Feb. 29: Praise in the midst of complaint
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“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s the opening cry of the Psalm from which our text is taken. A classic lament, and our text a familiar vow of praise of the sort found not infrequently in lamentation literature. It is the hymn that Jesus begins to recite from the cross, branding that anguished cry onto our collective consciousness. Perhaps he would have continued reciting through the praise portion – had he lived.
Why praise in the midst of scripted complaint, choreographed despair, ritualized hopelessness? For the ancient worshipper a “sacrifice of praise” was part of the lamenter’s strategy to incline the ear of one’s deity, to call attention to one’s case, to evoke sympathy for one’s suffering. To provoke perchance a positive response, in hopes that the deity might (also) be assuaged by the sweet aroma of adoration.
Hymnody at the service of special pleading does not lack authenticity or sincerity. The power of this ancient genre is its embrace of praise within the context of complaint. Or even more to the point, the validation of complaint within the context of worship. Those suffering in our midst should be empowered to make us squirm during sharing time. We should feel their sense of abandonment like a shroud of existential angst. If all we hear are the victories, then we’re not really listening. Only then can their songs of praise, intoned from the abyss, ennoble human pathos.
The bottom has fallen out, catastrophe looms, the world no longer makes sense – how can I keep from singing?