Lament in the Psalms

As I’ve prepared my summer bible study for the parish, I’ve been watching the Lectionary psalms with new eyes. This coming weekend’s for example, here.

As I was rehearsing with one of my psalmists this afternoon, a bible study participant, the various elements of the genre of lament surfaced rather easily. The selection of verses from Psalm 69 (8-10, 14, 17, 33-35) encapsulates the essence of the lament pretty well:

R. (14c) Lord, in your great love, answer me.
For your sake I bear insult,
and shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my children,
Because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
I pray to you, O LORD,
for the time of your favor, O God!
In your great kindness answer me
with your constant help.
Answer me, O LORD, for bounteous is your kindness;
in your great mercy turn toward me.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.
Let the heavens and the earth praise him,
the seas and whatever moves in them!”
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.

In the session I have planned for this week, we’ll look at laments in the Psalter. One the features, as many of you readers know, is that the psalmist doesn’t dwell forever on misfortune. There is always a hopeful tone that God will intervene, that God will hear the cry of the just.

Psalm 69 is perhaps a refugee from the liturgies of Holy Week, but check this weekend’s readings. A lament of Jeremiah, and an encouraging word from the Lord: don’t be afraid.

That strikes me as a constructive response to misfortune, to set aside our animal instincts for flight or fight. Instead, we complain honestly to God, we express hope, and we make a vow to praise. We look to the future and temper our indulgence for overreaction in the present.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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