(Select the opening story
most unique to your faith perspective)
(Story 1) The story of Hagar is sad but significant for
Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Hagar, a slave, an unmarried teenage
mother, and homeless, was the "other woman" who became
a domestic violence victim.
Hagar's story unfolds as Sarah, her
owner, unable to conceive, decides to provide her husband, Abraham,
with an heir by ordering Hagar to have sex with him and give
him a child by proxy. Hagar obeys and gives birth to Ishmael. Later,
Sarah becomes able to conceive and gives birth to Isaac. Suddenly,
Hagar and Ishmael are embarrassing to Sarah, so she has Abraham
send them out into the desert to die.
Hagar loses all hope, but
God eventually sends an angel to offer her child the same promise
that had been given to Sarah's child, Isaac: "I will make
a great nation of him." Still today, Jews and Christians trace
their ancestry back through Isaac to Abraham, while Muslims trace
their history back through Ishmael to Abraham. All three faiths
received a "divine promise" as children of Abraham.
(Story 2) The story of Patacara is sad but significant
for Buddhists. Patacara was horrified at her parents' selection
of a husband for her and, rather than marry him, she ran away with
her lover. While pregnant with their second child, Patacara decided
to visit her parents again and introduce them to her child. On
the journey, a poisonous snake bit her husband, inflicting a fatal
wound. The shock of his sudden death brought on Patacara's labor
and she delivered her second baby in the forest during a raging
storm. Continuing the journey, both babies drowned and died. She
was so distraught that she "lost her mind."
aimlessly, Patacara came upon the Buddha, who looked at her and
said, "Sister, recover your presence of mind," which
she did. Patacara took up study of the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold
Path of Buddhist practice and eventually requested ordination as
a nun, a member of the first Buddhist community of women. Patacara
became one of the most powerful personalities in the early Buddhist
community, a skilled, revered, and charismatic teacher.
(Story 3) The story of Lalleshwari (Lalla) is sad but
significant for Hindus. At the age of 12, Lalla was forced into
a bitterly unhappy marriage in which she was controlled by her
husband's mother and treated harshly. Lalla eventually ran away
and, in the midst of her wandering, met Siddhanath, a teacher of
Kashmir Saivism, who initiated her into the faith. In time, it
is said, she soon surpassed him in learning, philosophical argument,
and wisdom. Legend relates that she attained the supreme state
of transcending ego centeredness.
A woman treated harshly and unjustly. So what else is new? The
story begins when a person with power uses it to dominate or control
a young woman. The desires of the powerless are crushed by the
decisions of the powerful. We shouldn't be surprised; this is the
way of nature. The strong devour the choices of the weak. It's
But the story speaks of something unnatural taking place.
Compassion enters the story. Someone hears the cry of the victim.
A new future is created which
the victim could not have imagined. Her life is no longer decided for her by
outward circumstances, but she is given the possibility of new life, her own
promise for the future.
How do we hear this ancient story today? Do we still
use people to meet our own ends, or do we listen to their cry? Do we calculate
the advantage, or do we create the possibility of new life? Do we cast out
or do we take in?
Most victims who survive their ordeals do so
because someone else
helps them create a new possibility for themselves. It doesn't just happen.
The recent book, The Pact, has inspired us. It is the
story of three disadvantaged African-American youths from Newark
while in high school, pledged to one
another that they would become doctors. Their strength of will is astonishing,
but they are clear about the persons who opened the doors for them.
third grade, George was intrigued by the dental instruments when
taken to the dentist
for the first time. The dentist took the time to explain what they were,
how he planned to use them, and even told George the names and
numbers of his teeth.
A few minutes later he quizzed the boy. George left, determined to become
In high school, George and his friends, Sam and Rameck,
heard a representative
from Seton Hall describe a program that would pay for the college expenses
of minority students who wanted to become doctors. A counselor
from Seton Hall urged
them to apply and they did. This counselor stayed in close touch with the
through their four years of pre-med. Grandmothers and social workers along
the way also encouraged them. When George failed one of his board
exams, his professor
did not say "you failed," but "we failed," and continued
to work with him until he passed it.
The boys were never cut any slack on what
they had to accomplish. They took the same board exams as the graduates
of Harvard. They became doctors because they had native intelligence,
will power — and a
host of people who made possible the path they chose to take.
Not all crime
victims have a vision of making themselves even more than they
were before facing their
tragedies. Both the ancient and contemporary stories shared today offer
us a clear mandate, however. Where there is a resource that can
lead to new life,
it is our responsibility to show it to them.
The next time you meet a
(Hagar/Patacara/Lalla), recognize that her plight was not likely
of her own choosing. Do not cast
her out, but hear her cry and give her what she needs to fulfill
her own promise.
(This "sample sermon" was developed
by Dr. Richard Lord and Janice Harris Lord.
Hagar from The Old Testament.
Stories of Patacara and
Lalla from Ford-Grabowsky, Mary. Sacred Voices: Essential Women's
Wisdom Through the Ages, New York: Harper Collins, 2002.)
|National Crime Victims' Rights
Week: Fulfill the Promise
||April 612, 2003