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Praying the Psalms Spring 2017

Sunday School Series

Out of the Depths:

P sal m s o f Di so r ie n t at i o n

Week 3


Introduction! Seasons$of$orientation$don’t$last$forever.$Moments$of$loss$can$shatter$our$sense$of$ well$being$and$stability,$leaving$us$feeling$dislocated,$discouraged,$and$disheartened.$ These$seasons$of$disorientation$can$be$brought$about$by$the$death$of$a$loved$one,$a$ new$diagnosis,$a$failed$marriage,$financial$hardship,$a$friendship$lost,$stress,$ experiences$of$injustice,$and$a$host$of$other$events$that$drive$us$to$the$edge$and$

!!!! !!

$

V.!The!Costly!Loss!of!Lament! ! $

bring$us$faceTtoTface$with$the$precariousness$of$life.$In$these$moments,$it$can$feel$ like$God$is$absent$or$indifferent$to$our$pain.$$

As$highlighted$in$week$1$of$this$series,$lament$psalms$are$very$rarely$utilized$in$ Christian$hymnbooks$and$the$Revised$Common$Lectionary,$not$to$mention$other$ aspects$of$Christian$life.$The$implicit$(and$occasionally$explicit)$message$is$that$ there’s$no$place$in$the$church$for$the$sort$of$unfiltered$agony$and$honest$grief$that$ the$psalmist$dares$to$express.$Walter$Brueggemann$names$several$“costly$losses”$ that$result$from$doing$away$with$the$language$of$lament$in$Christian$circles:$$

$

$

(1) persons$are$not$fully$present$in$situations$of$disorientation$until$those$ situations$and$emotions$have$been$brought$to$speech;$ (2) until$there$is$an$honest$embrace$of$helplessness,$the$true$Gospel$cannot$$$$ be$heard$ (3) when$lament$is$silenced,$questions$of$injustice$cannot$be$raised;$

In$moments$of$disorientation,$the$psalmist$dares$to$speak$in$free$and$honest$ways$to$ God.$Rather$than$tidying$up$his$feelings$or$denying$his$pain,$the$psalmist$presents$ unfiltered$agony$and$anger$to$God.$The$characteristic$form$of$these$expressions$is$ known$as$the$lament$psalm.$These$psalms$account$for$61$out$of$150$total$psalms,$ making$them$the$most$frequently$occurring$psalm$in$the$whole$Psalter.$While$often$ excluded$from$Christian$liturgy,$music,$and$prayers,$lament$psalms$can$be$vital$tools$ in$helping$us$honestly$deal$with$our$grief$and$relate$to$God$in$more$authentic$ways$ during$difficult$times.$This$lesson$will$examine$a$number$of$features$of$lament$ psalms$and$their$role$in$Christian$faith$and$practice.$

$ Which$of$the$above$three$losses$resonates$most$with$you?$Why?$What$ would$you$add$to$this$list?$ $ $ What$are$some$ways$in$which$you$or$your$church$might$incorporate$psalms$ of$disorientation$into$its$Sunday$worship$or$other$ministries?$What$ difference$would$it$make$to$have$a$faith$that$permitted$and$sanctified$the$ use$of$such$prayers?$$

$

Lesson!at!a!glance! $ !

I.!!!!Anatomy!of!a!Lament! II.!!!Questioning!God!

! ! !

III.!!A!Lament!Without!Limits! IV.!!Lamenting!Injustice! V.!!!The!Costly!Loss!of!Lament!

! !

Conversation!Starter! Consider$a$time$when$you$experienced$a$season$of$disorientation.$Were$there$places$ at$church$where$you$could$share$your$feelings$honestly?$Did$you$ever$feel$that$anger$ or$agony$weren’t$appropriate$things$to$express$to$God$or$fellow$believers?!

$ $

Praying!the!Psalms!of!Disorientation!this!Week ! Monday$–$Psalm$3$ Tuesday$–$Psalm$17$ Wednesday$–$Psalm$143$ Thursday$–$Psalm$44$ Friday$–$Psalm$120$ Saturday$–$Psalm$77$ $


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IV.!Lamenting!Injustice!

I.!Anatomy!of!a!Lament!

