Litany of Lament

by Jessica Maudlin, Associate for Sustainable Living and Earth Care Concerns, PHP

The Need to Lament

Last week I sat on the steps of my front porch, listened to the sound of police helicopters overhead and watched on a friend’s Facebook live as a protest in honor of Breonna Taylor, a young black woman murdered in her home by local police, unfolded.

My heart hurt. My soul was grieving. My shoulders sagged in defeat.

As I tried to process what I was experiencing something clicked into place for me. 

Despite having grown up in a poor white rural family that struggles with the concept, I acknowledge the privilege that has been afforded to me. One of those privileges is access to education and opportunities  that allowed me to  travel around the world. 

In many of those places, even as I saw the individuals with my eyes, there’s been some unspoken thing that my spirit has seen interweaving these far distanced stories. 

I’ve seen it in mothers in Mozambique who cried as they explained how civil war left them with no milk for their babies. I’ve seen it in garment workers in Bangladesh as they share the names of friends and families that they lost due to unsafe working conditions.  I’ve seen it in fathers in Palestine when they talk about how their families were forced into refugee camps in their own country.

It’s the thing that causes my heart to cry out and want to rail against the injustice. It’s the thing that not everyone perceives despite what they’ve seen. It is the missing piece of the story that results in an  incomplete narrative taken home.

This often unspoken thing, the thing I’ve seen in the people I’ve known, the thing I felt last week on my porch, the thing that ties us together as humans, even as we experience it very differently, is the lament born of the evil of oppression.

The oppression of injustice, inequality, insecurity, racism and denial of basic human rights. The oppression of erasing identities, of land grabbing, and of police brutality.

Too often this lament feels uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. It’s easier to try and keep it at arms length, but as people of faith we have a Biblical call to lament what has divided us in order to understand what we need to do to live out the beloved community of God.

God make us brave enough to enter into lament.

Litany of Lament*

Leader: Let us pray

L: The God of love opens our eyes to see the suffering of all our sisters and brothers

People: And we will see

L: The God of justice opens our ears to hear those who cry out

P: And we will hear

L: The God of healing opens our hearts to acknowledge and share our own pain

P: And we will bear it together

L: In the power of the Spirit we will know the truth

P: And the truth will set us free

L: Let us pray together

All: O God, You who created us all in Your image, who knew us all before we were born, affirm in us the value Your love has unquestionably given to us.  As we embody our core identity found in you, may those who are dehumanized, either by the oppression of others or by their own actions of hate, be granted the permission to live in the freedom you offer—By Your compassion grant us what we need—the courage necessary to love boldly, the vulnerability necessary to trust, the submission necessary to heal, the conviction necessary to repent. We belong to You.


A selection from the Book of Habakkuk, written by a prophet of God while living in the midst of sin and destruction within God’s people.

 1 2 O Lord, how long shall we cry for help, and you not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
3 Why do you make us see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before us; strife and contention arise.
4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous—therefore judgment is perverted.
12 Are you not from of old, O Lord my God, my Holy One? You shall not die. O Lord, O Rock, you have marked injustice for judgment.
13 Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing; so why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?


 Our God and Parent, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit who is Ours,

Let us not rush to the language of healing, before understanding the fullness of the injury and the depth of the wound.
Let us not speak of reconciliation without speaking of reparations and restoration, or how we can repair the breach and how we can restore the loss
Let us not value property over people; let us not protect material objects while human lives hang in the balance.
Let us not value a false peace over a righteous justice.
Let us not be afraid to sit with the ugliness, the messiness, and the pain that is life in community together.
Let us not offer cliches to the grieving, those whose hearts are being torn asunder.


Let us mourn black and brown men and women, whose lives and bodies are too often devalued and discarded by a nation whose sins have been too quickly forgotten.
Let us lament the loss of lives by those tasked with protecting and serving the communities they police.
Let us weep at a criminal justice system, which is often neither blind nor just.
Let us be men and women willing to mourn and rend our garments of privilege and ease, and sit in the ashes of this nation’s original sin.
Let us be silent when we don’t know what to say.
Let us be humble and listen to the pain, rage, and grief pouring from the lips of our neighbors and friends.

God, in your mercy…
Show us our own complicity in injustice.
Convict us for our indifference.
Forgive us for when we have remained silent.
Equip us with a zeal for righteousness.
Never let us grow accustomed or acclimated to unrighteousness.

Leader: O God, in your mercy…
People: Lord, Hear our Prayer.

*From A Service of Lament and Hope on 5/29/2020 written by William Mack, Pastor of Grace Community Covenant Church, Louisville, KY, adapted from liturgy written by Paul Burkhart.

PHP understands that ending hunger and poverty can only happen by creating just economic policies and healthy, equitable food and farming systems. We believe that dismantling systemic racism is a central component of this work.

“Racial Justice Resources,”  a one-page list of resources to help bring about racial justice in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the wider world, is now available. Click here to view what’s currently offered. The list of resources will grow as more resources are developed.

The work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program is possible thanks to your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

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