I have the honour of holding a lot of stories. Those stories are all different. They are stories of challenging work or new homes, ageing parents or growing children; stories of faith found on mountaintops or doing the laundry; stories of connection with the Divine and stories of God’s absence.
Two stories have been present to me over and over as I have listened to the stories of those I accompany.
The first is Hagar’s.
The moment that keeps returning to me over and over is a moment of despair. She flees her bitter slave-mistress who has been mistreating her after she was forced to become pregnant by her husband. None of it is anything she has any control over - as a foreign slave she has been abused over and over without being able to say a word and when she resists (by daring to make her despisal of her abusers clear) she is only abused more.
Hagar’s name is thought to mean either “to drag away” or “to flee”. As a slave, she has already been dragged away from her home and family, and so she does the one thing still available to her - she flees her hard circumstances.
But we cannot flee our trauma. We cannot flee our heartbreak and our grief.
In the desert, beside a spring, in her despair, she encounters the Divine, and that Presence asks her a question, “where are you coming from, and where are you going?” She is given the gift of telling her story, but what she tells is only the pain of her past; there is no imagined future.
And so a new story is spun for her. Not a perfectly easy one - she is to return, and see this child she is pregnant with born in the household of those who have abused her. And there will continue to be conflict. And yet, there is the new possibility of redemption and hope - her descendants will be too numerous to count, just like the promise given her slave-master. She is being made their equal.
In that moment Hagar does what no person has yet done in the pages of these scriptures: she names God: “You are the God who sees me”, and “I have seen the One who sees me”. And the spring she had found sanctuary by is named as a reminder: “Well of the Living One who sees me”.
Her son is given the name Ishmael - God hears.
When she could only see the pain she was fleeing, God saw her present and offered her a different future possibility: gave her back her agency and equality, her strength to resist the powers that enslave and abuse, and her identity as one seen and heard by the Divine.
Her fleeing became flight, as she found the way to rise up once again.
The second woman who has been often in my thoughts as I talk with my directees isn’t named at all. She is known in church talk often purely by her pain: “the bleeding woman”.
Her story is also told as one of physical healing, and what an incredible gift that was to her, I am sure. And yet when I read this story sometime last year, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before: after she has pushed through the crowds to touch Jesus’ cloak, after she has received immediate healing throughout her body, Jesus turns and insists he wants to know who it was...
“The woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”” (Luke 8: 47-48)
I wonder: perhaps the greater healing in this moment was the invitation to tell her whole story, and be heard, and seen - finally - by both Jesus and the gathered crowd.
When her illness had made her invisible and kept her outside her community of faith (menstruating women couldn’t enter the temple), Jesus gave her back her voice and her right to be heard and seen.
Maybe it was her faith - her trust that, like Hagar, she was held in that moment in the presence of “the One who sees me” - that gave her the courage to speak her whole truth and so receive the healing that flows wider and deeper than the physical healing.
Daughter, he calls her. He claims her as family, for himself and the gathered crowd who are witnessing it all. She is one of us. We will see her. We will hear her. We will honour her and her story.
I trust in the power of telling your story, of speaking your whole truth.
As a spiritual companion, I have the deep honour of coming alongside people - often in the midst of their pain, grief and trauma, in the moment of fleeing or invisibility - and asking them, “Where are you coming from? Where are you going?”
It is a sacred thing, to bear witness to all of the hidden and silenced parts of a person. Some days I feel the weight of it, but I know I don’t carry it alone. I stand on ground made holy by the presence of the Living One who Sees. She too bears witness, and her gaze is faithful and unwavering and kind.
Through Her, we find a way to see ourselves and our lives anew. We are given courage and strength to resist the systems and powers that control and abuse. We are given vision for new fruitfulness and flourishing. We are welcomed home into sacred belonging, to one another and to the earth (the springs that bubble up in the desert!).
In what ways does your story, your identity feel invisible, unnoticed?
What part of your story needs to be told, needs to be heard?
How would you answer that divine question, “where are you coming from, where are you going?”
How might you trust that the Living One who Sees sees YOU, and empowers and heals you?
May you sense the unfaltering gaze
of the Living One who Sees You;
May you hear Their invitation you to speak your story,
to tell your whole truth;
May you experience the healing that flows
when you reclaim your narrative from the mouths of others,
and may you be empowered to write a new future
of shalom, wholeness and belonging.
May it be so.