Michael Card NavPress 2005-02-15

Soon after September 11, 2001, Michael Card received a note from a friend who observed that the American church had no songs to sing in response to the horrific attacks. The friend challenged Card, saying, “You need to write laments, to equip ‘lament teams’ ” (p. 7). In A Sacred Sorrow Card has offered his response—a clear call for believers to embrace suffering and to offer lament as an act of worship. He invites believers to “recover the lost language of lament.”

Twenty-three short chapters discuss Job, David, Jeremiah, and Jesus as examples of lamenters. After four introductory chapters, Card spends four or five chapters on each of these four persons and then draws conclusions in chapter 23. Six appendixes follow, including a section on “Journaling/Writing Your Own Lament” and a short bibliography of related works the author has found meaningful. No women are mentioned (e.g., Rachel, Naomi, Hannah) even in Appendix A, “A Biblical Chorus of Lamenters.”

In his companion book, A Sacred Sorrow Experience Guide, Card offers a ten-week plan with five days of reflection in each week. They mirror the arrangement of the book in that week one is introductory, then two weeks are spent on each of the four biblical characters, giving short background comments with suggested biblical readings, and then concluding with a week of reflections. The background comments are largely based on or excerpted from the main book. Each day has two or three reflective questions. Day five of each week invites readers to write their own laments. His method is to ask readers to “reflect on” certain thoughts or images “as you compose your own lament.” The focus is on the individual lament rather than corporate lament.

Card limits his focus to the four biblical characters to encourage recovering the lost language of lament. That is, he does not share his own story, he does not address the attacks of 9/11, nor does he specifically address other life pains. Likewise the Experience Guide is very general in application, trusting readers to make connections to the biblical stories and compose their own laments while reflecting on them. He does not explain the structure of lament psalms, and so he does not develop that structure as a template for modern use.

Card sees lament as a journey toward an outcome. He asserts Job’s “pain and deep sense of abandonment by God” was actually a “false perception” (p. 59). Job, Card says, prepares believers for the journey through the Book of Psalms. That journey progresses from Psalm 1, “a hymn to Torah obedience,” through laments for which “Torah obedience provides no answer” (p. 42). The journey ends in the final praise hymns of the Psalter, that is, in praise for God’s loyal love.

Card says the Writings, the third section of the Hebrew Bible, were put together during a time of existential change in Israel in which “God was preparing his people for a deeper understanding of himself and his hesed” (p. 41). In his conclusions Card states his belief that in the New Jerusalem lament will be “over forever,” for believers will “leave [their] laments and forget once and for all the vocabulary of their pain and the syntax of their sorrows. Lament will become the faithful companion with whom we part ways when the journey comes to an end” (p. 142). Card asserts that as a journey “lament is one of the most direct paths to the true praise we know we have lost” (p. 21).

The most important contribution of Card’s work is its function as a call to view prayers of lament as legitimate. On the one hand it is a common biblical model, and on the other hand without lament life’s wounds “continue to fester. The longer they are denied the more gangrenous they become” (p. 77). Card is not the first to make a call to the church to revive the use of lament, but it is a welcome call and challenge to avoid denying life’s pains and to speak honestly about them in one’s pursuit of God. A Sacred Sorrow won the 2006 Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Award in the “Christian Life” category. Card’s latest album, The Hidden Face of God, is also on the theme of lament.

Brian L. Webster and David Beach