What is the Question?
“We are strangers.
Don’t hide from us Your light. Show us Jesus Christ,
who is the Way, the Truth and the Life”
- today’s opening prayer
Not only was today the first full day of the conference, it was also one that our American group had been preparing for since last spring.... Hat Decorating Day! But more about that in a future blog post. Oh the Lebanese hospitality we have received! Oh the sweetness we’ve tasted in this sacred place!
110 faithful women began this day with a Bible study of Matthew 26: 6-13. It was led by Rev. Ja’coub Sabbaugh, a Syrian pastor who is intelligent, engaging, and filled with energy for the Church. Later today Ja’coub and I spent two hours “talking shop” - comparing stories of ministry in Syria and the U.S. He told me about a young mother of two who is repeatedly beaten by her alcoholic husband. Everyone knows her situation - little is hidden where he lives. People sympathize with her... they know it’s not her fault... even so divorce would be a worse punishment for her and especially for her children. In the meantime, Ja’coub goes to her apartment at 2:00 a.m. when he gets the call from neighbors that the husband is beating the life out of her.
We know this passage in Matthew 26... An unnamed woman enters Simon’s house. Without a word, she anoints Jesus’ head (not his feet) with costly and precious oil. She is bold, extravagant and disruptive to all the disciples who criticize her. She is bold, extravagant and disruptive to Jesus, who affirms her: “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
And so it has, and so she is.
Throughout the afternoon and late into the evening, women have shared the precious gift of their stories with me. The tears pour down, the laughter bubbles up. I have heard stories of resilience and survival in this devastating war. Stories of faith, hope and love in the midst of death. With every outpouring, my heart is broken open and the light of new awareness shines in. “We are strangers, don’t hide us from Your light.”
As I enter into the women’s stories, as we hug and kiss, and in the afternoon as together we transform plain straw hats into gorgeous, fanciful works of art and flare, there is more laughter. There are new tears. In these moments as we prance forward and backward in our hats, we feel bold and extravagant. Is this not disruptive to the powers and principalities that surround our Syrian sisters?
The joyful spirit continues through the evening as the women treat each other to a great performance of Syrian improv. They act out skits that poke fun at the day - and each other - and their home lives - to even more laughter...
And yet. Tonight my mind goes back to this morning’s Bible study. It begins to dawn on me just how prophetic a passage like Matthew 26: 6-13 can be in a place like this. My sweet Syrian sisters, who know war deep in their flesh and down to their bones... The call to be bold, extravagant and disruptive - especially in the presence of men in their homeland- is prophetic indeed. And it is dangerous.
This is the Church I am coming to know. This Church and I who have been strangers or acquaintances at best. We are strangers. Do not hide me from Your light.
.... Rev. Ja’coub posed a final question in Bible study this morning, one that just won’t let go of me. He asked us this (ala Tom Long): “If we suppose that this Bible passage is an answer to a question, then what is the question?”
What is the question?
I think of all the meetings I sit in (and through) on a daily basis. And all of the times that I sit there asking myself, “What is the question?”
Here in Dhour Choueir I am seeing and hearing what it means for the Syrian Church to be bold. Extravagant. And disruptive.
What would it look like for the Church in the United States to become the same? This is the question.
Rev. Sara Dingman
Synod of Lincoln Trails