We continue to explore what can be learnt from sharing in the experience of sharing in Life cycle events and rites of passage with our Muslim friends. In the first blog I described how I was told of the sudden and unexpected death of the husband of a North African friend of mine and my visiting her house. I experienced there activity which Cathy Ross has written and spoken of as a woman’s missiology – expressed in the perspectives of emptiness and hiddenness; of sight, embrace and flourishing; in comforting, consolation and healing; and in hospitality and relationship (1). This is the 3rd blog which explores the experience of sharing in Life cycle events and rites of passage with our Muslim friends in the light of these themes.
The more devout women, when entering the room, stand still, raise their hands, palms open and upwards, and recite words from the Qur’an. The response comes from the rest of the room: “Ameen, Ameen.” I’m reminded of reading I have done which suggests that rites of passage serve to renew the bonding of the whole community to its religious tradition (2). I sit in solidarity with the women who are seeking, together, to unify the experience of grief within a religious framework of meaning.
I find myself wondering: as a woman of faith, a follower of Jesus, and known as such in the community, what are the appropriate words of consolation from Scripture which I can bring amid the sorrow? How can I do this with integrity?
Could I use the words of Jesus to Martha, grieving at the loss of her dear brother, Lazarus?
“I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live and whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die” John 11:25
Words from Psalm 146:9 come to mind “The Lord sustains the fatherless and the widow “and Ps. 68:5 “A Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy dwelling “
I wrestle with this for a few days, I pray, and I seek God. I want to respect my friend in her vulnerability and yet perhaps the greatest gift I can offer is the power of Scripture to speak words of true consolation which lead to an encounter with the Comforter Himself. My friend and I have known each other for over 15 years. I’ve rejoiced with her at the birth of her children. I’ve encouraged her as she’s studied in order to secure a job which she enjoys. We’ve also shared the Prophets Stories (3) together and there have been times when she has shown great curiosity and been deeply moved on hearing the story of Jesus. I have wondered whether she will dare to think differently about Him. And yet she has remained embedded in her faith community.
The last time I visit, just a few hours before she makes the arduous journey “back home” with the body of her husband in order that he may be buried amongst his own, I ask her permission to give her a blessing from the Bible. She graciously agrees and as I finish laying my hands on her head and praying the Numbers blessing (4), she quietly whispers: “Thank you so much.”
Recent discussion by Christian women engaging with women from an I-view world has shown that some would find this difficult. Aren’t these promises made only for those within the covenant? Others would suggest that we should speak them out anyway as a sign of the Hope that we have within us and an invitation to take the step of sharing in the covenant relationship which God offers us through Jesus. It’s interesting to note that in the Genesis account of the Abrahamic story it is with Hagar that God engages – twice – whilst Sarah receives only an indirect rebuke from the Lord for laughing at the promise of the coming heir (5). When, having run away from her abusive mistress, Sarai, Hagar is alone in the wilderness. God speaks words of comfort and consolation to her: “the Lord has heard your cry (6).” Later, when she is stricken with grief at the thought of her son dying of thirst, again God’s words “Do not be afraid.” followed by the promise of a future for her son, are given. God’s blessing through the covenantal line is, indeed, most precious, but does that mean that everything outside it is curse? The promises made for Hagar’s son, Ishmael, would suggest not. Much later in the Old Testament Isaiah’s prophetic vision of the glory of Zion where “nations will come to your light” includes Kedar’s flocks and the rams of Nebaioth – direct descendants of Ishmael – which serve to adorn the temple itself.
It seems that the invitation to participate in the blessings God makes available ranges wide.
Featured image: https://www.geo.tv/latest/147154-in-pictures-this-is-how-people-across-pakistan-celebrated-eid-ul-fitr
(1) “Without Faces”: Women’s Perspectives on Contextual Missiology. Dr Cathy Ross. See also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hVHTZpN2D0
(2) Peterson in Using Ceremony and Bonding to meaning in Zahniser p.97
(3) Prophets Stories – a resource for dialogue between Muslims and Christians created by Jan Pike
(4) Numbers 6: 24,25,26
(6) Genesis 16:11
(7) Genesis 21:17
(8) Isaiah 60
(c) When Women Speak … October 2019
Miriam Williams: Miriam has settled in the UK but has a long experience of cross-cultural living and interaction in a range of contexts. Knowledge gained from these experiences have been brought to bear on her current work and interest in enabling faith conversations between Muslim and Christian women at grass-roots level. She is passionate about seeking to ensure inclusion and accessibility to the things that matter so that transformative spaces are open to all; and sees links here to the way we do discipling.