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By Barbara Leonhard, O.S.F.

The Bible: Light to My Path

St. Anthony Messenger has invited several biblical experts to contribute to this column in 2002. Each month, one author will choose a passage that comforts, challenges or seems neglected. He or she will explain how to apply this passage and connect it to everyday life. This month's guide:

Barbara Leonhard, O.S.F., is an Oldenburg Franciscan with an M.A. in Scripture from the Catholic Theological Union and a Ph.D. in Christian Spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union. Her present ministry includes retreats, writing and spiritual direction.

 

Q U I C K S C A N

‘Is This the All-beautiful City?’
‘I Called Upon Your Name’
Biblical Background


The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent; They are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

 

While Scripture offers numerous passages that comfort, I find myself particularly attracted to these verses in Lamentations precisely because of the setting. We might find it easy to proclaim that “the favors of the Lord are not exhausted” when things are going well.

But this text comes from a particularly dark time in Israel’s history. The author is addressing people who are reeling in shock and disbelief at the destruction of Jerusalem, including their Temple. They wonder if God has abandoned them.

In this setting, the author makes a bold proclamation of faith. He interrupts his lament with an unexpected declaration of surety: “I will call this to mind, as my reason to have hope: The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent....”

‘Is This the All-beautiful City?’

As we approach the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, we no doubt find memories and pictures of that day etched in our minds and hearts. We may find it easy to identify with the time in Jewish history from which Lamentations emerged. We remember well the feelings of distress, the sudden loss of security, the anguished search for some word of God in which to find meaning or comfort.

At the ecumenical service in Washington, D.C., last year on September 14, a National Day of Prayer, Rabbi Joshua Haberman selected this text from Lamentations to proclaim. In the midst of mourning, he read a word of hope.

‘I Called Upon Your Name’

Shortly after September 11, 2001, I was present in a small group of people gathered for prayer. Our leader had placed a black shawl on a table in the center of our circle, explaining that her grandmother had crocheted the shawl during the Depression. My eyes were drawn to the brightly colored flowers that decorated its edges. With no money for colored yarn in the Depression era, she had made these flowers from scraps left over from earlier projects.

Our leader admitted that she was not at first inclined to keep the shawl when it came to her. Over time, however, this symbol of hope from a time of insecurity and fear had become a treasure and a comfort. I have often thought of this shawl—black edged with brightness—since that day.

Times of pain and sorrow often cause us to reach for comfort and assurance from family and friends, from God, from our own history and experience. This well-worn cape is a concrete symbol of one person’s vibrant hope in the midst of darkness. One can only imagine the prayers whispered by this woman as her fingers added those bright flowers.

This shawl carries the spirit of Lamentations, with its audacious hope in the midst of hopelessness. The author of Lamentations reminds us in our own times of crisis, both personal and worldwide, to use the sacred gift of memory. We are challenged to pick up the precious threads of our own experience of God’s fidelity and to hear there our reason to hope, an invitation to open ourselves to God’s mercies renewed each morning.



Biblical Background

It may seem ironic to choose a comforting passage from a book that is essentially an expression of wrenching sorrow and remorse. Lamentations is a collection of five poems written in Jerusalem shortly after the destruction of the city and its Temple and the final deportation of many of its citizens (587 B.C.).

In these laments, we sense the anguish and incredible loss of the Jewish people at the time of the Babylonian Captivity. The author paints a vivid picture of the ruined city. Comparing Jerusalem to a lonely widow, he describes her as bereft, her very roads mourning for lack of pilgrims going to her feasts. Yet in the very center of this book, the author sets forth a reason to hope: the incredible faithfulness of God.

 


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