Psalms of Lament

On the night of June 25, 1994, just after 11:00 PM, a tragic automobile accident took the life of Ashley Carroll, a vivacious and delightful 14-year-old. As would be the case in any similar situation, her death had a devastating effect on friends and family. Even now, almost two years later, we wrestle with our grief. The dialogue during worship on February 11 focused our thoughts as we shared the "Psalms of Lament" found in scripture (e.g. Psalm 13, Psalm 22 and Psalm 88), Psalms of Lament from the pen of poet Ann Weems in her wonderful recent book (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1995), and Psalms of Lament written by Ashley's family in honor of her 16th birthday on Feb. 10. To say the least, it was a mountaintop experience for our congregation and incredibly meaningful for anyone who ever wrestled with grief.

By way of background, Psalms of Lament are found widely through our scripture. The ancient writers regularly expressed their deepest feelings - words of praise at times; at others, heartfelt questions: "Why, God, Why?" Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA, in his preface to Ann Weems' book (pp. x, xi), has noted a pattern:

    1. The Lament characteristically begins by naming God in intimate address (e.g. "My God, God of my fathers, etc.). The complaint is not uttered to a stranger.

    2. There is a complaint. It tells God with some specificity what the matter is. It might even engage in hyberbole much as a child would in attempting to get a parent's sympathetic attention (Oh God, this is the WORST...)

    3. The Lament addresses God with an imperative, a demand. "Turn, Heed, Save." God's power is not in doubt, only perhaps God's attention to this problem.

    4. Motivations might be added to the petition. God is given some good reason for acting. There might be appeals to virtue, precedent, honor or even divine vanity. "Oh God, fix this, so everyone will see how neat you are!"

    5. Very often the petitioner does not stop with an appeal for rescue. If there is an enemy involved, there might be requests for something awful to happen to the foe. See Psalm 109 or Psalm 137.

    6. Finally, when the hurt or anger is fully vented, something unexpected happens in the psalm. The speaker is, at the end, confident of being heard and "dealt with bountifully."

Below are the texts of the Laments written by Ashley's family.
Father Pat:
Oh God, I thought you were a fair, loving God, Someone I could trust, someone I could call on, Someone who was always there for me. Well God, you've done it, you let me down, Oh, in the biggest way.
When it first happened, I was in shock for awhile and then I started asking questions to myself. Why, God, did you let this happen? Why didn't you do something to stop this tragedy? You could have stopped it, but you didn't. Why? You could have kept Ashley from getting hurt, but you didn't. Why? You could have done a lot, but you didn't. Why? These are only a few of the questions I have asked. If you were so great and loving, where were you? Why Ashley? Why not a drug dealer? a murderer? Anyone but Ash.
Now I have no one to help learn how to drive, No one to holler at for driving too fast, No one to fuss at about the radio being too loud, No one to argue with about their curfew at night, No one to tell to get off the phone-its late, No one to give me a few more gray hairs, In general, no one for me to love.
You have taken all that from me. You must have a reason for all of this, but I will never understand it. The only thing that keeps me going is to know I will see her again one day. When I die and I'm standing at the Pearly Gates the first person I want to see is Ashley, and then I want to ask you God, WHY?
Happy Birthday Babe, I love you, Dad.
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Older Sister Dana:

I am supposed to stand here today and read my Psalm of Lament. Actually, Oh God, all I want to do is yell at you. I had perfect attendance for 4 years and she had it for 5. Doesn't that count for anything? Or do you just overlook everything and do what you're gonna do regardless of who you hurt? We lived by your word from day one.
Do you even care? Are you that selfish or is there another answer? And I m so tired of hearing that it was your plan, her time to go. I'll tell you what time it was. The plan was for her to turn 16 yesterday. It was her time to have fun. I should be helping her get later curfews, when all I do is see a silent bedroom everyday. Was that your plan? I should be teaching her how to drive a straight drive without stalling. We should be shopping for prom dresses together while she fills me in on the latest gossip at school. Do you know how I talk to her now? I look at a head marker on the cold ground and spill my heart to her. Do you know how bad it hurts to want to hold her hand, brush her hair, or just see her smile? Looking at a head marker just doesn't work. What kind of stupid plan was that? It hurts so bad, why can't you help me?
I know that I will see her again one day. When I walk through the gates, she will be the first to meet me asking me what took so long. But, until then, Oh God, you have sent me beautiful new life to pour my love into. I believe you sent Baby Ashley to us with little parts of my Ashley in her, just to remind me that our special love will never die. And for that, Oh God, I am thankful.
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[Editor's Note: The "Baby Ashley" referred to is the daughter of Carroll family friends who was born shortly after Ashley's death and who was named Ashley Carol Smith in honor and in memory of the Ashley so tragically killed.]

From Mother Kathy:

Oh God, who I have been faithful to, and worshiped, Whom I have served and proclaimed and trusted all my life, How do you work, or DO you work in the everyday happenings? I used to believe that you did but now she's gone. . . I prayed to you to protect her and keep her safe, but now she's gone. . .
She would have been sweet 16 yesterday. I should be planning her party, and attending her ball games, and watching her drive, and date, and buy prom dresses, and be crowned homecoming queen, and graduate valedictorian.
But instead, I plan memorials, and attend support groups for bereaved parents, and read grief books, and visit a cemetery, and clean a head marker. . .
And I listen while others explain that it was her time to go, or that it was your will, or your plan, or that we have freedom of choice, or that you allowed it to happen, and that life goes on, and to get on with my life. But they didn't lose their daughter. They didn't lose Ashley. I am getting on with my life the best I know how. The emptiness hurts so bad. . . The feelings are so intense. . .
I need your help. I know it is you who has carried me this far But, I am so confused. Reach down and help me, Oh God! Help me to know your way, Help me to feel your presence The way I know she felt your presence when you lifted her to heaven.
I'll see her again. For that I'm sure and for that I give thanks.
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Kathy, Pat, and Dana are in the healing process. It will take TIME! But, by the grace of God, one day the healing will be complete. Meanwhile, we hear Ann Weems (p. xvii):

In the godforsaken, obscene quicksand of life,
there is a deafening alleluia
rising from the souls
of those who weep,
and of those who weep with those who weep.
If you watch, you will see
the hand of God
putting the stars back in their skies
one by one.

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