Friday, 12 March 2010

Hannah and barrenness - yet we are all fit to bear life ...

On Thursday Jet den Hollander led morning prayer on the story of Hannah, not concentrating for once on the song of Hannah - in many ways taking up again in the magnificat - but focusing more on what precedes the song. The rivalry between the two wives Penninah and Hannah, how Hannah was loved by her husband Elkanah, despite not bearing him children. I was moved as we have been thinking about "Daily Bread" to hear the text about how the husband gave a double portion of the sacrifice to his barren wife. One of the things we know about women from subsistence cultures is that they were/are often simply too thin to conceive, as I heard the text with the focus we have had on food this week I realised how gentle and life-giving this story of the husband feeding his second yet loved wife a double portion was. It was this loving food that helped her conceive in the end.
Jet encouraged us to think about what it means to be forced to think about our lives according to societal norms - taking a companion to a reception if we are married, assuming that people have children, living as a childless person, assuming that men working for church organisations will have partners to take care of children ...
It was powerful to read the prologue to Hannah's song, to think about how women (in this case the two wives) show little solidarity to one another but are caught up in a patriarchal system which means they become cyphers for a male progeny-driven story.
We read the prologue in parts and Jet interspersed the reading with gentle but powerful reflections. She used the text and our own realities to get all of us, women and men - to reflect on our own childfulness or barrenness. It was both powerful and gentle. Perhaps because I am a fruitful woman who is barren of children the prologue to Hannah's story and this reflection spoke deeply to me.
And today I held a tiny baby in my arms - a colleague brought her new born son to work and several of us got to hold him, and folk teased me as they came into the cafeteria - is he yours?
Well no he isn't. However, even without children I bear life as do many others - even if that is harder to point to and affirm. So the question to ask as we read Hannah's story is how do each of us bear life and support the life that others bear?