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While$individual$laments$focus$on$the$suffering$of$the$psalmist,$communal$laments$ cry$out$to$God$in$light$of$injustice$and$violence$in$the$community$and$nation.$$! ! Read!Psalm!82.!In$vv.$2T7$of$this$psalm,$who$is$speaking?$On$behalf$of$whose$ interests$does$this$speaker$cry$out?$ ! $ In$the$ancient$Near$East,$the$divine$council$was$understood$as$an$assembly$in$which$ the$governance$of$the$universe$was$carried$out.$In$Psalm$82,$Israel’s$God$speaks$out$ in$the$divine$council,$accusing$the$gods$of$the$foreign$nations$of$not$having$ maintained$justice$for$the$weak,$the$orphan,$and$the$needy.$The$words$typically$ used$by$the$psalmist$to$complain$about$her$suffering$(“How$long…?”)$here$in$this$ psalm$are$spoken$by$God$(v.$2)$on$behalf$of$victims$of$oppression.$The$psalm$ concludes$with$the$foreign$gods$being$exposed$as$mere$mortals$(v.$7)$and$God$taking$ over$their$place$as$the$just$judge$over$all$the$earth$(v.$8).$ $ Imagine$Psalm$82$in$a$contemporary$setting.$What$sorts$of$groups$or$people$ would$God$likely$speak$up$for$in$light$of$their$experience$of$disorientation?$$ $ $ In$the$Jewish$tradition,$the$ninth$of$Av$is$an$annual$fast$day$(in$late$July$/$early$ August)$that$commemorates$a$number$of$national$tragedies$in$Jewish$history.$ Considered$a$national$day$of$mourning,$this$day$includes$prayer,$the$cessation$of$ recreational$activities,$and$the$reading$of$the$book$of$Lamentations$and$other$ biblical$laments.$$ $ What$is$the$closest$equivalent$to$the$ninth$of$Av$in$the$Christian$tradition?$ What$value$might$there$be$in$creating$space$for$communal$lament$(as$ opposed$to$just$individual$lament)$in$our$faith$communities?$

The$most$common$type$of$psalm$of$disorientation$is$an$individual$lament$in$which$ the$psalmist$speaks$about$his$own$suffering.$While$the$primary$audience$is$intended$ to$be$God,$in$certain$instances$a$human$audience$seems$to$be$present$as$well.$Most$ laments$have$four$characteristic$parts:$complaint,$petition,$trust,$and$praise.$$ ! Read!Psalm!13.$What$verses$correspond$to$each$of$the$four$characteristic$ parts$of$a$lament?$ $ $ At$the$heart$of$a$lament$is$a$petition$for$God$to$attend$to$the$psalmist$in$her$darkest$ hour.$These$petitions$are$punctuated$by$bold$imperatives:$Answer!$(13:1)$Deliver!$ (3:7)$Save$my$life!$(6:4)$Rise$up!$(7:6)$Hear$a$just$cause!$(17:1)$The$psalmist$urges$ God$to$respond,$often$providing$reasons$that$should$motivate$God$to$action.$ $ Read!Psalms!13:3-4;!25:6;!80:4-6;!and!86:15-16.$According$to$these$ petitions,$what$should$motivate$God$to$respond$to$the$psalmist’s$prayer?$ $ $ The$turning$point$in$Psalm$13$occurs$between$v.$4$and$5.$Here,$the$Psalm$pivots$ from$anguished$complaint/petition$to$a$stirring$affirmation$of$trust.$Though$we$are$ not$given$the$details,$it$is$in$this$“gap”$between$vv.$4T5$that$God$responds.$Though$it$ seems$that$this$transition$to$trust/praise$happens$instantaneously,$it$is$likely$that$in$ the$life$of$the$psalmist$months$or$maybe$even$years$went$by$between$v.$4$and$v.$5.$ $ When$in$your$life$have$you$experienced$a$long$delay$between$a$prayer$of$$ petition$and$a$response$or$resolution?$$What$was$it$like$to$wait$in$the$“gap”?$ What$sustained$you$during$this$time?$$ $ $ $


$

II.!Questioning!God!

!

