Allysen Mahaffey has been a pastoral intern at Grandview for 2018-2019, continuing for the 2019-2020 year, and she has blessed our community with her kind smile, thoughtful sermons, and steadfast presence in worship and at various Grandview ministries.
Allysen spent this past summer in Palestine and Israel, learning from the Christians there. She has agreed to share her thoughts on Psalms of lament and how it connects with what she learned about lament during her time in the Holy Land.
**Painting is "The Maiden's Lament" by Horace Vernet**
Psalms of lament cry aloud to God and acknowledge the disorientation of life in times of despair. These psalms express dark human emotions and give voice to questions that threaten faith. They are bold, honest, and intimate prayers. In Psalms such as Psalm 13 or 22, the psalmist wrestles with God and plead with Him to listen, intervene, and be near. I have found praying through these lament psalms incredibly healing. God has taught me that I can literally pray about anything—especially my doubts, anger, grief, and feelings of loneliness. They have also helped for the brokenness of the world. Lament psalms, the book of Lamentations, Job, and prophetic writings are all examples of how ancient Israel expressed, responded to and processed pain. Not only is lament throughout the Old Testament, but Jesus Christ modeled for us how to lament and grieve. Jesus wept with Mary and Martha when Lazarus died before he brought Lazarus back to life. While he was being crucified on the cross, Jesus used Psalm 22 to cry out to His Father when he was at the brink of death. He cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
I have recently been on a journey to learn more about lament, especially because the western Protestant church has largely cut lament psalms out of its hymns, sermons and liturgies. I find this alarming because if we do not corporately practice lament, we risk pushing aside those in our congregations who are in the midst of pain. Corporate worship should narrate a holistic theology of God and His activity in our lives—acknowledging joy amidst pain, thanksgiving amidst suffering, and trust amidst doubt. This journey of learning about lament took me all the way to the Holy Land this past summer. I had the incredible honor of being awarded a bursary from Regent College to travel to Israel-Palestine in order to study lament in the region, and if lament has a place in reconciliation and peacemaking efforts. I took these questions with me to the Holy Land: How do people in this land—especially a region marked with conflict, violence and tragedy—enter into a place of lament? And does entering into a place of lament—whether in prayer, worship services, or hard conversations—lead to reconciliation, healing or peace? I spoke with local pastors, organizations, as well as local Christians and Jews.
While there, I met several Palestinian Christians who live in Israel and Palestine, and I was blown away by their faith and courage. I have never met people who have taken the Sermon on the Mount so seriously—especially Jesus’ teaching to be nonviolent peacemakers and to love their enemies, even in the midst of the conflict and oppression. One of the most influential people I met is a biblical scholar and reverend named Yohanna Katanacho, a Palestinian Israeli Christian. He lives in Nazareth and teaches at Nazareth Evangelical College. He has written and thought a great deal about Psalms and lamentations, including a book called Praying Through the Psalms in which he has written a prayer for each Psalm. He told me that the story of the book is simple: How can people in the Palestinian context pray the Psalms? They are incredibly honest and bold prayers and, as he told me, sometimes difficult to write but ultimately transformative and healing. Just as the Psalms embrace and articulate the full thought and expression of human emotion, so do Yohanna’s prayers. Yohanna cries out to God and pleads for Him to intervene, especially for the Palestinian people. I have been moved by Yohanna’s ability to trust in the Lord, even in the most dire of circumstances. At times when I have been at a loss to know how to pray for the conflict in Israel-Palestine, I have prayed with Yohanna’s prayers, and I am deeply grateful to him for writing this book.
Yohanna also taught me about what he calls a “theology of holy tears”—which is a theology of hope in the midst of tears. He has written a poem called “Cry with us” to describe a theology of holy tears. The first few lines read:
This is a season of weeping and mourning, but it is not void of hope.
Our tears are the bridge between brutality and humanity.
Our tears are the salty gates for seeing a different reality.
As Christians, we still lament, yes, but we do not lament without a comforter or without hope. We commit ourselves to faith, hope, and love. We cling to Christ who suffered on the cross, but who was resurrected three days later and has conquered death. Kingdom love is love of the cross, and it is painful and costly. However, the love of the cross is the only love that gives birth to the life of resurrection in the church. We worship a God who understands our loss and pain, and because of this, we do not need to hold back in our prayers. A theology of holy tears, of holy lamenting, helps us surrender the unknowable to our Healer God. When we lament and pour our hearts to God, we remember God’s promises and the ways that He has been present, He has rescued, He has delivered, and we can trust Him. We can trust Him, for as Psalm 22:24 says, “He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one, he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”