 you’ll see and hear reference to a handout that approaches writing lament by identifying the parts of a lament in Psalm 42 and then guiding you through writing your own version of those parts.
Here is another way to begin writing your own laments. This method begins with lists.
- Make a list of adjectives that describe the God you trust to hear your laments.
- Make a list of situations/injustices that you see in the world. Include a note about how you know that the situation/injustice is not what God intends. Add a relevant verse of scripture. For example, perhaps your list includes family relationships that only God can heal. You could add Psalm 133:1, a verse that reminds us that God’s will is for us to live together in harmony. Newspaper or magazine articles could also provide examples of lamentable situations.
- Beside each situation, add one or more ways that the injustice could be “fixed.”
- Make a list of the times when you have felt God with you, listening to your prayers and answering them.
- In addition to personal experiences, make a list of times when your congregation, your city, your friends and family, and so on, have known that God is acting in their lives. (If you don’t already keep a prayer journal, you could start one to help you remember your prayers and the ways they are answered.)
You may want to add to your list(s) throughout the study. These word/situation/image banks can be sources for the laments you create in each lesson. They may provide specific laments or prompt you to think about new situations and answers from God.
Time to Begin
When the process for this study began in 2017, no one could have imagined the world we are living in today. The truth, though, is that while our specific circumstances may be unprecedented, the key of life has always been both major and minor. Having been fully human in Jesus Christ, God knows the reality of human life. In lament we are invited to bring to God the emotions, pain, and demands of our lives. These are not things we should eliminate before we come to God. What an amazing God we serve! Throughout the study, remember this: we serve an amazing God. We serve a God who knows us and loves us in Jesus Christ, and whose lament we study in Lesson One.
P. Lynn Miller
Author and Illustrator of the 2020–2021 PW/Horizons Bible Study
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