It’s been a hard, hard week — make that couple of weeks. And then yesterday, I succumbed to a high fever, and have had much time to reflect on suffering, and what that looks like in places around the world that don’t have easy access to medicine or healthcare — or even a bed. It breaks my heart to know that almost 300,000 women die each year in developing countries because of complications due to pregnancy. Thankfully, dozens of thought-leaders have heard the pleas of mothers and children in developing countries and are raising their voices to inspire a movement to increase healthy pregnancies and lower death rates.
I have the most unlikely, unforgettable personal story about The Mother and Child Project: Raising Our Voices for Health and Hope, compiled by Hope Through Healing Hands, that I am a bit wild to tell you, but that will have to wait now till the thermometer co-operates — but you have to read these stories from people like Melinda Gates, Kay Warren, Bill Frist, Kimberly Williams Paisley, Michael W. Smith, Christine Caine, and more so that people of faith understand why it’s important to get involved. You know, it’s good to be challenged to see beyond the borders of our personal lives and reach into places and things that are hard and messy. Today, as I nurse a can of ginger ale here, I am challenged by a story from Sarah Masen and David Dark – they remind me that if we begin to pay attention to the stories of the hurting and unloved—really stopping and being present in them—we can speak up for those who can’t, we can spread the word, and God can use us to save these important lives. Welcome, Sarah and David . . .
In 2011 the extraordinary poet and dancer Maya Angelou came to Nashville.
Thousands came to hear what she had to say. She could do that, you know!
She carried with her a decades-long earning of the American public’s ears.
In everything she was up to, she lived into a radical articulation of hope for people denied a place at the table of human kindness.
And, everywhere she went, she set a new one with large hearted welcome.
We trusted her the way we often find we can’t help but trust the people who create spaces where we’re allowed, in a deep sense, to grow into our best selves. She became an expert thriver who blossomed in spite of the hostile and often murderous climate she grew up in. She was someone who languaged and danced her way through suffering into a more equitable future.
When I think of her, I think of Jesus.
Both Maya and Jesus were born and raised under a crushing hierarchy of one people group being constantly dominated by another, and they both proclaimed, by word and deed, better ways of doing things.
Both dreamed up and embodied an artfully practiced subversive resistance even as the backs of their people were against the wall.
They each sought ways of spreading the table wider unto the outcast, the estranged, and even the enemy.
With all this in mind, I was particularly taken with a story Maya told of people approaching her and letting her know that they, like her, are Christian. She noted that she likes to reply with playful astonishment, “What?! Already? I’ve been trying so hard for so long.”
Though we get it wrong before getting it right so much of the time, I think it’s true to say that we live for moments when our perceived ideas about what it means to have a go at being Christian are radically challenged.
We so live for these moments that we’re often loathe to attach the label to ourselves, lest we think of conversion to something as wide and wonderful as lived Christianity as a “done deal” or a “mission accomplished.”
Why not think of conversion to the outrageously hospitable love of God as an unendingly revolutionary process to which we submit ourselves anew every moment of every day?
This calls for renewed attentiveness to the minute particulars of our sweet old world we like to say God so loved.
For starters, this means being present enough to the stories of those who suffer for lack of love (and by “love” we mean all that makes for human thriving: enough food and clean water, shelter, good health care, education, safe and beautiful neighborhoods) to recognize Wisdom when she comes knocking on our door.
We look up a lot. We ask ourselves, “What are we missing? Who are we marginalizing when we say what we say? Are we using language of exclusion or embrace?”
We remember Jesus’ script flipping phrase, “You have heard it said, . . . but I say to you . . . ,” and have appropriated its spirit of reform for our own time to wonder more imaginatively how what was a concern to our people-loving Jesus in first-century Palestine might translate as walking justly, loving mercy, and living humbly in our own radioactive days.
Hear the good news of God’s word. He calls us to become larger in love and in solidarity with the vulnerable, to participate in our most imaginative relief work.
This is a unique time when good, global research in maternal, newborn, and child health can present radical documents of reality that help us see the facts on the ground and deepen our response to the new “least of these” in our midst.
It is still the case that women and children are vulnerable to old inequalities that deny them physical security and access to healthy living.
Do we hear, as Jesus did, the cry of the Syrophoenician woman who challenged Him to see that even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the master’s table?
Do we hear the 220 million women’s voices around the world ask how they can better plan their families so that their own children will not only survive, but thrive?
Are we teachable the way Jesus was in that moment of profound script flipping? And, not only do we hear these voices, but are we “living graciously and generously,” taking action, and lending our own voices on behalf of these women and children?
May we begin to be attentive to and inspired by all the new avenues we’re discovering for spreading the table of thriving we believe God has spread for us.
It’s a process we are always learning and converting to anew.
Our Friend, Maya goes before us.
Grateful for the voices and insights of people like Sarah Masen and David Dark and those like them who share throught-provoking essays in The Mother & Child Project: Raising Our Voice for Health and Hope to show those of faith why maternal and childhood health worldwide matters. These leaders show that in the midst of our full lives there is still room to speak up and spread the word to find help for those who need it the most. Highly recommend.