In the dark days of winter I miss the view of my summer garden from the kitchen window, where I often linger over the dinner dishes. The fields around the house on the grassfed-beef ranch I tend with my family are brown. It is hard to remember that life will return to the soil in a few short months.
This year has been a challenging one for me. It feels as though the gains I worked for on behalf of Indigenous peoples across my state of Washington are slipping away. Vehement pushback from the powerful seems out of proportion. The weak remain weak, and the strong seem to grow stronger.
I turn to the Book of Jeremiah, where the prophet speaks to those exiled in hostile territory. Jeremiah’s word to Israel in chapter 29 encourages a people in exile to have hope.
The message is: You may not be where you want to be, but hunker down, you could be here for a while. Pray for your neighbors in the place where you are, even though you are far from home. Their blessings will be your blessings. Don’t despair: there is a plan to give you hope — and a future.
Sound familiar? Sound a bit like where we are today? As a society we are in bondage to a materialism that doesn’t meet the needs of our souls. We face isolation, violence, displacement, despair. Climate change is causing natural disasters, migration, refugees.
It is hard to find hope, to find home. As a displaced person who longs for home, as the third generation in my family’s displacement story, I relate to Jeremiah’s message.
As an Indigenous woman advocating for Indigenous peoples, I see oppression on all sides, without relief. Resource extraction — gold mining, fracking, oil pipelines — causes disease, displacement and death for Indigenous peoples.
Jeremiah’s letter calls to mind Mary’s Magnificat from Luke 1. I often think about this passage when I am feeling hopeless.
Let me set the stage: Mary is pregnant and unmarried. The potential outcomes she faces are:
Violence by her community for committing adultery, a capital offense.
Having her relationship with Joseph blown up, since if he goes through with their marriage he will be accepting a “fallen” woman.
Shame in the eyes of her people, who are capable of calculating her wedding date and the actual birth of her child.
She is working-class, no one special, and the pressure of parenthood looms, with a man who is not the father of her child.
She has every reason to be afraid. But this is what she says:
“The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
“His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:49-53).
Mary is in a state of expectancy. The road ahead is uncertain and fraught with judgment and difficulty.
But she rejoices. Why? What can her words mean? No mighty have yet been brought down. The proud have not yet been scattered. The hungry are still hungry.
Yet she looks forward to the ministry of her son, the Messiah. She looks forward to the fulfilment of every prophesy by the One who will change the world.
Her hope for the promise of the living Messiah will not take away the judgment she faces. It will not save her from the hard times ahead. But it gives her hope. She sees change coming, across all generations.
During this dark season, I place my hope in the Creator, the Great Animator, the one who promises freedom for the oppressed. And holy is his name.