Psalm 88 – A Lament of Hope

In the evening, when possible, I enjoy tweeting compline, to share this beautiful prayer tradition with my followers. Tonight, I was struck by the strong lament of Psalm 88, and thought to myself, “What will my followers think in reading this?”:

Great! That’s just what I need to hear before going to bed?!?

The Church in her wisdom has designated this Psalm of lament as a night prayer; a despairing lament. It is a difficult psalm to pray. It takes courage to do so, with the strong imagery of abandonment laced throughout. It seems to echo the sentiments of Job in his suffering, “You plunged me into the bottom of the pit, into the darkness of the abyss. Your wrath lies heavy upon me; all your waves crash over me” (v.7-8).

Yet, there is a lesson for us here. How is it, in the midst of our suffering, loneliness and doubt, can we turn to God in prayer? These are the moments when, many times, we find ourselves unable to pray; words don’t come to us at these moments.

Psalm 88 challenges us to pray in faith, to God who never abandons us. It also prays our pain for us, helping to carry our heart past the pain to the light of hope. Let us not be afraid, but walk forward in the Lord, knowing with certainty that whatever we are facing right now, God is near to us, cradling us in our difficulty, and listening to our Lament with all His compassion:

Psalm 88

Lord my God, I call for help by day;
I cry at night before you.
Let my prayer come into your presence.
O turn your ear to my cry.

For my soul is filled with evils;
my life is on the brink of the grave.
I am reckoned as one in the tomb:
I have reached the end of my strength,

like one alone among the dead;
like the slain lying in their graves;
like those you remember no more,
cut off, as they are, from your hand.

You have laid me in the depths of the tomb,
in places that are dark, in the depths.
Your anger weighs down upon me:
I am drowned beneath your waves.

You have taken away my friends
and made me hateful in their sight.
Imprisoned, I cannot escape;
my eyes are sunken with grief.

I call to you, Lord, all the day long;
to you I stretch out my hands.
Will you work your wonders for the dead?
Will the shades stand and praise you?

Will your love be told in the grave
or your faithfulness among the dead?
Will your wonders be known in the dark
or your justice in the land of oblivion?

As for me, Lord, I call to you for help:
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Lord, why do you reject me?
Why do you hide your face?

Wretched, close to death from my youth,
I have borne your trials; I am numb.
Your fury has swept down upon me;
your terrors have utterly destroyed me.

They surround me all the day like a flood,
they assail me all together.
Friend and neighbor you have taken away:
my one companion is darkness.

As we pray these words, let us remember those especially who are living a time a lament, that the Light of Hope – the Lord – may console them, grant them courage to walk resolutely through their difficulty, assured that we – and more importantly -that the Lord, is at their side.

Lord, hear us!


6 thoughts on “Psalm 88 – A Lament of Hope

  1. The most difficult line for me is “my one companion is darkness.” I feel like it doesn’t leave you with a lot of hope. I am a lay Dominican novice and the formation director during my postulancy taught me to remember that this is the prayer of the Church, in each of her members. I have to remember that someone out there is feeling this, and that I don’t have to take that feeling upon myself. Remembering that I’m praying for someone else gives me hope on Friday nights.

    • Thank you, Jeanne, for sharing your insight. Yes! It is true, that praying this lament reminds us, “someone out there is feeling this”, and we pray on their behalf, when they have no words of their own to pray. God bless you on your journey!

  2. That always strikes me during Night Prayer! As I read it, my voice gets lower and my tone gets deeper. “Wow, this is depressing,” I think.

    Thank you for this perspective!! I will try to think of it in this way from now on!

  3. Sister, I think that Psalm expresses what so many of our neighbors feel when they go to bed every night. These are words that they dare not speak and by grace, the Psalmist can speak on their behalf. When we pray this at night, we who are so blessed, so privileged, we are also crying out on behalf of those who have no voice. I am a Presbyterian pastor, but I have always imagined that when you pray the Rosary, that same kind of lamenting and interceding on behalf of others can be the light in the darkness which for so many is their only companion their whole life long.

    • Thank you, Debra, for sharing! Yes! So many of our brothers and sisters are in the midst of living this psalm. When we pray these words, it is good to call to mind those who are living their ‘Job moment’; we can be a voice for them.

      As for the Rosary, it is a powerful source of intercessory prayer for the needs of our suffering world! Another thing is, because it is much like a mantra, people in distress can pray a Rosary when, as you say, “they dare not speak” of their pain. It gives a release, and often find peace in the middle of their storm.

      Thanks for your insights!

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