Friday, March 16, 2012

The Voices of Our Past -- And Present

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. Queens and slaves and martyrs and saints. Only a handful came from the Bible. Not because they weren’t there, but because they weren’t selected. There were more than enough cards in the basket for every woman there, maybe twice as many as the women there. But only a handful of the names called out were from the Bible.

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…

Think again.


Maggie Toussaint said...

I find it amazing how God continues to work miracles in our lives. We tend to forget to listen, but in those quiet moments, we rest in him and he in us.

It's been my experience that none of us can do this alone. We need salvation and hope.

I love how your journey at this women's event brought you back to center with Hannah and Grace. You are wrapped in love.


Unknown said...

I feel as though I've heard a touching sermon. Liana, you are a very special person, reaching out so well to others who need your sweet spirit for guidance. I could never have written this post--I simply don't know enough. As an aside, "Ann" also means Grace--I'm sure there were variations of the word Hannah.
"Celia" means heavenly. I loved to tell my sisters how special I was because my name meant Heavenly Grace. It didn't work though...they have never been impressed!
I especially love the meanings of words, and since our grandsons each have a New Testament name and and Old Testament name, I have given each a small plaque that explains their first name.
Thank youy.

Mona Risk said...

Liana, I admire how you can express feelings that brings the best out of others. I would have been too shy to write the same. Yet, I felt God's hand recently. On my birthday, Jan 19, I was at church praying to have the courage to stop writing as it gave me and my husband too much stress. And I pray, if You want me to continue Lord, then give me some sign, make my books sell. I won't touch a penny, but will give all of it to needy persons or causes. The next day my books started selling and selling.

Stephanie Burkhart said...

Liana, a very inspirational post indeed. It is amazing how God touches us in his way, how he guides us, and gives us a signal. The power of prayer is amazing.

Right now, I think I need to be open to his message. It's important for me to find a couple of quiet minutes to listen.