Book Review: Rachel’s Cry

In the book, Rachel’s Cry, Kathleen Billman along with Daniel Migliore examine the lamented prayers as heard through the voice of Rachel’s inconsolable grief due to her children being taken away or put to death according to the prophet Jeremiah (Jer.31:15). The book takes the approach of rediscovering these prayers from a historical, experiential and theological persuasion that provides reasons for its disappearance and need for recovery within the church. Biblical references support the argumentation presented from both the old and new testaments and its understanding from theologians of the past. The prayers of lament are also contextualized within the scope of pastoral theology and ministry that makes a case for its usage in praxis within the embodied life of the faith community. 

            The book renews the understanding of what it means to lament within a culture of complaint and reexamines the liturgies in the congregation that has dissipated its notion. The historical evidence for this can be found throughout the pendulum of Christianity’s worship and liturgy as the author digs into the reality that grief hasn’t been given sufficient space to do so. This resonates with many post-modern churches that miss the opportunity to reclaim the beauty of brokenness in the writing of the Psalms and the acknowledgment of our total dependence on God (Rachel’s, 21). What I appreciate about the authors intent is to draw from the questions of resistance towards the lament prayer, but it does however only provide a glimpse into the why of lamentations. The writer’s chief aim is to broaden the readers’ awareness to these specific Psalms that have been gone missing when the evidence can be found throughout the biblical narrative.

“Christian prayer is whole and strong only when it includes both Rachel’s cry of sorrow and protest and Mary’s cry of joy and praise.”

           With this recovery of a disclosed voice of the Bible, we find that scripture speaks from both testaments and exhorts the theme of God’s solidarity with the weak and abused (Rachel’s, 22). This hiddenness brings to light the historical aspect found in the Hebrew text of the Psalms that are grouped and structured in a way that voices the pain of God’s chosen people. There’s a genuine and humanness reality to this that ties the past with the present in enabling us to see ourselves in the Psalms. The authors present the protest in the text from the vantage point of pain and suffering that aren’t just empty phrases but a relatable activity for everyone. Recovering biblical lament in the new testament is limited in references but the authors present a well-articulated case for its necessity as exemplified in the life of Christ. This incarnational approach brings a thickness to the subject matter of lament where the evidence has been overlooked for those seeking justice. I would agree with most of what the authors are attempting to compare with historical Israel and as portrayed in the life of Christ as a shadow of the biblical witness of lament that renews and restores the life for today. 

           One of the most interesting chapters written was the section of sorrow from the perspective of classical and modern theologians of the past that incorporated lament in their piety and writings. The illustrations and stories from the lives of these reformers and scholars infused doctrinal discourse with the lament of Psalms that brought a holistic recognition of its internal and interpretive working. The ideas of the past are still greatly meaningful to us in the future. Learning from their experience, biblical tradition’s and doctrinal heritage of the church allows for a deeper gravity of understanding divine suffering and the blessing that can be found in the burden of this truth. The authors properly and systematically move from one historical timeline to the next and gradually shows its progressive movement according to its scope. On a personal note, I would have like to see a more diverse display of theological faiths presented in explaining the traditional aspect of lament found in the Psalms. This, however, doesn’t negate the fact that I was able to appreciate and absorb from the practice of praying the lament from these learned theologians.

“The voice of pain keeps prayer anchored in real life experience and prevents it from drifting off into make-believe and empty phrases.”

           Reading on the pastoral theology of lament was a delight, especially as it relates to my present ministry context and calling. Dealing with real issues and real people is what the authors define in counseling as cultivating and enhancing the sense of wonder and expectancy of light as people sit in darkness (Rachel’s, 77). The concept of healing and hope is painted throughout this portion of the following chapters explaining that grief is not a contagious disease but rather needs to be fostered into a loving relationship that removes the walls for spiritual process. This speaks into the heart of the pastoral function as the byproduct of hope becomes nurtured were systemic evil is an ever-present reality. The relevancy that the authors focus on, especially in the categories of violence, demonstrated a comparison of the element of lament with that of hope, empowering the individual inwardly. The three central convictions brought a fresh perspective towards my views on grief and depression in pastoral theology and the usage of lament prayers as a way to build meaningful hope through difficult challenges. 

           The authors discuss the objectivity of pain as a language of lament that is lived between experience and the promises of God (Rachel’s, 107). This link is closely related to the embodied life and our permission to lament before a transcended God. This concept of granting approval for my petition to lament was foreign and nuance in my personal relationship with God. The argument for such a mandate was lucidly presented with a new understanding of acknowledgment that opens the door to the hiddenness and silence of God that I never comprehended. The silence of suffering alone is a common theme when the notion of sin is attached, and solidarity loses its appeal in the community of faith. This idea is teased out by the authors mention of confession of sin as responsible agents and how lament is implied as irresponsible (Rachel’s, 116). This fact has resonated within the corridors of today’s churches liturgy and worship and misses the grace that can be found in lamenting.

“The prayer of lament is nothing if not wrestling with God.”

           There are few books that I’ve come across that have theologically, systematically and practically presented the argument for lamenting in prayer as a discipline to be welcomed. The center of our Christian service in praxis is based on the incarnation, the theology of the cross and how facilitating our lament bears witness to the community we serve. The authors state that “Telling the truth is at the heart of the lament prayer” (Rachel’s, 139). This way of prayer not only liberates and reconciles us to God but allows for our very nature to wrestle with our emotions. Brokenness and suffering can now be understood under these conditions in order that we can fully glorify and enjoy God forever.

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