Lamentations And The Poetic Politics Of Prayer -- By: Robin Parry
TynBull 62:1 (2011) p. 65
Lamentations And The Poetic Politics Of Prayer
The first half of this paper seeks to make explicit the political dimensions of the text of Lamentations. The poetry vividly depicts the political use of violence in the destruction of a society. Judah is ruined politically, economically, socially, and religiously by the Babylonians for political ends. In the second half of the paper I argue that Lamentations contributes to our theo-political reflections not so much in its provision of new conceptual categories, nor even in its sharpening of categories already in place but rather in its power for shaping the emotional, ethical-political response of its audiences (human and divine). The readers are invited to bring political calamity into God’s presence and to seek salvation; they are encouraged to look with merciful eyes at victims of political violence even if those victims are not ‘innocent’; they are encouraged to see political evil for what it is and to speak its name; they are guided towards becoming honest-to-God lamenters and God-dependent pray-ers who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
After the execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649, Alice Thornton, a royalist from Yorkshire, wrote:
Oh! How we may take up justly those bitter lamentations of Jeremiah, the anointed of the Lord, the joy of our hearts, the light of our eyes is taken in their pits, the crown is fallen from our heads; woe to us that we have sinned, let every soul gird itself with sackcloth, and lament the
TynBull 62:1 (2011) p. 66
displeasure of God which has smitten our head, and wounded the defence of this our English church, our Solomon.1
Here she picks up on Lamentations 4:20 and 5:16—texts that refer to the loss of the monarchy in Judah during the exilic period—and draws a parallel with the situation in her own day. What is interesting is that Alice Thornton saw Lamentations as having political relevance to her day. Without wishing to endorse the particular use that she made of the text I do think that her instinct to find a political application was correct. Lamentations speaks of the destruction of Judah as a political entity.
But most modern western Bible readers do not perceive the political relevance of Lamentations. Our default mode is to individualise the book’s contemporary relevance such that it speaks only to our private sorrows. Here we would do well to pay attention to the Jewish tradition of reception.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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