$

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III.!A!Lament!Without!Limits! $

Psalms$of$lament$utter$words$to$God$that$seem$neither$polite$nor$pious.$This$is$ especially$true$of$the$complaint$sections.$In$these$parts$of$the$lament,$the$psalmist$ addresses$God$through$a$variety$of$jarring$interrogatives.$As$rhetorical$questions,$ these$inquiries$are$not$so$much$looking$for$answers$as$they$are$bringing$accusation$ against$God.$ $ Read!Psalms!10:1;!13:1-2;!44:23-24;!77:7-9;!and!89:49.$What$is$the$question$ asked$of$God$in$each$of$these$complaints?$What$is$God$being$accused$of?$$ $ $ In$her$questioning$of$God,$the$psalmist$comes$to$terms$with$the$fact$that$things$are$ not$as$they$should$be$and$that$justice$reigns$free$in$the$world.$In$light$of$such$radical$ dissonance,$two$responses$are$possible:$(1)$turning$away$from$God$in$atheism$or$ indifference;$or$(2)$turning$toward$God$with$words$of$protest.$ $ In$the$Psalms$listed$above,$do$you$hear$atheism/indifference$or$protest?$Are$ there$biblical$precedents$for$offering$words$of$protest$to$God?$What$role,$if$ any,$do$you$think$such$expressions$have$in$Christian$faith$today?$ $ $ One$of$the$goals$of$questioning$God$is$to$elicit$divine$pathos—that$is,$to$arouse$ God’s$feeling$of$pity$and$sorrow$on$behalf$of$the$supplicant.$This$emotional$appeal$is$ often$carried$out$by$means$of$metaphors$that$vividly$picture$the$psalmist’s$suffering.$ $ Read!Psalm!22:6-8,!12-18.!What$metaphors$of$despair$appear$in$this$psalm$ of$lament?!What$does$each$imply$about$the$nature$of$the$psalmist’s$ suffering?$ $ $

In$most$cases,$psalms$of$lament$move$from$complaint/petition$to$trust/praise.$This$ movement$might$reflect$a$liturgical$ritual$of$healing$in$which$an$individual$recounts$ how$God$has$brought$wholeness$to$her$life$after$a$period$of$grief,$loss,$or$trauma.$ But$not$all$laments$follow$this$petition/praise$pattern.$$ ! Read!Psalm!88.!Rather$than$ending$in$praise,$how$does$this$psalm$conclude?$$ ! ! Psalm$88$paints$suffering$as$a$nearTdeath$experience.$The$psalmist$is$brought$down$ to$Sheol$(v.$3)$and$the$Pit$(v.$4),$near$synonymous$that$refer$to$the$abode$of$the$ death.$Likewise,$Abaddon$(v.$11)$is$a$transliteration$of$a$Hebrew$word$that$means$ “place$of$ruin$or$destruction.”$While$the$concept$of$hell$is$not$found$in$the$OT,$ Sheol/the$Pit/Abaddon$are$seen$as$places$in$which$one$is$removed$from$God’s$ presence$and$the$possibility$of$praise$and$worship$(vv.$9T12).$Though$God$was$ expected$to$bring$help$in$the$morning$(v.$13),$the$light$of$hope$never$dawns.$ $ Are$you$surprised$by$the$inclusion$of$this$psalm$in$the$Psalter?$What$does$its$ inclusion$teach$us$about$relating$to$God$during$seasons$of$disorientation?$ $$ $ Another$lament$without$limits$is$found$in$Lamentations$5.$After$a$final$complaint$(v.$ 20)$and$plea$for$restoration$(v.$21),$the$last$line$leaves$open$the$possibility$of$ rejection:$“unless$you$have$utterly$rejected$us,$and$are$angry$with$us$beyond$ measure.”$So$disturbing$is$this$final$line$that$Jewish$translations$follow$the$custom$of$ repeating$the$last$positive$verse$(21)$after$v.$22$so$the$book$doesn’t$end$on$a$dour$ note.$$ $

What$do$you$think$of$this$Jewish$custom?$In$your$opinion,$it$is$preferable$to$ allowing$Lamentations$5$to$end$in$a$state$of$uncertainty?$$$ $ $


$

II.!Questioning!God!

!

$

!

