A New Psalm for America’s Racial Uprising

Building a theology of lament in a breathless & racialized land

Sam Heath
5 min readDec 7, 2020


A Black man in a mask protesting in a crowd in Charlottsville after George Floyd’s death.
Image: Derrick Waller. Used with permission.

God calls us to lament, then love.

My dear friend recently shared a story with me. A woman she knows was bringing water to peaceful protestors demonstrating outside St. John’s Church after George Floyd’s death. Officers tear-gassed the crowd to clear these bodies so Donald Trump could get the now viral photograph of himself holding up a Bible. This woman saw a man who had been hit in the neck with a tear gas canister. He was gasping for air and in critical condition. She took him to the hospital herself and placed him at the hospital’s doors to receive care.

The protestors were gassed, they were unable to breathe, and the man on the scene was struck by the gas canister in the neck, all echoes of George Floyd’s asphyxiation.

Educator and activist Alicia Crosby even tweeted before the June 1 protest in D.C., “I really can’t shake how profoundly evil it is to tear gas folks protesting the suffocation of a man by the police during a pandemic driven by a respiratory disease.”

D.C. police tear-gassing peaceful protestors outside of St. John’s Church.
Image: Jose Luis Magana / Getty Images

The tweet linking those realities haunted my friend’s imagination when a group at her church was asked to write psalms related to the lonely life of quarantine. The idea of breath began to feel like a “connective thread through the crises,” my friend said, specifically the “two enormous open wounds in our society” of white supremacy and COVID.

Desiring to “grieve the horror” of both wounds, my friend anonymously wrote a psalm.

The genre of a psalm gave her a “freedom to speak directly to the Lord” with a form that can be cathartic but not neurotic, allowing full expression of feelings without spiraling into frenetic rumination. Psalms are emotional songs, “deceptively simple,” she said, in how they give “permission to be so raw.”

Lamentation gives space for our own formation before we try to help form the world.



Sam Heath

Husband, father, teacher, Charlottesville resident. Speak truth to power.