Hymns & Lamentations
by Tim Miller
0979870720 / 978-0979870729
Hymns & Lamentations
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About the Book
Hymns and Lamentations is a meditation on the supposedly conflicting realities of deep faith and great suffering. It takes its place in the long tradition of religious literature where a personal relationship with the divine is embraced and swum through, while the equally great reality of suffering and injustice questions the very nature of belief and of God.
The fifty Lamentations are the barest outcries of a baffled humanity, and taken largely from the narratives of twentieth-century genocide and slavery (although they could stand for any time). The final eleven Lamentations constitute a sustained expression of grief over the destruction of the human body, of the soul, of belief, and finally over the apparent weakness of God.
Yet following these are fifty Hymns of praise from the point of view of one believer. These are written in the rapture that is the daily presence of God, and here many concepts are quietly taken from the world’s religious traditions—although, as with the Lamentations, “God” is the only word used, and no specific religion is ever named. Where the Lamentations are sparse and agonized, even the saddest hymn is joyful, wordy, and overflowing.
In the words of the author: “I think it’s important for the Hymns and Lamentations to be published together, for the ecstasy and anguish to answer one another, so that the question of suffering is not given a merely cynical or merely optimistic answer. It seems a small book like this can suggest the kind of religious or devotional art that makes faith possible in the first place.”
The result is a somber yet lyrical realism unusual in the work I’ve recently read. “Accessibility” is sometimes used as a synonym for poetic artlessness. Not here. The narrative quality of his language is entirely appropriate to his concerns. These are tastes that now fall well outside the American literary mainstream. His poems are “ambitious” – ambitious in the sense that Donald Hall used the term, to indicate poetry which searches for meaning beyond individual experience, family history, or contemporary events (though it may be grounded in all three). Miller reaches as far as his art can take him, well beyond the circumference of his own experience…. Tim Miller is a rare bird in American poetry, an echo of the mid-20thcentury Christian stoicism that has steadily retreated under the assault of pop culture, “prosperity Christianity” and other developments. Since the problem of evil is common across religious (and unreligious) lines, his work deserves a wide readership. Long may he write. Read the entire essay here
The lamentations come first, all tidily numbered from 1 to 50. The first 39 are powerful stuff and, if you have normal feelings, will hit you in the gut. For those among us who try to maintain a cool distance from their inner emotional beings, this is a severe challenge. Miller writes powerfully but note that his torment is that of a religious believer who must reconcile the notion of a just God with the evil of this world. An atheist would not have this problem and neither would a deist because they respectively do not believe in a deity or [believe] in one that abides in a state of indifference to the worlds that resulted from the godly creation. So it is easier for this range of disbelief/belief to handle these times when “God blinked.” Miller’s evocations of massacres are searing as his hymns are uplifting and will give strength to believers. The secular humanist will give due credence to Miller’s humanity.
Midwest Book Review
Hymns & Lamentations is a thoughtful collection of writings over the cruelty of life and how faith can help you endure the worst of it all. For those looking for the strength of life to face the worst of it, “Hymns & Lamentations” is a choice pick.