Last night’s theme in the Women’s Lenten Speaker Series I'm attending was “The Voices of Our Past.” On the altar was an elegant display of framed photographs of the mothers and grandmothers of the women who are putting on what has become an annual program at our church. The speakers encouraged us to honor the voices of our past, the words and actions of strong and wise women both in our own families and experience, as well as public figures who have shaped our lives, for, as women, we collectively stand on the shoulders of all those who have come before us. Our presenters spoke of the faith of The Samaritan Woman, and Joan of Arc. Our special guest speaker was a woman who, because of traumatic events in her childhood, descended into promiscuity, drug and alcohol abuse, a series of abusive relationships, and crime. She gave birth to her third child while incarcerated, and while hemorrhaging in her cell, cried out to God…
And He answered. With the help of two special women in her life, she has now been clean for over four years, has reunited with her family, has put her life back together, and now works as a staff member in one of the halfway houses she lived in when she was released from prison. None of which she could have accomplished without her faith that God was (and is to this day) with her every step of the way.
Also during the program, we were invited to proceed down to the altar, where a basket full of cards, much like graduation announcements, waited. On the cover are the words, May your Voice shine bright like the prism of your heart. We were to select a card from the basket that would hold inside a name of significance in our lives.
As we processed, our guest speaker played a soothing, almost haunting melody on the organ, which we later learned she herself had composed. Music, we later discovered, was what had helped her to process all of the pain and trauma and negative emotions in her life, and brought her back to the joy of living. Apparently the two women from our church, both involved in prison ministry, had plopped a keyboard down in front of her and told her to give voice to the music inside her as part of her healing. And what beautiful music it was, reminiscent to me of the peace and joy and majesty of Pachelbel’s Canon, a timeless favorite of some of the happiest women in the world--brides.
So each of us chose a card from the basket, a card which contained a name inside especially meant for the woman who chose it as a message from God.
I watched the women’s faces as they left the altar, without exception opening the card and reading the name inside. Some smiled, some frowned, some looked confused, and others laughed, as the meaning hit home.
As for me, I waited until I had found my seat in the sacred space where we gathered in silence to hear our speakers before opening mine, feeling somewhat curious, somewhat apprehensive, and yes, somewhat skeptical.
But when I opened my card, I shook and nearly cried.
The name I had chosen was Hannah. I couldn’t believe it. My first thought was God was letting me know He knew me and heard my prayers. For Hannah was the name I had chosen over eighteen years ago for my child had he been born a girl. No one knew that but me.
Since we were also asked to reflect on the meaning of the name we selected, I did so, and the words that came to me were “The Hannah Project,” presented as a link in the sidebar of my PMDD site. That meant to me that I have yet to give birth to another creation, this one a feminine creation, of and pertaining to women, since the overall theme of this speaker series is Give Voice to Your Heart so that others may benefit from your wisdom and caring and be heard as well. Over the past two years, my PMDD site has done just that. I have spoken from the heart, have told my story, and in doing so have told the story of countless other women, many of whom, after reading my PMDD blog, for the first time in their lives feel understood. Through my writing, I am giving them a voice.
The significance of this name became even more apparent to me as we dimmed the lights, and one by one each woman read aloud the name on her card. I’d say 95% of the names were either historical figures, women in politics past and present, social justice advocates, and/or celebrities.
And mine was one of them. And mine was Hannah.
The only other name I would have interpreted to mean that God “knew” me, that God heard my voice, was Grace, as my beloved cat Grace recently passed away unexpectedly, having developed fluid in her lungs within the space of three days.
This morning I discovered that the name Hannah derives from the Hebrew word Grace.
If you think God doesn’t know you, doesn’t hear you, doesn’t love you…