III.!A!Lament!Without!Limits! $

Psalms$of$lament$utter$words$to$God$that$seem$neither$polite$nor$pious.$This$is$ especially$true$of$the$complaint$sections.$In$these$parts$of$the$lament,$the$psalmist$ addresses$God$through$a$variety$of$jarring$interrogatives.$As$rhetorical$questions,$ these$inquiries$are$not$so$much$looking$for$answers$as$they$are$bringing$accusation$ against$God.$ $ Read!Psalms!10:1;!13:1-2;!44:23-24;!77:7-9;!and!89:49.$What$is$the$question$ asked$of$God$in$each$of$these$complaints?$What$is$God$being$accused$of?$$ $ $ In$her$questioning$of$God,$the$psalmist$comes$to$terms$with$the$fact$that$things$are$ not$as$they$should$be$and$that$justice$reigns$free$in$the$world.$In$light$of$such$radical$ dissonance,$two$responses$are$possible:$(1)$turning$away$from$God$in$atheism$or$ indifference;$or$(2)$turning$toward$God$with$words$of$protest.$ $ In$the$Psalms$listed$above,$do$you$hear$atheism/indifference$or$protest?$Are$ there$biblical$precedents$for$offering$words$of$protest$to$God?$What$role,$if$ any,$do$you$think$such$expressions$have$in$Christian$faith$today?$ $ $ One$of$the$goals$of$questioning$God$is$to$elicit$divine$pathos—that$is,$to$arouse$ God’s$feeling$of$pity$and$sorrow$on$behalf$of$the$supplicant.$This$emotional$appeal$is$ often$carried$out$by$means$of$metaphors$that$vividly$picture$the$psalmist’s$suffering.$ $ Read!Psalm!22:6-8,!12-18.!What$metaphors$of$despair$appear$in$this$psalm$ of$lament?!What$does$each$imply$about$the$nature$of$the$psalmist’s$ suffering?$ $ $

In$most$cases,$psalms$of$lament$move$from$complaint/petition$to$trust/praise.$This$ movement$might$reflect$a$liturgical$ritual$of$healing$in$which$an$individual$recounts$ how$God$has$brought$wholeness$to$her$life$after$a$period$of$grief,$loss,$or$trauma.$ But$not$all$laments$follow$this$petition/praise$pattern.$$ ! Read!Psalm!88.!Rather$than$ending$in$praise,$how$does$this$psalm$conclude?$$ ! ! Psalm$88$paints$suffering$as$a$nearTdeath$experience.$The$psalmist$is$brought$down$ to$Sheol$(v.$3)$and$the$Pit$(v.$4),$near$synonymous$that$refer$to$the$abode$of$the$ death.$Likewise,$Abaddon$(v.$11)$is$a$transliteration$of$a$Hebrew$word$that$means$ “place$of$ruin$or$destruction.”$While$the$concept$of$hell$is$not$found$in$the$OT,$ Sheol/the$Pit/Abaddon$are$seen$as$places$in$which$one$is$removed$from$God’s$ presence$and$the$possibility$of$praise$and$worship$(vv.$9T12).$Though$God$was$ expected$to$bring$help$in$the$morning$(v.$13),$the$light$of$hope$never$dawns.$ $ Are$you$surprised$by$the$inclusion$of$this$psalm$in$the$Psalter?$What$does$its$ inclusion$teach$us$about$relating$to$God$during$seasons$of$disorientation?$ $$ $ Another$lament$without$limits$is$found$in$Lamentations$5.$After$a$final$complaint$(v.$ 20)$and$plea$for$restoration$(v.$21),$the$last$line$leaves$open$the$possibility$of$ rejection:$“unless$you$have$utterly$rejected$us,$and$are$angry$with$us$beyond$ measure.”$So$disturbing$is$this$final$line$that$Jewish$translations$follow$the$custom$of$ repeating$the$last$positive$verse$(21)$after$v.$22$so$the$book$doesn’t$end$on$a$dour$ note.$$ $

What$do$you$think$of$this$Jewish$custom?$In$your$opinion,$it$is$preferable$to$ allowing$Lamentations$5$to$end$in$a$state$of$uncertainty?$$$ $ $


$

$

IV.!Lamenting!Injustice!

