Lamentations – Praying with your Eyes Wide Open (@nicolahwriter)

Jeremiah by Marc Chagall

Jeremiah by Marc Chagall


‘Is this the city once called Perfect in beauty, Joy of the whole earth?’ (Lamentations 2:15)

What more haunting question is there in the life of faith than ‘Why?’ In my life it has been the moments of loss and seemingly meaningless suffering, when ‘Why’ hangs in the air like mist, that have been most challenging. What answer is there to the ‘why’ of the loss of a loved one? To war and violence in the world that seems unending? In those times I have been mainly silent, lost for words, unable to defend what I cannot understand.

Because of this I have a lot of respect for the author of Lamentations. Lamentations is a cold, hard stare at suffering in the context of the destruction of a whole city, as I described in my last post on Jeremiah. It reminds me of a phrase I used that used to buzz around my head in the early days of my faith when I was learning to pray. I wanted to ‘Pray with my eyes wide open’ and by that I meant praying with my eyes on reality rather than falling into wishful thinking or platitudes devoid of truth.

The structure of Lamentations, as well as it themes, suggests a clear and bold attempt to face disaster and all the theological questions that raises. The book is carefully written with three of the chapters, chapters 1, 2 and 4 being acrostic poems, that is each line follows the letters of the Hebrew alphabet from beginning to end. The book has been carefully crafted, mulled over and thought out despite its painful contents. The words are carefully chosen, the pain of the situation is fully explored. It is delved into with a bravery that is compelling.

In Jewish tradition Lamentations is read every year, on the ninth of Ab, the fifth month of the Jewish calendar, to remember the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Yearly, then, a time of loss is recollected in the community. The reality of this for life and faith is allowed to sink in and form part of who the community understand themselves to be. Of course we have our own acts of remembrance in society, November the 11th springing immediately to mind, but I wonder how our faith might be deepened and enriched by more acts of communal remembrance?

Perhaps the spirit of the author of Lamentations has something for us today. Perhaps Lamentations is hinting to us that faith doesn’t involve avoidance or denial. That we can ‘pray with our eyes wide open’. In doing so I wonder if we might find ourselves enriched in ways we never expected with a deeper faith that is more ready to rise to the challenges and reality of human life and frailty.

About Nicola Hulks