Tag Archives: psalms

Prayers of Lament

Ways to Pray : Lent 2017

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Thank you for joining me on this journey through different prayer practices during Lent. This is something you can do on your own, with your family, or even a small group. You can do it as often as is helpful for you – I am suggesting you try the same practice once each day during the week if you are able. I am sending a new “Way to Pray” each Monday morning leading up to Easter.


Prayers of Lament : 20-26 March Lamentheart2

I had intended to share a different prayer practice this week, but I spoke on Lament yesterday at church and felt like it would be helpful to write about here.

How long, Lord?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
(Psalm 13:1-2)

That is the beginning of one of the Psalms of Lament. Do you relate? Are you comfortable crying out/complaining to God like that? Do you prayerfully kick and scream and throw things about what is wrong in your life or in the world?

Not me. I’m not personally inclined to voice my grief to God. I think it comes from believing that complaining doesn’t change anything. Or that dwelling in the negative just reinforces the negative. And honestly, I have always wondered if complaining shows a lack of trust in God, betrays my limited perspective on things, and is just childish. Maybe you feel the same?

Or perhaps you are one who already knows that lament allows us a good way to acknowledge the reality of pain, suffering, and injustice in our life and in the world. It allows us to connect hearts with God’s uniquely, and provides an acceptable and necessary means of working through our grief. It’s not pretty, but it is very health and important.

People in our world complain (don’t we all know it?!). Music, movies, fb all tell us what’s going wrong. In the Bible, people complain too (Daniel, Job, Jesus…). There is an entire book – Lamentations – describing the state of the destroyed nation. Of the 150 Psalms, nearly half are Psalms of lament (I counted). Some are personal, some are corporate.
In doing my research, I came across this very good explanation:

The function of a Lament is to provide a structure for crisis, hurt, grief, or despair; to move a worshipper from hurt to joy, from darkness to light, from desperation to hope. This movement from hurt to joy is not a psychological or liturgical experience only, although it includes those. And it is not a physical deliverance from the crisis, although that is often anticipated. The movement “out of the depths” from hurt to joy is a profoundly spiritual one… A lament arises from an immediate crisis or emotional state that faces the worshipper. This can range from physical threat either externally (an invading army) or internally (physical illness), to interpersonal conflict with others in the community, to betrayal or injustices perpetrated by friends or family. All of these can be referred to metaphorically as “the enemy” or “foes,” even when the crisis is physical illness. This becomes a stereotypical way of describing any crisis that threatens or diminishes the vitality of life. In this same vein, “death” is a frequent metaphor for this crisis, whether or not the crisis is physically life threatening. The theological significance of a lament is that it expresses a trust in God in the absence of any evidence that He is active in the world. Through a sequential and deliberate structure, the lament moves from articulation of the emotion of the crisis, to petition for God to intervene, to an affirmation of trust in God even though there has been no immediate deliverance from the crisis.

How to Lament

Different cultures lament uniquely (closing the curtains and staying inside with only family visitors, holding a wake, public displays of mourning or displeasure). Different personalities lament uniquely (wanting to be alone or with others, being quiet or being loud, being busy or staying still). I would suggest that any way in which you express your frustration to God is an acceptable form of lament. Therefore, my “how to do this prayer practice/try this” is a little different than in our previous posts in this series.

For now, we’re just dealing with the personal lament. If you, like me, struggle with doing this, you might try using the pattern found in the Psalms:

  1. Address God [This is a prayer. We are talking to God, not just complaining to our friends or shouting into thin air]
  2. Say what is bothering you. What is wrong? What needs rescue or help or God’s intervention?
  3. Remind yourself that you trust God [use your own words]. I think this is important to keep us from being overwhelmed by the problem.
  4. Say what you would like God to do
  5. Praise/thank God in advance, or commit to do so [a bit of faith needed here]

When we did this at church, we wrote our prayers on crumpled hearts (image above) to remind us that this prayer is a hurting heart prayer – ours and God’s.
That format may or may not resonate with you, but at least it is something if you don’t have your own way yet. One thing about lament taking a particular form (did you know, for example, that the Book of Lamentations was written as an acrostic poem, not just a long dump of complaint?): when we are at our lowest, many find it helpful to have a little guidance in how to do something.

 

I am not telling you that you need to be upset about something in particular. But I’ll bet there is something in your life that isn’t all that it should be, that angers or hurts you, that you can pray lament to God. I am encouraged that God is a God who allows us to complain – nothing is off limits. God hears, holds, and identifies with our travails.
Lament is an important part of a healthy prayer and spiritual life.

  • It helps us find ways to articulate what is bothering us
  • It reminds us to call on God rather than our own wisdom and strength in times of trouble
  • It keeps us humble, real, honest, and relatable
  • It is part of processing our individual and collective pain
  • It manifests in creating: writing, drawing, singing, building…

Therefore, may we be all people of lament.

-Arthur

 

That’s it 🙂 Go give it a try and please send me any feedback or questions. It is especially helpful for me to hear/see what you’ve done with this yourself. You may need a few attempts to get the feel for it or you may not find this particular practice to be one you love or want to add to your ongoing prayer life. Or you may! Either way, may you find yourself connecting with God through this unique  way to pray.

 

The Ways to Pray series for Lent 2017:

1 March – Praying in Colour

6 March – Prayer of Examen

13 March – Praying in Nature

20 March – Prayers of Lament

27 March – Listening Prayer

3 April – Praying through Service

10 April – Kingdom Prayer Pictures

 

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Praying in Nature

Ways to Pray : Lent 2017

w2p

Thank you for joining me on this journey through different prayer practices during Lent. This is something you can do on your own, with your family, or even a small group. You can do it as often as is helpful for you – I am suggesting you try the same practice once each day during the week if you are able. I am sending a new “Way to Pray” each Monday morning leading up to Easter.


