Stories are important. My nights are filled with stories. Stories of “Elephant and Piggie” and “Harry Potter” that I delight in reading to my children. Stories of the happy and sad things that have happened during my children’s day. Stories from social media that remind me of moments past, inform me of the stories of friends’ lives, and stories from the world.
This year during Monday Morning Prayer at the Chapel of the Resurrection we are inviting speakers to reflect on Sacred Spaces & Sacred Stories. How has their story, the spaces they have been to, or others stories impacted their faith? These stories engage in dialogue with the sacred stories found in scripture of how God has engaged with God’s world. The speakers have been honest about brokenness, calls for justice, mountains, valleys, wilderness, and the power of rooted space. Each has helped me think deeply about moments and spaces in my life and how God has met me there.
Lately, I have been wrestling with which stories get lifted up, remembered, named, and brought into the light. The past couple weeks as the national news of the Kavanaugh hearings and the allegations brought by Dr. Blasey Ford have come to the forefront, new stories have begun to take up not only my nights but also my days.
Stories from countless women. Stories that I hold with students in my office. Stories that have been shared via social media. Stories that come over a phone call. Stories that arise within myself. Stories that have been named previously and stories that have been held in the shadows of pain and shame. Stories that are crying out.
I sit with these stories, lament these stories, and cry out to God. I turn to scripture and I am reminded of the many women whose stories are often kept in the shadows: Tamar, Hagar, Bathsheba, and the many women who go unnamed in the Gospels.
I grew up knowing the name of Queen Esther and that she was in the Bible. Her story was not a regular part of Sunday School or VBS. I later learned she was faithful to God’s call and helped saved the Jewish people. However, it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I really engaged this book of the Bible, and there I encountered a woman whose name I had never heard: Vashti.
Queen Vashti was the queen before Esther. In chapter one of Esther we hear about King Ahasuerus throwing a party for seven days where drinking was unrestrained. It says when he was “merry” with wine he ordered for Queen Vashti to be paraded in front of the men, wearing only her crown so she could be gawked at. Queen Vashti had been holding a simultaneous party for the women of the powerful men who had been at King Ahasuerus’ party. When she was called she said, “NO.” This angered the king and his officials warned about how the word would spread that she had said not obeyed his command and other women would hear about this and also push back against their husbands. So they advised that Queen Vashti be cast out (many scholars believe killed) and that it be decreed that men are the rulers of the household.
Vashti’s “no” is a “holy no.” It is a “no” that claims her dignity and worth in face of oppression and power. I believe her “no” echoed enough to help inspire Queen Esther when she had to risk her life and go before the king to save the Jewish people. That “holy no” needs to be lifted up by faithful people to remind all women that they have dignity, worth, and the right to speak out.
That “holy no” is what calls me to say that these stories need a place outside of the shadows.
We are called to be a community that is willing to listen to the stories of women on this campus — students, staff, and faculty who carry stories of sexual assault and harassment with them. We are called as a community to be willing to speak out when we see this type of behavior being looked past or joked about. We are called to be a community that works to make space for the dignity of all, especially those whose stories are often silenced.
As one way to create space for these stories and the pain that many women might be carrying, this Friday, October 5th, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at Linwood House there will be a gathering for women only (students, staff, and faculty) who want a space to talk with one another. If you have questions about this session, feel free to reach out to Paula Dranger, Assistant Director for the SAAFE Office here at Valpo.
My lament, my “holy no,” my sighs too deep for words call me back to scripture where I also see a God that hears the cries of God’s people. A God that hears the cries and then calls on God’s people to join in God’s redeeming ministry in this world. Often times God’s call is a call that is uncomfortable because, like Esther and Vashti, it means challenging systems of power and oppression. However, that call is an invitation to be a part of God’s kingdom in-breaking that respects the dignity of all, that listens deeply, that loves one’s neighbor, that is about healing and life. May this place be a place for stories and God’s call to be heard.
Oct. 3, 2018