Rev Dr Brian Kolia reflects on Luke 24:1-12 and how Jesus calls us to see differently, through remembering.
This reflection includes a discussion of domestic violence and abuse. Please take care as you read.
I didn’t grow up in the church. When I found faith as an adult, it was in a Baptist bible college, and Baptists aren’t big on tradition.
So, I’m not exactly well versed when it comes to Lent, Liturgy, and Lazarus Saturday. The first time I learnt of anything Lenten was watching the movie Chocolat as a kid.
In Chocolat—based on Joanne Harris’ delectable book of the same name—bohemian Vianne arrives in a small, devout French community on Shrove Tuesday. She dares to open a chocolate shop during Lent, et naturellement she is met with suspicion and opprobrium.
Chocolat is also my first memory of seeing domestic violence depicted on screen. Vianne befriends Josephine, a seemingly odd and slatternly woman, but it becomes increasingly apparent that Josephine’s husband is abusive, controlling and physically violent.
I didn’t understand back then, but now I know that Josephine’s fears are the same fears felt by too many women in too many churches. If I leave my abusive husband, will he become more dangerous? Will my church support me?
Research, being conducted in and by our churches, is showing us that not only is domestic abuse poorly understood in our church communities, it’s also disturbingly prevalent.
Advocates have been telling us for decades how Christian teachings—precepts that could be life-giving, healing, and freely chosen, like forgiveness and mutual submission—have been used to abuse women.
Scholars have also been working for decades to redeem the biblical texts used to hurt women. I’ve spent my whole adult life studying history, theology, and literature, so it grieves me that the sublimely crafted, inspired, historical and revelatory scriptures of our faith have been (mis)interpreted and (mis)applied in harmful, controlling and violent ways.
Part of the work I do is exploring how biblical texts can help us to prevent and appropriately respond to domestic abuse. The Psalms are stunning poems, which run the gamut of human experience, and can help us to reflect on the terror of domestic abuse.
Our Lenten reading, Psalm 63, graciously lends itself to this kind of reflection. The Psalm is one of prayer and praise without petition. The writer—the Psalmist—sincerely seeks and longs for God, emphatically declares their trust in God, and—amazingly—doesn’t ask for anything.
The Psalmist trusts God because of what God has done: provided help and refuge. And because of who God is. The Psalmist has personally experienced God’s steadfast love. The Hebrew word for ‘love’ is hesed, which can be translated as ‘loving kindness,’ (near to) perfectly encapsulating that love is both being and doing.
God is. And God acts in the world—in our lives—with loving kindness because of it.
During Lent, we are reminded how ‘loving kindness’—being and doing—is exemplified in Jesus’ life, ministry and death, helping us see differently, more clearly, God’s enduring love and care for God’s world.
We don’t know what happened to the Psalmist, causing them to write this Psalm. But we know they have clung to God. They know what it’s like to experience lies. And they know there are people who want to kill them.
For those of us who’ve been abused, reading a Psalm about someone who knows the dense fog of sorting lies from reality, and who has experienced the heart-piercing realisation that someone wants them dead, is comforting in its inclusion, and in its familiarity and solidarity.
Both Chocolat and Psalm 63 help us to see differently. They each tell the story of a person who has been wronged and harmed (by people who should have loved them). And they both portray people who remember the strength of their faith, and who long for God and for justice.
This Lent, may we too remember the strength and hope of our faith, and to see differently not only the people experiencing abuse, but also the power structures and systems that enable abuse. May we seek to be ‘loving kindness’ in action: creating communities of protection and care, pursuing peace, and longing for Jesus and for justice.
Erin Sessions' reflection engages with Psalm 63, a reading set out by the Revised Common Lectionary for the third Sunday in Lent.
O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword, they shall be prey for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Psalm 63, NRSV
Walking alongside someone who is being abused isn’t easy. We need to actively listen, carefully empathise, and not act without their consent. How can you be present, and reflect God’s loving kindness, with someone experiencing abuse?
Sometimes well-meaning folk can re-traumatise people who have been/are being abused. What steps can you take to make sure you (and people in your community) are better trauma-informed in their care?
Observing the season of Lent can help us to see things differently, to shape and reorient our thoughts and practices towards God. As you spend time with God—whatever that looks like for you: prayer, devotion, reading scripture, experiencing tradition (or exploring a new one), community and communion—could you reflect on how Christianity, the church, and the bible can be genuinely good news for people experiencing abuse?
O God, you are our God.
We seek you.
We thirst for you.
You are refreshing like streams in the desert. And we find refuge under your wings.
Because of your loving kindness, we know that sometimes we don’t have to ask, we can expect you to act. And may those of us who have been wronged, harmed and abused know your comfort, healing, and justice.
Erin Martine Sessions is a disordered creative who bends time and space to binge-watch The Witcher. She works at the Australian College of Theology, is completing her PhD on Song of Songs and DFV, has delusions of being a poet-laureate, and is Mu-um! Mum! Mamma!!! to two small humans.