PERFORMING PSALMS OF LAMENT: DOES GOD (OFF-STAGE) RESPOND TO THE COMPLAINANT’S CRY?
AbstractThe underlying complaint in the psalms of lament is God’s apparent silence or lack of intervention in a difficult situation. However, performing a psalm of lament suggests that this might not be the case. Performing any psalm requires one to identify the various speakers and addressees at different points. In the case of psalms of lament, the possibility arises of a representative of God’s voice entering the dialogue. There are several clues within the text that suggest this interpretation, the main one being the dramatic change in mood evident in many lament psalms. Another one is comparison with lament psalms where the voice of God is cited. Also, the nature of poetry allows hearers to draw on their own experience to make sense of “gaps” in the text, and for different voices in literary text to speak without the use of speech introducers. Further clues emerge from a study of speech-act theory and the way that conversation-partners use language in relating to one another.If one discerns that the voice of God is represented in some form in lament psalms, this has important theological, hermeneutical, liturgical, and pastoral implications. A performance or liturgical reading of a lament psalm (sensitive to the different voices and indicating the possibility of a conversation taking place) can help hearers discern that a voice representing God does respond to the complainant’s cry. This encourages contemporary sufferers as they identify with the lamenter and hear some response to help them in their situations.
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