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The Lord Hears the Cries Behind Our Words: Hannah’s Song and White Supremacy

The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
    he brings low; he also exalts.- 1 Samuel 2:7

I love the season of lent because it is full of contradictions. We are journeying towards the Passion of Christ – his suffering and grief – while already anticipating Easter Sunday – his glory and greatness. In this season, we hold both grief and joy together. We also intentionally embrace suffering in order to re-orientate ourselves to the story of the gospel. I believe that the Lord has given us this prayer of Hannah, a heroine of the faith, to help us hold these two emotions fully and faithfully. 

In Hannah’s song, I hear pain and grief of losing her first son and not seeing him grow up. In verse 1 the term ‘horn’, can mean strength or it can be used to describe childbearing. Since my wife has been suffering with PTSD I have become interested in how the body communicates to us what is going on internally. In My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, Resmaa Menakem argues that trauma is primarily a bodily response: “Trauma is the body’s protective response to an event – or a series of events – that it perceives as potentially dangerous. This perception may be accurate, or entirely imaginary… This trauma then gets stuck until it is addressed.” Trauma that is stuck causes us to freeze, fly or fight when our body is triggered by a perceived danger. Every time my wife hears sirens, she freezes; her body reacts. There are two ways to deal with stuck trauma according to Menakem: dirty pain “is the pain of avoidance, blame and denial” and clean pain “is pain that mends and can build your capacity for growth.” It’s the pain of doing exactly what you need for healing; the thing you absolutely don’t want to do. 

Hannah brings her pain to YHWH and says “you deal with it!” – bring justice and punishment! 

In this prayer, we see that Hannah approaches her trauma with clean pain especially as it relates to her sister wife Peninnah who poured salt in Hannah’s wound of infertility. Hannah cries out to God her pain in an honest lament. These lament Psalms, and even cursing Psalms – though uncomfortable to our polite Canadian ears – are forms of clean plain. Instead of taking matters in her own hands or becoming cruel or violent in deed or colourful fantasies, Hannah brings her pain to YHWH and says “you deal with it!” – bring justice and punishment! 

In Hannah’s prayer, I also hear joy and hope. It is good news but not for everyone. In the books of Samuel, the author is constantly contrasting two groups of people: the one with many sons and wealth versus the barren and those in poverty. One group, the humble Hannah, Samuel and David are lifted up. The other group, Peninnah, Eli and Saul are silenced and wither away. Good news for some. Bad news for others. This is very much likened to the year of Jubilee in which people struggling with slavery, landlessness, and debt heard good news while the body-and-land owners and lenders heard bad news. 

The question for us today is -is Hannah’s song good news or bad news for us?. What does your mind and emotions say? What does your body say? Menakem argues that, “Unhealed trauma acts like a rock thrown into a pond; it causes ripples that move  outward, affecting many other bodies over time. After months or years, unhealed trauma can appear to become part of someone’s personality. Over even longer periods of time, as it is passed on and gets compounded through other bodies in a household, it can become a family norm. And if it gets transmitted and compounded through multiple families and generations, it can start to look like culture.”

What does your body do when you hear those words?

But it is not a culture. It is a bodily response to trauma. This applies to victims of colonization (intergenerational trauma) and it also applies to benefactors of colonization. He calls the latter, white-body Supremacy. What does your body do when you hear those words? Menakem argues that, “A key factor in the perpetuation of white-body supremacy is many people’s refusal to experience clean pain around the myth of race. Instead, usually out of fear, they choose the dirty pain of silence and avoidance and invariably, prolong the pain.” The more we deny our bodily connection to white supremacy in our culture the more the gospel sounds like bad news.  

Good news is found in another song by a woman of great faith: Mary, and her Magnificat. A new son was born and a new song was sung. In Christ, we are forgiven of our participation in sin and white supremacy and, in Christ, we can find healing, freedom and new sight. The Spirit of Christ will bring the low up and those exalted in this world will be eager to loosen their grip on their power for the sake of the Kingdom. We will sing the song of Hannah with joy, but also with pain, for the road ahead is still long. 

Photo by Diana Simumpande on Unsplash


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