Rendering women voiceless: suffering without lament

Rendering women voiceless: suffering without lament

I remember the evening well. One of my students had died in a motorcycle accident and I was called to the hospital. I had given her permission to leave after the swimming carnival as the next day was a holiday. Her cousin had picked her up on his motor bike and that had been involved in an accident.

We joined local family members at the hospital, waiting for her parents to arrive from out of town. There were few words that could be said. The pain of their loss was palpable. When her parents arrived her mother collapsed, wailing and beating her chest. Her father was angry and stoical. They needed someone to blame, and that became me. If I had done …, if I hadn’t done …, if …, if …. The finger pointing was understandable, they were in deep pain and had no answers.

When I arrived back at the college hostels in the early hours of the morning some of the students were waiting for me. ‘Miss, if God wills….’; Miss it is not your fault, this is God’s will.’ Tears were unacceptable. We simply submitted to God and let it be.

In my own journey of faith I have been learning the power of lament, the power of giving voice to my pain to God who knows all things. It is something I have yet to find a way to share deeply with my friends living under Islam. Submission and acceptance appear, to me, to mark their interactions with suffering.

And so I ask myself, how might our understanding of lament enable our sisters living under Islam to give voice to their pain and experience God in new and relational ways?

Now the challenge to lament is that our relationship with God has a very different starting place. As a follower of Jesus, I am in a covenant relationship with God. There is a deep commitment from each of us to the other, and to the well-being of our relationship. So I have a question: can someone who does not understand the commitment of covenant relationship make the demands and give voice to their pain in lament?

Lament is not simply my moaning at God, though perhaps too often I do that. Lament is calling on God, an act of worship that gives expression to the lived experience of pain in this world. Lament is a cry to God to act to redeem, restore, release those suffering from their difficult situations. Lament is also an act of faith that gives expression to confidence in God, his character and his works.

In speaking of the Psalms of lament Walter Brueggmann says: The use of these “Psalms of darkness” (laments) may be judged by the world to be acts of unfaith and failure. But for the trusting community, their use is an act of bold faith, albeit a transformed faith. It is an act of bold faith on the one hand, because it insists that the world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended way. On the other hand, it is bold because it insists that all such experiences of disorder are a proper subject for discourse with god. . . But the transformation concerns not only God. Life also is transformed (the lamenter’s life).[1]

Lament is a transformative journey, and therefore I think one we can invite our sisters into as together we face the suffering of our world and the personal and communal pain that are a part of that. Because it is a journey, it takes time. This means walking through the mire created in personal lives through suffering in order to find out how God might be seen in it.

The joy of lament is that it does not deny suffering. My students that night wanted to deny that we were suffering through this accident. While her parents suffering was visible, at the women’s gathering following her funeral, there was a determined reading of the Qur’an to bring blessing and benefit for her.

How might we use lament in our friendships when women and their community suffer?

Firstly we can use the Psalms. Maybe memorizing some of those parts of Psalms where the writer gives voice to their pain and suffering and questions God. I think we can read these Psalms together. I have found Psalm 42 helpful because it starts with desire for God, something some women find helpful.

Secondly, we can write our lament for a friend who is suffering. I recall a colleague who did this for a woman in her Middle Eastern community who was battling cancer. It had a profound affect on this woman and on her friends as it was shared with them.

Thirdly, I am wondering about the use of the Japanese art form kintsugi. This maybe something that can be used with a group. Taking a Bowl and smashing it and then gluing it back together and painting the cracks with gold paint can be a creative way of picturing brokenness and restoration, suffering with a new perspective.

We can create space for women to give voice to their lived experience of suffering and pain, to the challenges they must negotiate every day, as we do. Lament can be a shared space of facing the realities of life with God.

Lament can be an important way of bearing testimony to the world, revealing God who is with us in our pain.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 52.

Featured image with thanks to Image by Jacques GAIMARD from Pixabay

(c) When Women Speak … January 2023

CH spent more than three decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church. Her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).

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