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Stories Seldom Heard Archive

Stories Seldom Heard

 Stories Seldom Heard

224th Edition

The Lamentations of Jeremiah


Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard.  I especially welcome the parishioners of Resurrection Catholic Community, Aptos, CA.

 

Many of us are familiar with the Old Testament prophets, especially the four major prophets: Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Hosea.  What we might not be as aware of is a particular book that is attributed to Jeremiah: the “Lamentations of Jeremiah.”  Traditionally these Lamentations are part of the early morning daily prayers that are chanted during the last three days of Holy Week: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  It might seem a little early to discuss these traditional “Lamentations of Jeremiah” since we are just beginning Lent, but in truth, the “Lamentations” feel very appropriate at this time of our lives.  A lamentation is a profound expression of grief, an expression that has become all too frequent in our society.  Today similar situations that the “Lamentations” address grip our lives.  Our country and our world are scourged with hunger, war, dispossessed peoples, violence in our streets and in our schools.  The weeping and heartbreaking experience of those involved in the appalling shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is perhaps our most recent experience.

 

We all grieve deeply over this tragedy, as well as the many shootings that have taken place in our neighborhoods, homes, and other schools.  When our words fail, we might turn to the Lamentations not only for our private prayer, but also to join our hearts, minds and voices with the collective laments of those who grieve.  Laments express profound suffering.  Those experiencing the traumatic situations need an enormous community to help hold their pain.  As we, who are at a distance, join our thoughts and prayers with those individuals and communities who suffer, we, too embrace their profound loss.  We become more than just a community of support.  We become an extended community of compassion.  In a very real way we not only experience their pain, but also become an essential part of their potential recovery.  It’s within this intimate and extended community of grief that transformation can begins.

 

The “Lamentations of Jeremiah” are communal expressions of grief.  There are five lamentations. The first four laments are written in the form of an acrostic poem.  This means each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and follows the sequence of the Hebrew alphabet.  The “Fifth Lament” has twenty-two verses: one verse for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet (Aleph to Tau).  The inclusion of each letter emphasizes the totality of the lament.  Nothing and no one is spared the profound grieving that the Israelite people are experiencing. 

 

Among the five poems there are a variety of individual and community laments, mournful chants and pleadings.  Each verse describes a profound loss. When the Lamentations are chanted each morning of the Triduum – Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday – a mournful refrain captures the spirit of the day.  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord, your God.”  In the First Lament, Jerusalem appears as a desolate and solitary widow. There is no one left in the city.  “There is no one to comfort me.” (1:17) “Many indeed are my groanings.  My heart is sick.” (1:22) “My virgins and my young men have gone into exile….My priests and my elders were perishing in the city as they searched for food to keep life in them.” (1:18-19) “All those who pass this way, look and see: is any sorrow like the sorrow that afflicts me?” (1:12) 

 

As they weep, their authentic grief slowly brings them to the realization that their own destruction and the destruction of their cities were of their own making.  They had participated in the teachings that the false prophets presented.  They had not been faithful to the percepts of God.   “The vision your prophets had on your behalf were delusive, tinsel things.  They never pointed out your sin, to ward off your exile.  The visions they offered you were false and misleading.” (2:14)  At the end of the “Second Lamentation” we can hear the people’s perspective slowly shifting.  “Cry out to God…Up, cry out in the nighttime, in the early hours of darkness.  Pour your heart out like water before God.  Stretch out your hands to God for the lives of your children.” (2:18-19) 

 

In the “Third Lament” the people begin to accept responsibility for their sins.  We hear a change of heart.  “This is what I shall tell my heart and so recover hope.  The favors of God are not all past.  God’s kindnesses are not exhausted.  Every morning they are renewed.  Great is God’s faithfulness.” (3:21-22) Even though the laments sound as though the people’s troubles come from God, there is a deeper confidence expressed.  “God does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.” (3:33) Chapter 3:19-33 are perhaps the strongest statement of hope in all the Lamentations.

 

The “Fourth” and “Fifth Lamentations” have startling images of destruction and despair.  However, they do not describe the end of the world.  Rather the face of the poet continually turns toward repentance and hope in God.  As the Lamentations draw to a close, even in the midst of extreme sufferings we hear in verse 5:19 that essential word: “But.”  “But,” “yet,” “in spite of” are the words in the psalms and these Laments that change everything.  The people acknowledge their sins, turn to God with all their hearts and remind God of God’s promise to be faithful to them forever.

 

But you, O God…cannot mean to forget us forever?  You cannot

mean to abandon us forever?  Make us come back to you and we

will come back.”

 

Another translation says: “Restore us to yourself, O God, that we may be restored.”

 

At this time in our lives we pray for restoration.  The city of Jerusalem is not just in Israel.  It is our city, our nation and our world.  The time is not just the Jewish exile in Babylonia. The time is now.  The call to repentance is not just for the Jews in exile.  It is for us.  Lent is a time of self-evaluation, not self-centeredness.  It is a time to refocus our priorities and to take the prophets’ words to heart.  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord, your God.”

 

“A Blessing Prayer in the Time of Violence” for Beirut, Kenya, Paris, Syria, Orlando. For every place broken by violence and hatred. For every person in pain and grief. For you, from me, in sorrow and hope. 

— Jan Richardson

 

Which is to say/this blessing/is always.

 

Which is to say/there is no place/this blessing/does not long/to cry out/in lament, /to weep its words/in sorrow, /to scream its lines/in sacred rage.

 

Which is to say/there is no day/this blessing ceases/to whisper/into the ear/of the dying, /the despairing, /the terrified.

 

Which is to say/there is no moment/this blessing refuses/to sing itself/into the heart/of the hated/and the hateful, /the victim/and the victimizer, /with every/ounce of hope/it has.

 

Which is to say/there is none/that can stop it,/none that can/halt its course,/none that will/still its cadence,/none that will/delay its rising,/none that can keep it/from springing forth/from the mouths of us/who hope,/from the hands of us/who act,/from the hearts of us/who love,/from the feet of us/who will not cease/our stubborn, aching/marching, marching/until this/blessing/has spoken/its final word,/until this blessing/has breathed/its benediction/in every place,/in every tongue:

Peace.

Peace.

Peace.


Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped edit this article.  "Stories Seldom Heard" is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P.  Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California.  This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich one's personal and spiritual life.  The articles can be used for individual or group reflection.  If you would like "Stories Seldom Heard" sent to a friend, please send a note to "brunoop2017@gmail.com".   If you would like to support this ministry, please send your contributions to Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, c/o Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P., St. Dominic’s Convent, 2517 Pine Street, San Francisco, 94115     Thank you


To make changes or remove your name from Stories Seldom Heard mailing list please contact me at brunoop2017@gmail.com.  Thank you.  Sister Patricia


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