A Liturgy of Grief
A Pastoral Commentary on Lamentations
In Lamentations, we read of the unbearable grief experienced by a group of believers. Leslie Allen suggests the book can be read as the script of a liturgy performed to help the people of God come to terms with the fall of Jerusalem and the national catastrophe it entailed. It reveals God's sometimes hidden support for those who grieve and for their caregivers.
First Poem: Grief, Guilt, and the Need for Prayer
"[Allen] gives us a full and rich commentary on the whole book of Lamentations, illuminating both its structure and content. And he brings to his commentary an understanding of grief that was already deeply informed both by the contemporary literature on grief, all of which he seems to have read, and by his own activities as a hospital chaplain. . . . A Liturgy of Grief is at one and the same time an important contribution to our understanding of and dealing with grief and an important contribution to our understanding of one of the supreme pieces of literature in the Old Testament. Take and savor!"
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale University and University of Virginia; author, Lament for a Son (from the foreword)
"Realism. This is the desperate need for a church that has forgotten how to lament. Committed to celebration, it has few tools to articulate excruciating grief at a loss, to confess sin and accept divine judgment, or to express frustration with God in times of trouble. In the expert hands of Leslie Allen, Lamentations becomes a companion through the labyrinth that is the difficult, and sometimes sorrowful, pilgrimage of faith on the way to hope. We need this book."
M. Daniel Carroll R., Distinguished Professor of Old Testament, Denver Seminary
"Allen combines his considerable skill as a biblical interpreter with his extensive experience as a hospital chaplain to explore the book of Lamentations for its profound resources for ministering to those who suffer grief. The result is an illuminating and compelling study that will help people who are in the throes of grief as well as those who support them."
Tremper Longman, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College
"Leslie Allen is no stranger to tears. He is a scholar of the Hebrew Bible whose exegesis is thoroughly tested week after week as he goes walking in hospital halls as a chaplain with a listening heart. His responses to grief well up from the empathic soul of a wounded healer who can point the way to the discovery of a holy hope. This is a book for the caregiver who loves thoughtful scholarship and for the scholar who, in loving people, has a heart for caregiving."
David Augsburger, professor of pastoral care and counseling, Fuller Theological Seminary
"The commentary itself is explanatory and descriptive, and while exegetical rigor clearly supports the discussion, technical issues are kept to a minimum. . . . As a resource for those who grieve, or care for others in grief, Allen's commentary is an effective and illuminating treatment of the text. Its strength lies in the many links the discussion makes between the world of the text and contemporary contexts of grieving. In the blend of scholarship and lived experience, the commentary offers a helpful reading of Lamentations. . . . Allen's book makes a valuable contribution to the understanding of Lamentations as a resource for contemporary pastoral care contexts. Allen does not make a simple equation between the context of Lamentations and today's world but does provide a helpful framework within which this book can be seen to speak to situations of pain and suffering through the very nature of its language about suffering being brought into the presence of God."
Review of Biblical Literature
"This is an extraordinary commentary. The recent upsurge of interest in the biblical book of Lamentations is a result, it seems, of its ability to speak to pain and suffering. In a world that faces both with alarming regularity the resource of Lamentations is like water to a thirsty land. Allen draws deep from the well and offers it to all that will drink. . . . [He] balances the roles of an academic professor and a chaplain, and his role as a chaplain comes through in powerful ways, most notably the maturity of insight on delicate subjects of suffering as well as anecdotal stories from his own chaplaincy that help to illustrate his discussion. . . . This is a valuable book for those who need a good word, healing balm, and instruction for those who grieve. Highly recommended."
H. A. Thomas,
"Sensitive to detail and nuance both in the poetry lamenting Jerusalem's destruction in 587 BCE and in 21st-century hospital corridors, this gracefully written commentary correlates, for instance, tears on Jerusalem's cheek with a picture of a dew drop on a fallen green leaf signaling stillbirths in a maternity ward. Lamentations is a heart-wrenching book. Allen opens it up, giving us words for the full range of tragic experience."
Patricia K. Tull,
"Allen's pastoral commentary on Lamentations supplies a most humane and insightful treatment of the subject of grief in the Bible. The book reflects the pathos of Allen's ten years of experience as a hospital chaplain. . . . Reading now as scholar and practicing caregiver, Allen sees and shows us much more than we knew before on the topic of lessons from Lamentations about grief. We also learn how our writer's deep personal experience with grief helps him to read Lamentations."
Bulletin for Biblical Research
"The book succeeds admirably both as a helpful commentary written for non-specialists and as an insightful pastoral reflection on dealing constructively with grief. . . . What makes A Liturgy of Grief succeed as a pastoral work is the wealth of insight that Allen brings to his exposition from his many years of experience as a hospital chaplain. . . . Allen also refers frequently to contemporary literature on grief, and he does an impressive job of demonstrating how ideas found in these studies correlate with the biblical text. . . . What is most helpful about Allen's book is that, while not ignoring the particular historical circumstances of Lamentations, he guides those suffering with grief today to perceive what specific aspects of Lamentations may be meaningful for their own life situation. This book effectively communicates that God affirms the human process of grief and is the ultimate Comfort in the midst of the process. . . . An excellent pastoral resource for those suffering with grief and for those who care for those who suffer."
"Allen brings together his expertise in Hebrew Bible . . . and his experience as a hospital chaplain in his interpretation of the Book of Lamentations. His ability to bring the ancient genres of the funeral dirge, the lament psalm, and the city lament together with his pastoral knowledge of the literature on the process of grieving is what makes this little book unique. . . . Allen provides a new lens through which we may understand and appreciate the significance of the Book of Lamentations. Those who work with the grieving understand the pastoral need for such a liturgy. . . . A Liturgy of Grief initiates a needed conversation between those who grieve and those who stand with the grieving by means of a biblical text that speaks to the harsh reality and emotion of significant loss. This is the unique gift of the book."