I.!Anatomy!of!a!Lament!

$

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

While$individual$laments$focus$on$the$suffering$of$the$psalmist,$communal$laments$ cry$out$to$God$in$light$of$injustice$and$violence$in$the$community$and$nation.$$! ! Read!Psalm!82.!In$vv.$2T7$of$this$psalm,$who$is$speaking?$On$behalf$of$whose$ interests$does$this$speaker$cry$out?$ ! $ In$the$ancient$Near$East,$the$divine$council$was$understood$as$an$assembly$in$which$ the$governance$of$the$universe$was$carried$out.$In$Psalm$82,$Israel’s$God$speaks$out$ in$the$divine$council,$accusing$the$gods$of$the$foreign$nations$of$not$having$ maintained$justice$for$the$weak,$the$orphan,$and$the$needy.$The$words$typically$ used$by$the$psalmist$to$complain$about$her$suffering$(“How$long…?”)$here$in$this$ psalm$are$spoken$by$God$(v.$2)$on$behalf$of$victims$of$oppression.$The$psalm$ concludes$with$the$foreign$gods$being$exposed$as$mere$mortals$(v.$7)$and$God$taking$ over$their$place$as$the$just$judge$over$all$the$earth$(v.$8).$ $ Imagine$Psalm$82$in$a$contemporary$setting.$What$sorts$of$groups$or$people$ would$God$likely$speak$up$for$in$light$of$their$experience$of$disorientation?$$ $ $ In$the$Jewish$tradition,$the$ninth$of$Av$is$an$annual$fast$day$(in$late$July$/$early$ August)$that$commemorates$a$number$of$national$tragedies$in$Jewish$history.$ Considered$a$national$day$of$mourning,$this$day$includes$prayer,$the$cessation$of$ recreational$activities,$and$the$reading$of$the$book$of$Lamentations$and$other$ biblical$laments.$$ $ What$is$the$closest$equivalent$to$the$ninth$of$Av$in$the$Christian$tradition?$ What$value$might$there$be$in$creating$space$for$communal$lament$(as$ opposed$to$just$individual$lament)$in$our$faith$communities?$

The$most$common$type$of$psalm$of$disorientation$is$an$individual$lament$in$which$ the$psalmist$speaks$about$his$own$suffering.$While$the$primary$audience$is$intended$ to$be$God,$in$certain$instances$a$human$audience$seems$to$be$present$as$well.$Most$ laments$have$four$characteristic$parts:$complaint,$petition,$trust,$and$praise.$$ ! Read!Psalm!13.$What$verses$correspond$to$each$of$the$four$characteristic$ parts$of$a$lament?$ $ $ At$the$heart$of$a$lament$is$a$petition$for$God$to$attend$to$the$psalmist$in$her$darkest$ hour.$These$petitions$are$punctuated$by$bold$imperatives:$Answer!$(13:1)$Deliver!$ (3:7)$Save$my$life!$(6:4)$Rise$up!$(7:6)$Hear$a$just$cause!$(17:1)$The$psalmist$urges$ God$to$respond,$often$providing$reasons$that$should$motivate$God$to$action.$ $ Read!Psalms!13:3-4;!25:6;!80:4-6;!and!86:15-16.$According$to$these$ petitions,$what$should$motivate$God$to$respond$to$the$psalmist’s$prayer?$ $ $ The$turning$point$in$Psalm$13$occurs$between$v.$4$and$5.$Here,$the$Psalm$pivots$ from$anguished$complaint/petition$to$a$stirring$affirmation$of$trust.$Though$we$are$ not$given$the$details,$it$is$in$this$“gap”$between$vv.$4T5$that$God$responds.$Though$it$ seems$that$this$transition$to$trust/praise$happens$instantaneously,$it$is$likely$that$in$ the$life$of$the$psalmist$months$or$maybe$even$years$went$by$between$v.$4$and$v.$5.$ $ When$in$your$life$have$you$experienced$a$long$delay$between$a$prayer$of$$ petition$and$a$response$or$resolution?$$What$was$it$like$to$wait$in$the$“gap”?$ What$sustained$you$during$this$time?$$ $ $ $


Introduction! Seasons$of$orientation$don’t$last$forever.$Moments$of$loss$can$shatter$our$sense$of$ well$being$and$stability,$leaving$us$feeling$dislocated,$discouraged,$and$disheartened.$ These$seasons$of$disorientation$can$be$brought$about$by$the$death$of$a$loved$one,$a$ new$diagnosis,$a$failed$marriage,$financial$hardship,$a$friendship$lost,$stress,$ experiences$of$injustice,$and$a$host$of$other$events$that$drive$us$to$the$edge$and$

!!!! !!

