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         Mental Illness
                    & Spirituality

‘Out of the depths


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PSALMS AND PRAYERS OF LAMENT

PRAYER Of LAMENT


When you pray with someone, a powerful way to be with them is to lament. “God, we don’t understand why my friend hears voices and struggles with harmful thoughts. She is in such agony and we cry out to you for her health and wellbeing. Hear our prayer, O God, hear us.”


When I could not pray, I used the psalms of lament and songs. Psalm 30 gives voice to my deepest despair and to my trust in God. One friend said to me when I was in deep despair, “Cindy, we will carry the hope for you.” That is the power of living in Christian community. We live in relationship with Jesus Christ, and through Christ, we live in relationship with one another.


Dear friends, the suffering of mental illness and other tragedies is real. But Jesus is our friend, and he is present in the darkness. As friends of Jesus, we are called to be present with others, and we are called to carry them to Jesus.                             Cindy Holtrop































We can watch our world collapse without warning, and we are pulled down into what seems a dark pit. In this pace of disorientation hangs a great sense of abandonment. The psalmist moans, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1). Our usual response to this rupture of our equilibrium is denial. We want to believe that things are really OK, but even if we know they are not, we certainly do not want anyone else to know. Our denial forces us to cover up. We put on a happy face, and our isolation grows more intense.


A number of psalms give voice to experiences of abandonment in this broken and terrifying place long before the time of Christ. These psalms of lament, which are the most numerous in the Book of Psalms, are audacious affirmations of faith. They bring this harsh brokenness to God, resisting the temptation to deny reality. Those who prayed these laments were confident that God would understand their negative language. When we are in a time of disorientation, praying these psalms challenges our desire to keep up a good front and helps us bring to speech those feelings we might otherwise keep hidden. In one typical lament the psalmist cries out four time, “How long?” and insists that God answer this prayer. (See Ps 13:1-3).


The language of the lament psalms can seem scandalous. How can faithful people speak to God that way? Often we want to make excuses for such outspokenness. We may even be uncomfortable with these prayers. Yet they are the collective prayers of a people in pain. They are not magical, however; praying these psalms will not make everything better. But unless they are spoken, we run the risk of trivializing our relationship with God. The language of the lament calls upon God by name and expects a response. It takes a great faith to be so candid.


Every one of the lament psalms except Psalm 88 concludes with a prayer of thanksgiving. It would be simplistic to suppose that once the lament had been prayed the person’s complaint was immediately answered and life was restored. We do not know how many weeks, months, or even years passed before the psalmist could utter those words of thanks signaling the end of the lament. But concluding with a prayer of thanksgiving reflects our faith that God will rescue us and bring us up from the depths.


by Fr. William J. Parker as quoted at:





Image Attribution:  


Fr. William J. Parker - Psalms - Ascension Catholic Click for original image.