My colleague Lauren Lisa Ng is a poet, a preacher and a mother.

Her poem, The New, is a reflection on an ordinary day in her life. The poem concludes, “I’ll build the border of a puzzle, stand from my desk before the sun starts is setting, remove backpacks from tired shoulders, plant kisses on cold cheeks and call it a day lived.”

Lauren is telling us that much of her experience is outside the public eye. That experience is not unimportant but it is private. It is neither to be celebrated nor critiqued.

In our history, we humans have not done well in extending to women the right to privacy.

Instead, we have made a habit of holding them, their feelings, their experiences, their decisions up for public scrutiny. We have subjected them to frequent critique and justified that critique with an occasional compliment or celebration.

The recent leak of a Supreme Court document indicating that the court may soon overturn Roe v Wade, the case which has ensured the protection of reproductive rights, rooting reproductive rights in the right to privacy, is witness to this reality.

The message to women from those who would overturn Roe is clear. We would rather criminalize your choices than respect the complex decisions you face. We would rather hold you up for moral scrutiny than support your right to privacy.

My mind is drawn to the biblical story of Hannah who was stuck in a situation she found intolerable.

Both at home and, apparently, in public, she was subject to ridicule for the fact that she had not given birth to a son. In desperation, she prayed fervently for a son, even bargaining with God for an answer to her prayer.

Her prayer is passionate. “LORD of heavenly forces, just look at your servant’s pain and remember me! Don’t forget your servant! Give her a boy! Then I’ll give him to the LORD for his entire life.” (1 Samuel 1:10b, CEB)

The priest Eli observed her prayer, decided she was drunk and scolded her.

It is revealing that The Interpreter’s Bible (1953) defends Eli’s callousness, suggesting that he had seen too many people inebriated at a festival, and it criticizes Hannah’s attempt to bargain with God.

It is a scenario we know well. The reputation of the religious leader is defended while the desperation of a woman caught in an untenable situation is ridiculed.

There is no right to privacy for Hannah. There is no respect for her desperation.

Instead, The Interpreter’s Bible makes her the object of a sermon by offering a “moral of the story” – one ought not think they can bargain with God – that misses the story’s point.

As the narrative unfolds, Hannah gives birth to Samuel and, after he is weaned, dedicates him to the service of the LORD. We are not told whether the LORD was moved by Hannah’s offer of her son or by her desperation. I like to think it was the latter.

Regardless, as it was in the time of Hannah, we have a long way to go in appreciating, understanding and respecting the desperation women can feel.

Rather than holding their responses to that desperation up for public scrutiny, we would do well to respect their right to privacy and, with my colleague Lauren, “call it a day lived.”

Share This