Praying in Nature : 13-19 March

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How has trying these prayer practices over the past weeks been for you? I haven’t been able to do them every day myself, so just an encouragement that this series is mostly about exposing us to different ways to pray. Try them as you are able!

This week, we are going to pray in nature. Now, I realise that your weather, location, time of day, or the season may affect how much you are able to do this one. BUT, basically if you can get out your door, you can do this 🙂

Why?
Some of you LOVE to be outside and deeply connect with God in the outdoors, particularly natural spaces. You find beauty, and breath, and depth, and life there. I also know that some of us really DON’T feel this way and prefer the quiet controlled indoors or other urban active settings instead. We all have different preferences and often don’t understand how others can’t appreciate what we find most helpful. On a more theological level, it has historically been maintained that one of the primary places God is revealed is through the creation. So I think it is important to not neglect this way of uniquely encountering God, even if it’s not your preference. Perhaps most important in my mind, however, is the reality that most of us do not live our day-to-day lives in contact with nature. Without writing a treatise on why we need to be in natural spaces (others have done this, and there is plenty of debate elsewhere), can I just say that it is important BECAUSE it is abnormal for most of us. In other words, we will encounter God in natural spaces because the unfamiliarity opens us up to seeking, hearing, and experiencing God in different ways.

So what are we doing?
I think the name “Praying in Nature” about says it all 😉

You need to find a place. You mind want somewhere that is more quiet or uncrowded, but that’s not necessary (go where you are able, although some places will work better for you than others). I’m thinking of gardens, parks, mountains, forests, beaches, trails, streams, backyards. It doesn’t need to be exotic or cost you.

Here are five suggestions of what you might do (pick one to start):
1. Sitting (or walking) in silence
I’m an unashamed advocate for silence. In my experience, being silent in nature produces something entirely different in me than sitting quietly at home. I would suggest a minimum of 5 minutes (you can do it!). Listen for God’s voice. Talk to God. I also find that if I am walking in silence, my thoughts tend to collect themselves. This is something different than thinking or even talking to me. It’s more like lots of thoughts that are already there seem to fall into place or make more sense. I am not sure WHY I experience this, but God seems to work with me this way. I wonder if you find the same to be true?

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2. Find an Object
Jesus often used the things around him to teach: consider the lilies, see these birds, it is like a road, this rock, this temple, be like these children… God has a way of taking things and using them to say something to us. So when we are in nature, there is LOTS for God to use. This could be something small – a rock, an insect, a leaf; or I find myself often drawn to things like paths, mountains, clouds, and streams. As you consider this, ask God to speak to you using questions like:

  • how is this like me/my life right now?
  • why does this draw my attention?
  • what is God saying?
  • is there a lesson here for me to learn?

Sometimes you might actually use the opportunity to talk to God about something on your heart or taking place in your life that doesn’t necessarily seem connected to the object (looking at a stream while praying for a sick friend, for example), to allow God’s Spirit to speak with you beyond all the words you might otherwise bring to the conversation.

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3. Prayer Circle
I have shared this idea (which I got from Christine Sine) on my fb page before. The idea is to sit or stand somewhere and imagine a circle around you representing God’s love or protection or healing or provision (what does God want to surround you with today?). Because you are outdoors, you can also use something(s) to represent this circle – rocks, twigs, shells… I think it can be helpful to have something tangible like this to connect with my prayers (similar, in this sense, to the function of prayer beads and prayer shawls, etc.). Below is a photo showing how you could also do this with paper and words as well. I will add that this is a symbol – a physical expression of something spiritual. It is not magic – there is no spiritual power inherent in any objects you choose to work with.

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4. Psalms
You will need a Bible for this
There is something very meaningful about reading a Psalm while in nature, particularly the Psalms which reference the creation in which you are sitting. How silly of us to read about the sun or mountains or seas while sitting in our bedrooms. Go see those things God is talking about! One can also walk while reading a Psalm [did you know that Psalms 120-134 were read/sung while ascending the road to Jerusalem/the Temple?]. Similarly, you can pray a blessing or written prayer or even a poem. Here is one website where you can find quite a few.

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5. Build an Altar
Is there something in your life that you need to commemorate, mourn, celebrate, remember, start, or end? Build an altar as you pray. You can use just about anything (depending on what is available, how long you want it to last, and what is appropriate to where you are). People build altars and monuments all the time. This is a powerful prayer practice and is very well suited to the outdoors. On some Selah days I have led, people have built altars, taken photos and journaled/written prayers (to remember/share with others), and then removed them because it was a public space.
photo

Most people seem to say “why don’t I do this more often” after time praying in nature using exercises like these. May God meet you and bless you as you get out into God’s creation to pray.

-Arthur


That’s it 🙂 Go give it a try and please send me any feedback or questions. It is especially helpful for me to hear/see what you’ve done with this yourself. You may need a few attempts to get the feel for it or you may not find this particular practice to be one you love or want to add to your ongoing prayer life. Or you may! Either way, may you find yourself connecting with God through this unique  way to pray.

The Ways to Pray series for Lent 2017:

1 March – Praying in Colour

6 March – Prayer of Examen

13 March – Praying in Nature

20 March – Listening Prayer

27 March – Prayer with Song

3 April – Praying through Service

10 April – Kingdom Prayer Pictures

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