Complaining to God
by Richard Rohr
“There is one strong form of Biblical prayer that has been almost completely overlooked by the Christian tradition, maybe because it feels more like pre-prayer than what we usually think of as prayer. Let’s call it lamentation or grief work.
Lamentation prayer is when we sit and speak out to God and one another—without even knowing what to pray for—stunned, sad, and silenced by the tragedy and absurdity of human events. It might actually be the most honest form of prayer. It takes great trust and patience to remain in this state, so I think it is actually profound prayer, but most of us have not been told that we could, or even should, “complain” to God. The Jews have been very good at it. I suspect we must complain like Job, Judith, and Jeremiah or we do not even know what to pray for—or how to pray. Without this we do not suffer the necessary pain of this world, the necessary sadness of being human.
Walter Brueggemann, my favorite Scripture teacher, points out that even though about one third of the Psalms are psalms of “lament,” these have been the least used by Catholic and Protestant liturgies. We think, perhaps, they express sinful anger or negativity, when grief and loss are actually something quite different. We think they make us appear weak, helpless, and vulnerable, and most of us don’t want to go there. We think, perhaps, they show a lack of faith, whereas they are probably the summit of faith. So we quickly resort to praise and thanksgiving, even when it is often dishonest emotion. We forget that Jesus called weeping a “blessed” state (Matthew 5:5). We forget that only one book of the Bible is named after an
emotion: Jeremiah’s book of “Lamentation.”
“Robert Bly, author of Iron John: A Book about Men, insists that grief work is the priviliged and powerful entrance way for most men out of their controlling heads and finally into their bodies and hearts. Remember Pat Conroy’s book and movie Prince of Tides? Until the tidal wave of loss is felt and suffered by most men (and women), they quite simply do not understand the reality of the spiritual world or their own inner world.”
“This suggests a very new and needed liturgical style. A prayer form for people longing for peace and justice in church and country, but without any need to blame, accuse, or give answers. We need a liturgical setting that could be lay led, circular, and without closure, or even final “blessing.” It will take practice, but then we can be sent back into our world honest and shared, emotionally cleansed, heartfelt and soulful, out of our controlling heads, ready for guidance, and not even needing to know the shape or the time of resurrection. Again I resort to Mary Oliver from her poem, ‘At Black River’:
“Then I remember, death comes before the rolling away of the stone.”
I think perhaps we have rolled away the stone too quickly, with our happy alleluias and too easy appreciations. As a result we are neither softened nor solidified by all of our losses. Our pain, sadness, and tragedies are not teaching us but only deafening us and blinding us. And they are our greatest teachers, even though we are never quite sure what it is that they have taught us. We only know we are larger, deeper, and ready to live without the stone.”
Fr. Richard Rohr
Sculptures by Kathe Kollwitz
Photo: Wailing Wall, with written prayers placed inside, Jerusalem