Beverly White Cushman,
Catholic Biblical Quarterly
"Leslie Allen is well known as a commentator who has spent decades working through the text of the Old Testament, giving painstaking attention to each verse and offering carefully considered judgments on textual, structural, and historical issues. Allen's work as a hospital chaplain offering pastoral care to countless patients and their families for over a decade is less well known. The confluence of these two roles makes him uniquely qualified to write a pastoral commentary on Lamentations. In both roles, Allen is an attentive listener to the voices of grief and suffering that often go unheard in the church. He thus functions as both a witness to the experience of those grieving and a role model for those offering pastoral care. . . . The therapeutic value of time, tears, and talk is amply illustrated by numerous stories from Allen's chaplaincy as well as his extensive reading in the literature of grief."
"Allen successfully writes a pastoral commentary deep enough to engage the historicity of the text, cautious enough not to be supersessionistic with this Christian background, and reflective enough upon his own experiences as a chaplain to offer pastors the breadth and depth of wisdom that can be gleaned from the book of Lamentations. As an OT scholar, Allen gives enough scholarly background and setting applicable to pastors without overwhelming them with philological or textual intricacies. . . . Allen provides appropriate links between how he believes this ancient text functioned within the exilic community and how this text can function for present day individuals and communities suffering their own grief, guilt, and grievances. I commend this book to all pastors working to acknowledge, and not marginalize, real pain within the life of their worshiping communities."
Religious Studies Review
"[Allen's] analysis of a difficult subject will assist those in grief recovery counseling. The book is highly recommended to chaplains, pastors, and lay leaders seeking healthy methods of pastoral care for grieving individuals. The five chapters of Allen's book outline the five chapters of Lamentations, creating a helpful method for preaching and sermon preparation. In addition, the bibliography suggests several complimentary readings for believers wrestling with despair. Overall, the book provides a comprehensive approach to grief and the grieving person's response to God. . . . The subject is applicable to all forms of pastoral care, and Leslie Allen reassuringly equips pastors with practical knowledge for carefully leading people through darkness and out the other side to light."
Erin James-Brown and Bob Ellis,
Review and Expositor
"Allen's work is an integration of biblical scholarship and pastoral care. He enriches his commentary on the Book of Lamentations with his experiences as a hospital chaplain. . . . Allen brings Lamentations near to those who are grieving and their caregivers."
Old Testament Abstracts
"Leslie's commentary on Lamentations is an interface between exegesis and pastoral care. . . . Chaplains, counselors, and caregivers have here something close to a manual of their art, and, for all of us, it is a 'balm in Gilead' for times when the waves seem to engulf us. A remarkable achievement."
James Chukwuma Okoye, CSSp,
The Bible Today
"A thorough, rich commentary that brings incredible clarity and realism to an underappreciated OT book. . . . The analysis of the text . . . is replete with accessible reflections on the Hebrew text, interaction with other commentaries, and a wealth of insightful cross-references. Interlaced with his textual commentary are psychological and experiential insights regarding the grieving process, used to enlighten the reader to the tangle of emotive responses Allen identifies in the text of Lamentations. One of the great strengths of A Liturgy of Grief is its attention to thematic development and macro structure. . . . Allen's commentary recognizes that understanding Lamentations not only requires solid exegesis, but also an acquaintance with the suffering of those who have experienced an incredible trauma. It is Allen's unique ability to provide both of these, in an accessible and engaging commentary, which sets his work apart. For any student of Scripture who desires to grieve and help others grieve with increased theological sensitivity, A Liturgy of Grief is an invaluable resource."
"In the author's words, this new work is 'what happens when an Old Testament professor looks at Lamentations through a chaplain's eyes.' The combination of these roles gives a fresh and compelling reading of the biblical text. . . . Stories of the author's pastoral experience and wider reading are woven in, which adds a particularly helpful grounding to the discussion. . . . The scholar will find the treatment of the text appropriately rigorous while also being challenged to root academic concerns in the context of the suffering world in which we live. The grieving believer, or those caring for them, will find comfort and direction in the voice of Scripture Allen brings out. . . . A Liturgy of Grief is a very good model of how to do exegesis in a way that does justice to the intricacies of the ancient text, while still connecting it to contemporary concerns in powerful and persuasive ways. This is a wonderful and important book."
"Leslie Allen has set out to accomplish a significant task. Combining his years of chaplaincy experience with his expertise in scholarship, he has attempted to fuse the two worlds extracting truths from one which speaks to the other. . . . Allen explains his goal for the book in the preface as an endeavor to 'integrate biblical scholarship and pastoral care.' From the very first pages and consistently throughout the text, he has achieved that goal. He helps the reader identify both the needs that are being expressed and the different perspectives of the voices who are expressing them. . . . One of the strengths of the book is Allen's use of imagery and illustration. Throughout the commentary, he helps the reader see how the issues with which Israel dealt are still relevant today. Moreover, his writing style is clear and easy to follow. The author builds the commentary on his own translation of Lamentations. The fruit of his language research is seen throughout with fresh word pictures. . . . Allen's work will enhance the reader's understanding of the book of Lamentations as well as give them tools to equip them for dealing with grief and the theological questions it produces. The book is more than a commentary; it's a resource for training healers and for helping people heal."
Deron J. Biles,
Southwestern Journal of Theology
"Even as he was becoming a senior Old Testament professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, Allen served (and continues to serve) as a hospital chaplain for over 10 years. This is the first clue that this biblical scholar is well acquainted with grief. A scholar who does his exegesis through tears is to be trusted, I'd say."