14 October 2011
To be heard, seen and acknowledged
"This is the recognition that we hear you, we see you, we acknowledge you," said Leymah Gbowee, one of three women who were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building. The Nobel committee hoped the prize would "help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realise the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent".
Mrs Gbowee, who had lived with her four children in a refugee camp, gathered the women weekly to pray as a crucial part of the peace movement. Her sequence 'being heard, seen, and acknowledged' reminded me of the exodus narrative: "I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out…and I am concerned about their suffering" (Exodus 3:7).
Violence against women and girls and the cry for redemption is worldwide. The day the Nobel Peace Prize was announced, aid agencies urged NATO not to abandon the women in Afghanistan who suffer forced marriage, 'honour killings' and domestic abuse. The next day it was reported that 'bridenapping', where girls are abducted and forced into marriage, is a growing hidden crime in numerous countries. And The Elders warned that there is no hope in reducing maternal deaths when child brides give birth before their bodies are ready, nor in reducing HIV/AIDS when they are unable to negotiate safe sexual practices.
Closer to home, the UK government is looking again at measures to make it a criminal offence to force people to marry against their will, whereas the release of Tyrannosaur confronts us again with the violence women suffer within marriage in middle England.
The biblical story of a servant girl fleeing domestic abuse shows the power released when women are no longer invisible. In Hagar's encounter with the angel she is assured that God has seen her misery. Under-girded by his instruction she picks up the flow of life afresh. "You are the God who sees me. I have now seen the One who sees me" (Genesis 16).
The exodus account reminds us of the "kind of God' we are praying to. Leymah Gbowee's story shows us the God the Liberian women are praying to. The One who hears, sees and is concerned. Both accounts show the restoring of an internal order, a new sense of community and capacity for action. And thus, writes the theologian Michael Welker in God the Spirit, a process of emergence sets in that constitutes a new beginning, new relations, a new reality.
The exodus theme becomes the paradigm of deliverance, reflected in language that permeates the prophets, psalms and narratives. It is echoed in the New Testament idea of salvation. Paul contrasts the former slavery to fear with the leading of the Spirit and the character of the new life of freedom: God's adoptive parenthood, belonging to his family, access to its heritage and sharing in Christ's vocation (Romans 8:14-17).
David Augsburger, Professor of Pastoral Counselling at Fuller Theological Seminary, reminds us that being heard is so close to being loved that it is almost indistinguishable.
I hope that we, like God the father, are attentively listening, perceiving and acting today as part of the worldwide cry and search for redemption.
Marijke Hoek, coordinator Forum for Change