catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 9 :: 2013.04.26 — 2013.05.09


A time to lament

“Any fool that would let a cow pasture interfere with progress is not on my books,” he had said to Mary Fortune several times from his seat on the bumper, but the child did not have eyes for anything but the machine.     

Flannery O’Connor, “A View of the Woods”

“A View of the Woods” is a meaningful story to read along with this issue in consideration of the concept of progress.  Mark Fortune, the grandfather of Mary Fortune Pitts, is at odds with his son-in-law about their use of several parcels of farmland which Fortune owns and Pitts farms.  Mary’s body becomes an extension of the territory dispute between the two men, and by the end of the story, Progress, symbolized by a large yellow earth-mover, has won, but at great cost to this particular family of land-dwellers.  Even Mr. Fortune cannot make up what has been lost for the sake of Progress.  

An ideology of Progress has no room to grieve the loss of something that we can’t reclaim even with all the grit and power and resources that we can grasp.  But loss is real, and we need to acknowledge the cost and weight of it in our lives. From October 2010 through April 2011, we held four special evening worship services of lament at Peace Christian Reformed Church in South Holland, Illinois, inviting our own members and residents of the local community.  Each service was situated near a familiar holiday, both by date and theme.  In October, a few days after Bosses’ Day, we held a lament service to speak grief on behalf of those who suffer from unemployment, mismatched employment or relational distress in their situation of employment.   In December, near the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus, we held a lament service to voice the grief of those who are missing or who have lost a child through infertility, death, estrangement or custody loss.  In February, near Valentine’s Day, we held a lament service to remember the sadness of those who have lost a lover or spouse by death, estrangement or rejection, and to name the sorrow of those who are disappointed in their longing for a lover or life partner.  In April, a few days before Earth Day, we held a lament service titled “Creation Groans,” which put into words our ongoing grief and anger at the degradation and destruction done to various habitats which living things depend on for bodily existence as creatures.  

The liturgy for each service is structured in three parts.  The first part is an invocation called “Bend Your Ear, God!”   The second and main movement is “Hear Our Cry, God!”  The third movement is “We Trust You to Help Us, God!”  We altered this for the “Creation Groans” service which has a first movement called, “We Praise Your Creative Marvels, Life-Giving God!”

In my view, the power-in-weakness character of lament rhetoric in worship is that it is an admission of both inadequacy and trust.  “I can’t fix things,” is something I often find myself crying to my husband, or to God, and this is what we communally say to God in the lament service.  Christian lament, as it permits us to grieve the mess and our inability to “fix it,” also frees us to be bold and persistent about speaking a “get up and move on our behalf!” to the One who is able to fix things and has often promised to do so. 

We have continuous access to information about destruction and death, and the scope and sequence of the news we receive is overwhelming our capacity to process and respond to it. It is no longer possible to hold on to delusions that we can avoid trauma, or acquire enough stamina, funding or intelligence to fix or reverse the various catastrophes around us.  Many around us respond to the mess by joining mob cries for vengeance, prosecution and torts.  Or we collectively make a determination to figure out what went wrong to cause the mess so we can avoid the problem in a similar situation next time it comes up.   Many of us have learned to respond to the mess by avoiding or denying our grief and anger, instead giving lip service to pious and hollow platitudes that barely even fool our own hearts anymore.  The rhetoric of Christian lament in worship provides us an alternative voice which refuses to ignore the need for an outcry of pain, heartbreak or rage, but resists the temptation to react by leaping on board with manhunts of retribution, blame or reactive violence.  I am growing to see lament in worship as the most powerful human way to navigate disasters that we just can’t fix, and to communally respond to losses and deaths that we cannot reverse or undo.

Below is the order of worship for our “Creation Groans” lament service.  Several lay readers took turns reading the chosen scripture readings and poems, interspersed with collected news or agency reports of various locations or creatures that have been affected by misuse or chemical intoxication. The intercessory prayer was in three parts, elaborated upon the question, “Do you see this, God?” and got boldly and angrily into specifics about what we are seeing and encountering that is upsetting to us.  

