WEEK 3: Pain, Protest and Prayer (Part 2)
An overview of the structure of Lamentations
Lamentations is not the recording of an emotional outburst. Lamentations is a work of art that has been carefully and purposefully formulated, structured and gifted to us by God Himself.
The first four poems are acrostic – that is, they follow an alphabetic pattern, with each verse starting on a subsequent letter of the (Hebrew) alphabet. These four poems also make much use of the qinah meter*, known as the ‘limping meter’ because its form – three accent groups in the first colon (section of a sentence or phrase), followed by two in the second – gives the verses an unbalanced, limping feel.
Maybe when suffering is as ‘vast as the sea’ (Lam 2:13c) – that is, so vast that you just don’t know where to begin, and when trauma is beyond compare (Lam 1:12b) – it threatens to render you speechless, so form and structure not only provide the poet with a place to start, but also constrain the poetry – like a boundary – ensuring the poet does not spin out of control.
With no acrostic and no meter, the final poem – Lamentations 5 – is different in every way, except that it has 22 lines, the same number of lines as letters in the Hebrew alphabet. While some commentators see this lack of acrostic and qinah meter as a sign of exhaustion and despair (‘I can’t do it any more’), I agree with those commentators who see it as a sign that healing has begun (‘I don’t need to do it any more’).
How might formal liturgy or Christian psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (the words we recite and the songs we sing in church) help us endure suffering, persecution and trauma?
How do you think the raw expression of pain and trauma found in Lamentations might help comfortable believers who are unfamiliar with suffering relate better to believers who have suffered or are suffering?
* In the context of this discussion, ‘meter’ refers to the number and type of syllables in a poetic line.
Elizabeth Kendal is a dedicated international religious liberty analyst and advocate. Elizabeth maintains two blogs: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) to facilitate strategic mission, aid, advocacy and prayer; and Religious Liberty Monitoring (providing additional news and analysis).