Wil Gafney and her *Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church° continue to be a source of inspiration for me. For the past two weeks, her readings for the relevant Sundays of the season of Ordinary Time in the Christian liturgical year have begun with Samuel’s miraculous birth to Hannah. I’ve just now completed the reading for Proper 6 reading, in which Hannah’s pleas for a child despite her seeming infertility are answered. In reading Gafney’s commentary on the passage, I deeply appreciated these lines:
God provides. God provides the child for which Hannah longs, a common biblical trope with little correlation in the scripture reading world, making this a difficult text to receive as exemplar.
In last week’s Proper 5 reading, Gafney included a similar sentiment that also resonated with me:
The many biblical accounts of miraculous pregnancies that do not conform to the lived experience of most people can be difficult for women with unwelcome infertility.
I am impressed by Gafney’s ability to balance the hope that we can look for in these stories (e.g., “God provides”) with an acknowledgment that this hope is not always realized in the lives that we live. My daughter has now been alive for longer than my spouse and I spent struggling against infertility, but the pain of that struggle still lingers in my everyday experience. I often hate hearing or reading these miraculous Bible stories, and I’m often unconsciously resentful of couples who are expecting a child, even when my conscious mind is ecstatic for them.
Around Easter time, I wrote that:
I think of Easter as a hopeful holiday, inviting us to have hope in even that which seems impossible to us. Even if the purported historical event Christians celebrate on Easter strains credulity, I think that kind of hope is worth celebrating.
In a similar vein, I think I’m coming to a point where I’m very aware that the specific hopes and dreams that are realized in scripture are not always realized for people in their everyday life… and yet, I still find value in using scripture to find hope in the future. Perhaps part of that is shifting the source of my hope. I don’t necessarily believe in an intervening God who steps in to help realize our hopes; rather, I interpret my shaky belief in God as an obligation to contribute to the realization of hope for others. As I’ve written before, another source I’m using throughout the lectionary year is « Aux sources de l’amitié de Dieu », a book by the Swiss abbot Urban Federer. Last week, around the same time I was completing Gafney’s first reading on Hannah, I read Federer’s comments on the Feast of the Sacred Heart (which is not part of my denomination’s liturgical tradition, but I’m very glad I read it anyway):
La fête du Sacré-Cœur de Jésus nous appelle non seulement à croire en la miséricorde divine, mais aussi à la faire nôtre. Ils sont nombreux aujourd’hui ceux qui n’arrivent pas à croire, ceux qui doutent de Dieu, ceux qui disent ou pensent : « Comment Dieu peut-il permettre tant de souffrances ? Pourquoi tant de violences sont-elles perpétrées en son nom ? » Dieu est, pour eux, sur le banc des accusés. Nous ne pourrons contribuer à dissiper ces doutes qu’en montrant ce qui se trouve dans le cœur de Dieu : la seule miséricorde. Et cela, nous ne pouvons le faire qu’en devenant nous-mêmes des témoins vivant et crédibles de la miséricorde : en ouvrant comme Jésus notre cœur aux autres.
And in English:
The Feast of the Sacred Heart calls us not only to believe in divine mercy, but also to make it our own. There are many today who not able to believe, who are doubtful about God, who say or think: “How can God allow so much suffering? Why is so much violence perpetrated in God’s name?” For them, God is on trial. We cannot help dismiss these doubts except by showing what is found in God’s heart: only mercy. And we can only do that in becoming ourselves living and credible witnesses of mercy: in opening, like Jesus, our hearts to others.
I have no particular interest in convincing others to believe in God, as Federer suggests we might be able to do. I do, however, believe that if my faith is to be worthwhile, I must show mercy to others and help them realize their hopes.
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