Feel free to use or adapt this for your own group if your worshipping community is interested in practicing this culturally unusual human response to catastrophe or injustice.  This kind of worship helps us intentionally encounter not only the reality of destruction and our human inadequacy to overcome it, but also the Restoration Expert whom we honor and trust.  


Worship Service of Lament: “Creation Groans”

This service was originally conducted at Peace Christian Reformed Church in South Holland, Illinois on Sunday, April 17, 2011.




We Praise your Creative Marvels, Life-Giving God!


Congregation of Jesus Christ, where is your trust placed?
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.

Psalm of Praise: “Your Spirit, O Lord, Makes

Life to Abound” (Psalter Hymnal #104, vs. 1, 5, 6, 7, 1)

Prayer of Adoration: Worship Sourcebook1.4.71

O Lord, our God
creator of our land,
our earth, the trees, the animals and humans,
all is for your honor.
The drums beat it out, and people sing about it,
and they dance with noisy joy
that you are the Lord.
You also have pulled the other continents out of the sea.
What a wonderful world you have made out of wet mud
and what beautiful men and women!
We thank you for all the beauty of this earth.
The grace of your creation is like a cool day between rainy seasons.
We drink in your creation with our eyes.
We listen to the birds’ jubilee with our ears.
How strong and good and sure your earth smells,
and everything that grows here.
We drink in your creation and cannot get enough of it.
Bless our land and people.
Prepare us for the service we should render.  Amen.

Hymn of Praise: “All Creatures of Our God and King” (Psalter Hymnal#431, vs. 1,3,4,5)


Bend your Ear to Hear Earth’s Cry, O God!

Cloud of Witnesses: Wastelands, Prophets, Creatures and Poets

Groans of the Wastelands  
Dixie Mall, Midco, Lake Karachay, Tar Creek, Kawah Ijena, Berkeley Pit

Song of Lament: “Send us Your Spirit”  (Sing a New Creation #163, vs. 3 and refrain)

Groans of the Prophets
Joel 1:  8-20, Hosea 4:1-3, Jeremiah 2:7-19, Micah 7:1-7, Jeremiah 9:10

Song of Lament: “O God, Your Justice Towers” (Sing a New Creation #272)

Groans of the Creatures
Job 7: 1-6, Ecclesiastes 3:19-4:8

Song of Lament: “In Labor All Creation Groans” (Sing a New Creation #270)

Groans of the Poets
“It is the destruction of a world…” by Wendell Berry
Psalm 10
“The Reminder” by Denise Levertov
“Tragic Error” by Denise Levertov
“Even while I dreamed…” by Wendell Berry

Song of Lament: “Our Cities Cry to You, O God” (Sing a New Creation #266)

Intercessory Prayer in Three Parts: Land, Water, Creatures
Section Interludes: “‘Abba, Abba, Hear Us,’ We Cry” (Sing a New Creation #211)


We Trust You to Heal Your World, God!

God’s Assurance
Joel 2: 21-27 and “Fear Not, Rejoice and Be Glad” (Psalter Hymnal #201)

God’s Promise for the Future of Our World
Ezekiel 47:6-12, Isaiah 41:17-20

Congregational Response: “The God of Abraham Praise” (Psalter Hymnal#621)




  • Berry, Wendell.  A Timbered Choir, The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997.  New York: Counterpoint, 1998
  • “Lament, Psalms, Thanksgiving” Issue RW96 Reformed Worship: Resources for Planning and Leading Worship.  June 2010.
  • Levertov, Denise.  Evening Train.  New York: New Directions, 1992.
  • Psalter Hymnal, © 1987, CRC Publications
  • Sing! A New Creation, © 2002, CRC Publications
  • The Worship Sourcebook, © 2004, Faith Alive Christian Resources

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