$

V.!The!Costly!Loss!of!Lament! ! $

bring$us$faceTtoTface$with$the$precariousness$of$life.$In$these$moments,$it$can$feel$ like$God$is$absent$or$indifferent$to$our$pain.$$

As$highlighted$in$week$1$of$this$series,$lament$psalms$are$very$rarely$utilized$in$ Christian$hymnbooks$and$the$Revised$Common$Lectionary,$not$to$mention$other$ aspects$of$Christian$life.$The$implicit$(and$occasionally$explicit)$message$is$that$ there’s$no$place$in$the$church$for$the$sort$of$unfiltered$agony$and$honest$grief$that$ the$psalmist$dares$to$express.$Walter$Brueggemann$names$several$“costly$losses”$ that$result$from$doing$away$with$the$language$of$lament$in$Christian$circles:$$

$

$

(1) persons$are$not$fully$present$in$situations$of$disorientation$until$those$ situations$and$emotions$have$been$brought$to$speech;$ (2) until$there$is$an$honest$embrace$of$helplessness,$the$true$Gospel$cannot$$$$ be$heard$ (3) when$lament$is$silenced,$questions$of$injustice$cannot$be$raised;$

In$moments$of$disorientation,$the$psalmist$dares$to$speak$in$free$and$honest$ways$to$ God.$Rather$than$tidying$up$his$feelings$or$denying$his$pain,$the$psalmist$presents$ unfiltered$agony$and$anger$to$God.$The$characteristic$form$of$these$expressions$is$ known$as$the$lament$psalm.$These$psalms$account$for$61$out$of$150$total$psalms,$ making$them$the$most$frequently$occurring$psalm$in$the$whole$Psalter.$While$often$ excluded$from$Christian$liturgy,$music,$and$prayers,$lament$psalms$can$be$vital$tools$ in$helping$us$honestly$deal$with$our$grief$and$relate$to$God$in$more$authentic$ways$ during$difficult$times.$This$lesson$will$examine$a$number$of$features$of$lament$ psalms$and$their$role$in$Christian$faith$and$practice.$

$ Which$of$the$above$three$losses$resonates$most$with$you?$Why?$What$ would$you$add$to$this$list?$ $ $ What$are$some$ways$in$which$you$or$your$church$might$incorporate$psalms$ of$disorientation$into$its$Sunday$worship$or$other$ministries?$What$ difference$would$it$make$to$have$a$faith$that$permitted$and$sanctified$the$ use$of$such$prayers?$$

$

Lesson!at!a!glance! $ !

I.!!!!Anatomy!of!a!Lament! II.!!!Questioning!God!

! ! !

III.!!A!Lament!Without!Limits! IV.!!Lamenting!Injustice! V.!!!The!Costly!Loss!of!Lament!

! !

Conversation!Starter! Consider$a$time$when$you$experienced$a$season$of$disorientation.$Were$there$places$ at$church$where$you$could$share$your$feelings$honestly?$Did$you$ever$feel$that$anger$ or$agony$weren’t$appropriate$things$to$express$to$God$or$fellow$believers?!

$ $

Praying!the!Psalms!of!Disorientation!this!Week ! Monday$–$Psalm$3$ Tuesday$–$Psalm$17$ Wednesday$–$Psalm$143$ Thursday$–$Psalm$44$ Friday$–$Psalm$120$ Saturday$–$Psalm$77$ $


!! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

Praying the Psalms Spring 2017

Sunday School Series

Out of the Depths:

P sal m s o f Di so r ie n t at i o n

Week 3

Profile for First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta

Praying the Psalms Week 3 Psalms of Disorientation Participant's Guide  

Praying the Psalms Week 3 Psalms of Disorientation Participant's Guide