The authors of Rachel’s Cry address the problem of coping with personal suffering and systemic injustice by using psalms of lament. Their central thesis is that the proper use of prayers of lament can bring a rebirth of hope.
Kathleen Billman, professor of pastoral theology and counseling at Lutheran School of Theology, and Daniel Migliore, professor of systematic theology at Princeton Seminary, offer a clear and concise study, of interest to anyone who does pastoral ministry. From a foundation of the academic disciplines of traditional and pastoral theology, with examples from people’s lives, they have developed a pastoral theology of the prayer of lament.
The book begins with a description of the loss and recovery of the prayer of lament within mainline American churches. The authors then show the importance of the prayer of lament in the biblical tradition and in Christian theological tradition. These topics lead naturally to a survey of the use of lament prayer in modern pastoral theology. After these four chapters, they offer their pastoral theology of the prayer of lament and finally show how these prayers may be used in corporate worship, pastoral care, struggles for justice and reconciliation and theological reflection in congregations. That they have accomplished this in but 150 pages of text is a marvel. For a reader like this reviewer, who loves to read end notes, that is an even richer study.
Contemporary worship and spiritual practice which are awash in praise songs and feel-good liturgies do not help people in their struggles with mental and physical illness, grief, disability and the other vicissitudes of life. Nor do they give us the language to voice our concern for homelessness, racial and social injustice, environmental decay and other societal problems. Billman and Migliore write:
“Paradoxical as it may seem, genuine hope cannot be separated from the experience of suffering, and authentic joy and praise can not be divorced from the permission to lament and protest. Just as we come to know the true meaning of hope only through the experience of suffering, so we can praise God with a full and joyful heart only if we are free to grieve and lament the real pain and injustices of our world” (p. 124).
Through honesty in our prayer and worship, as well as through authentic struggling with the hard questions, we can move into hope. The prayers of lament show us the way.
This slim volume also shows us a way, both theologically sound and pastorally sensitive, to grapple with personal and societal pain.