Today, March 8th, is a celebration of International Women’s Day. It is a day to celebrate the achievements of women around the world. In the Presbyterian Church (USA), today is the Sunday to celebrate the gifts of women. A while ago, I came upon a blog by Julie Clawson, that challenged people to synchroblog or synchropreach about women in scripture. As I was doing some research about International Women’s Day on the web, I stumbled upon a timeline of the suffrage movement in the United States. As I quickly browsed the timeline from its beginnings 1776 to 1920 when the 19th amendment allowing women to vote was ratified, one thing became adundantly clear. It is that with any movement, there was much pain, tears, sweat, toil, moving forward then taking two steps back, but all along the way, there were women like Susan B Anthony, who wanted to make the world a better place for all and who held on to the promise that God created all people equally, “in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them (Genesis 1:27).
The lectionary passage for today was from Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16. Instead of focusing on Abraham and the continuation of the promises that had been made a few chapters ago, my focus began to wander towards Sarah, not only what it says in the bible, but what she must have been going through; the pain, the suffering of not being able to have a child. At a time when having a child as a woman was of the utmost importance, and even knowing of God’s promises of descendants, Sarah must have felt much shame and even ridicule.
This makes me think of my mother and what she went through, especially the first 7-8 year of her marriage to my father. Fortunately, or more unfortunately for my mother, she happened to marry a man who is the first son of the first son of the first son and so on going back generations to a king in Korea. Talk about pressure to have a child, and not just a child but a son. She did not have problems conceiving, but had many complications carrying to term. For years, she would talk about her first pregnancy, of carrying to term twin daughters only to see them taken away immediately after the birthing because they were no longer alive. Since that first time, she subsequently had 5 more lost pregnancies before I came into the world. Though none of them were carried to term, most lasted past 4-5 months. Not only did she endure the pain and sorrow of losing these babies, but had to withstand the ridicule from my father’s extended family. My mother, though small in stature, is and continues to be a strong, devout woman, who did everything for her family. Even when she went through horrible morning sicknesses, her in-laws would make her get up 5am in the morning everyday to cook a big Korean meal for breakfast. I witnessed my wife go through morning sickness with both our children. She couldn’t stand the smell of water next to the bed. And here is my mother, cookings, stews, soups, meats, side dishes, though tasty, all smells to high heaven. While living at my father’s parents home, which was customary in Korea, she took much verbal and emotional abuse, much of it caused by her inability to have a child. Of course, she found out after my birth, that the verbal and emotional abuse did not stop. But that’s another story.
I have heard her tell her story many times, and I would always feel hurt and anger for my mother, but I would also feel a tinge of anger towards my father. How can my father, who is medical doctor, let her go through such hardships and pain, physically as well as emotionally. If it was my wife, after a few times of going through pregnancies which so taxes her body so heavily, I would want to stop the process altogether or at least have that conversation. But I also know how strong willed my mother is, and this devout woman always hung on to the hope, no, more than hope, a promise that she would indeed have a child and the child would be a son. If one is counting, I was number 7 and my brother was number 13.
I see Sarah as a devout woman who lived with the promise, the promise that Abram would have many descendants. She is advanced in age. She is still barren. The only thing that she can do to see the promise happen is to give Hagar, her servant to Abram, which was customary at the time. It was not a lack of faith on Sarah’s part, but her willingness to what is necessary to fulfill the promise. This is true of the women who had gone before in the suffrage movement and the women who are continuing that journey to this day. They also hold a promise to make the world a better place for themselves and especially other woman who will come after them. It is the promise that as we are all equally made in the image of God, we should all treat each other in the same way in all spheres of life.
It is intersting to note that in Chapter 17, the promises of God is given equally to both Abram and Sarai. Abram will be the father and Sarai will be the mother of nations and of kings. Abram and Sarai are given new names in this endeavor, Abraham and Sarah. Even God calls Godself by a new name, El Shaddai. Just as in the first chapter of Genesis, here again in Genesis 17, God is again creating anew God’s community and views equally valuable the man and the woman. God continually calls both the man and woman to work together to further God mission and God’s kingdom here on earth. Not only on this day, but the gifts of women should be honored and celebrated everyday.