Moving through the stages of Lament
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Hi friend,

The book of Psalms in the Bible is an excellent accompaniment for the ups and downs of life. It covers the good, the bad and everything in between. Sometimes a single Psalm can seem to cover a multitude of emotions in its verses with no particular logic at all.

Luckily, we’re not alone in trying to figure out these Psalms. Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, has come up with helpful language to describe many of the Psalms and what they are conveying about the lives of those who wrote them. He uses the words orientation, disorientation and reorientation as a framework through which to look at them.

There are Psalms where everything seems to be going well for the Psalmist. Brueggemann refers to this as orientation. These Psalms reflect the seasons in life where we thrive and feel close to God. Psalm 100:2-3 is a great example: “Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

Then there are Psalms where everything seems to have fallen apart in the life of the Psalmist. Brueggemann describes this as a move to disorientation. For example, Ps 10:1, “Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” These Psalms tell the familiar story of confusion and anxiety in response to things going unexpectedly wrong in our lives.

What is really beautiful and challenging though is that even the Psalms that are filled with pain and hardship do not usually end in complete despair. There is a move to reorientation. This is because they were written after the event with the benefit of hindsight. The Psalmist has learned to live faithfully with God in the light of painful experiences and suffering. At times in our lives the pain, the grief, the fear, can be so great that we cannot see past it. It is all consuming. We don’t have the benefit of hindsight yet. We don’t know how God will reweave our pain for his higher purposes.

During these times of disorientation, we can use the movement of the Psalms to help reorient ourselves in God and find hope to grasp on to. The rollercoaster of emotions conveyed by Psalm 13 ends with the challenging words, “But I trusted in your steadfast love…” We are not told how the situation was resolved, but a reorientation of trust and confidence in God has occurred.

Lament comes from a place of either disorientation or moving towards reorientation. It enables us to pray amidst anxiety and confusion. The Psalms of lament provide us with raw language and emotion to help process the pain and suffering we endure or the horrendous evil we see in the world around us. Over the next six weeks we will be following this movement. Starting with disorientation the reflections will slowly move to reorientation and hope.

Tomorrow, our last introductory email looks at the challenging topic of what happens when God says no.

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