[CW: trauma, grief, sexual & emotional abuse]
This week, the heartbroken words of Lamentations and Psalm 137 are leaping off the page at me. My fiancé and I are going through a grieving process right now, and I’ve really been struggling with my mental health, living in New York City. I’d like to talk about it in this space at some point, but it’s all a little too close to “theologize” about just now.
What I’m saying is, this biblical idea of lament is ringing very true for me this week. And since October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month (I know, a lighter topic), I did want to offer a psalm of lament I wrote for the survivors of emotional and sexual trauma. As a male survivor, I believe it’s really important for us men to tell our stories and know that we’re not alone. And, it’s equally important for us, especially at this moment in history, to bear witness to the experiences of women, trans folk, and gender-expansive people, who still make up the vast majority of survivors.
Liturgical scholar John D. Witvliet writes that psalms of lament have a basic underlying structure in his essay “A Time to Weep: Liturgical Lament in Times of Crisis.”
- Invocation of the Holy
- Bold, direct address to God
- Radically honest lament
- Petition—nay, demand—that God heal us, justify us, save us
- Closing expression of trust in the HOLY ONE who healed, justified, saved our ancestors
Throughout, honesty and trust are the key words. One of my favorite teachers, the New Age theologian Neale Donald Walsch, writes in his Conversations with God: “a prayer is nothing more than a fervent statement of what is so.” And sometimes, “what is so” is awful. Painful. Fucking intolerable. And we gain nothing from pretending otherwise. In lament, we’re not merely languishing in our pain, though. We’re expressing it honestly, so that it can be heard, and witnessed, and, I believe, transformed.
So, while I’m processing some pain of my own, and while our culture is processing the pain of too many survivors, here’s a contemporary psalm. As always, if you want to use it in your worship, shoot me an email. And whatever you might be lamenting in your own life or the life of the world, may God find you right there in the thick of it.
A PSALM FOR SURVIVORS
by Tom Emanuel
God my Lover, my Beloved, my All,
where are You?
I hurt! My body—
the body as which You created me, the body
you knit together in my mother’s womb—
has become a battlefield, a staging ground
for others’ pain. I am become
a foreign country to myself, colonized
to satisfy not even the need
but the greed, the lust, the will of another.
O, that they would themselves feel
in their bodies
the suffering they have wrought!
And so I beg you: help me!
from the dominion of those
who seek violence against me!
Bring me home to myself; do not let me
be condemned forever
to shame and ill use!
You are the One who remembers
the anguish of Tamar and of the concubine;
yes, the cries of the dead
and the forgotten
still come to you.
For even when we lie in the grave
You have promised that you will be there,
our Healer and our Redeemer.
Hear me, O God, hear me and save me!