This week we are continuing our discussion of the Rev. Tish Harrison Warren’s book Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep. For tonight, please read Chapter 3: “Those Who Weep: Lament.”
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
1979 BCP 134
In the Prayer, we ask God to “keep watch with those who weep.” Within this chapter, Rev. Warren points out to us, that “grief is a part of the everyday experience of being human in a world that is both good and cruel. In this sense, grief is a constant for us. . . . Grief is commonplace.” p.39. The problem with grief is that it has its own timetable and does not simply go away if ignored long enough. We ask God to watch over those who persist in unresolved grief because we know that deep down on one night or another, each of us will suffer from this persistent grief.
As she writes in her prologue, “Faith is more craft than feeling. And prayer is our chief practice in the craft.” As to grief, she tells us that “We need communal Christian practices to teach us how to voice both the fullness of pain and the fullness of joy without diminishing either.” p.46. The church is very good at the proclamation of joy and hope that comes from the Resurrection and a knowledge of Jesus Christ, but the church is not good at dealing with grief, particularly on a daily basis.
Our Book of Common Prayer does give us certain rites to help in grieving – we have prayers for the Ministration to the Sick (1979 BCP 453, et.seq.) and for the Burial of the Dead (1979 BCP 468, et.seq.). However, these rites and prayers are for extraordinary and very specific times. These prayers are not designed for everyday use. However, as Rev. Warren reminds us, our prayerbook does have a set of prayers for daily use that covers almost all situations, including prayers for those who weep. That part of our prayerbook is the Psalter.
Reading of the Psalms:
The Psalms, of course, are the church’s first prayerbook because they were the prayerbook of the Temple and the synagogue that Jesus and his apostles knew very well. The great strength of the psalms lies in their covering the full range of human emotions in all honesty and candor from joy and thanksgiving to lament and anger and in their being poetic and songs, not dry doctrinal dissertations. As Rev. Warren writes, the psalms invite us to bring our whole selves to God. (As an aside, the psalms in our prayerbook are divided into 60 more or less equal readings. If you look above Psalm 1, there is a notation that says “First Day, Morning Prayer.” There are 59 similar notations breaking the psalms into 30 daily readings for the morning and evening allowing us to read through the entire psalter every month.)
Psalms of Lament:
The psalms of lament are one of the more common psalms in the Psalter. Martin Luther described these psalms as “the greatest thing in the Psalter is this earnest speaking amid the storm winds of every kind.” What we find in these psalms of lament is that we are not alone in our sorrow. We find a long tradition of those who have grieved as we grieve. In these psalms we also find a way to bluntly confront God because of God’s (perceived) absence and a means to hold God to his own promises. Take a moment and read Psalms 42-44. The psalmist knows that God is with him while at the same wondering where God is. Ps. 42:8-9.
Rev. Warren writes: “It is better to come to God with sharp words than to remain distant from him, never voicing our doubts and disappointments. Better to rage at the Creator than to smolder in polite devotion. God did not smite the psalmist. Through the Psalms, he dares us to speak to him bluntly.” p.50 It is these psalms that allow us to confront our God about our pain and suffering and our griefs and sorrows. The psalms do not give us a shallow piety to paper over our suffering and grief and they do not tell us why we suffer and grieve. But they do tell us to “fix our vision on God’s love for us, and teach us to locate our own pain and longing in God’s eternal drama.” p.51. We do not get an answer, but we do have a conversation.
The other solution in learning to grieve and to weep is to look at Jesus – not in a trite, pat-you-on-the-head sort of way, but to see him in the very depth of his humanity. At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus wept. He looked inside the tomb of death, and was “deeply moved.” And God incarnate wept from the very depth of his being. John 11:35. Again, only days before his own death, Jesus weeps while overlooking the City of Jerusalem. Here he “weeps not in rage at death, but in the sorrow of unrequited love.” p.51. Like a mother watching her child self-destruct, so Jesus watches Jerusalem. Matt. 23:37-39. Before we even read of his betrayal and crucifixion, we see a suffering God who takes time to weep.
We ask God to keep watch with those who weep because we know the end. For at the end, “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Rev. 21:4. As we discussed last summer in our study of Revelation, John’s final vision is not one where all of the good people ascend into some quaint or disembodied heavenly realm up there. Rather John’s vision ends with a transformed reality here, both in the future but also in the present. The beatitude of the Garden of Eden (without the snake, of course) is being restored. There is no Death or mourning because the very cause of Death which is sin and evil is simply not present. John gives us this vision of a redeemed and transformed creation from which all manner of evil and ungodliness are absent and the church is that beautiful, life-giving, at-one-ness with God. Because we know the end we can pray with the psalmist that “Weeping may tarry for the night / but joy comes with the morning.” Ps. 30:5b.
Rev. Warren’s discussion questions at the end of the book are:
1. How do you grieve normal or ordinary suffering in your own life? Are there particular practices that have been helpful for you in doing so?
2. What do you do when you feel sorrow or sadness? Are there patterns or habits of distraction or anger that mask sorrow in your life? Where do you think you’ve learned these strategies for avoiding grief?
3. The author quotes Lauren Winner, who says, “What churches do less well is grieve. We lack a ritual for the long and tiring process that is sorrow and loss.” Is this true in your experience of the church? Have you ever seen the church grieve well or beautifully?
4. Is night a time when you find grief bubbling up or getting louder? Why or why not?
We have a special dinner tonight at 6 pm. The dinner will be catered by Winna’s Kitchen. Winna’s is dedicated to helping feed anyone who is hungry through the number one menu item program (see the top right corner). Over New Year’s, Winna’s suffered major damage from frozen pipes. While their dining room is closed for the foreseeable future, their kitchen is still functional and they are catering meals to help fund the number one program. Tuesday night’s dinner will be chicken pot pie and salad provided by Winna’s. Any donations to the “dinner jar” will be given to Winna’s owner Jess and her daughter so they can continue in their ministry of “easing hunger and restoring dignity to our community.”
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?Psalm 22:1-2, 30-31
Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
. . .
Posterity shall serve him;
men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
that he has wrought it.