This reflection was given at a prayer vigil on Friday, September 28th in response to the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, as well as the outcry of women in our country.
We gather this evening, grieved at the prevalence of sexual violence in our culture and the lack of care often shown to survivors. We watched the news this week as Bill Cosby was sentenced, and Dr. Blasey Ford testified. We remembered Anita Hill and others who called out their attackers, and weren’t believed. We remembered our own stories, and the stories of loved ones, and felt breathless at the thought. I reflected on some of the many women throughout history who have endured sexual assault, and wondered where there was hope.
An early 12th century woman named Christina came to mind, offered me some sense of hope this week. Christina’s story is similar to Dr. Blasey Ford’s–she escaped an attempted rape, also at the hands of a powerful man, a leader of the church. She was forced to marry, but fled the marriage, hiding in a monastery for many years. The hope I find in Christina’s story is in her visions. She was known as a visionary, and had many experiences of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and of Jesus himself. These visions were always in stark contrast to her physical and emotional realities. When Christina’s mother failed her, physically assaulted her and forced her to marry, Christina witnessed visions of Jesus and Mary, who treated her tenderly, and brought her hope in the midst of her suffering.
In one of these visions, Mary asked Christina how things were going for her. Christina cried out, “Badly!” telling how she had been beaten by her own mother and then brought into a room of onlookers to be ridiculed. This evoked for me imagery yesterday’s hearing, as Dr. Blasey Ford courageously and heroically testified before onlookers who scrutinized and doubted her. Mary’s response to Christina’s fear reaches through time, and speaks to us today, “Do not be afraid. Go now since I will deliver you from their hands, and bring you to the brightness of day.”
This is our hope. That in the midst of pain and suffering, we believe in a God who cares so deeply about us, who promises to deliver us. Christina’s pain did not cease after that vision, and chances are that ours will not after this evening either. However, Christina carried the comfort of Jesus, through Mary in her vision, with her into the days after. The record of this vision concludes, “After this vision Christina awoke and found her pillow wet with many tears, and she thought that as the tears she had dreamed were real, so there was no reason to doubt whatever else she had seen in her dream. From that moment you could see that she was a changed person. The immense joy that filled her at the thought of her freedom was evident for all to see in the cheerfulness of her expression.”
This is my prayer for you, and for many, this evening. That you would encounter the living God who loves you dearly, that you would rest in the knowledge that you are not alone, and that you would go into these next days changed and filled with joy. For our joy is an act of resistance. It is not the product of our circumstances, for that would be simple happiness, but it is the deep belief that we are created and loved by God, comforted and sustained by the Holy Spirit, and brought into new life by Jesus. Amen.