Disturbing.” “Odd.” “What does it have to do with worship?” These are just a few responses I’ve heard to the cover image of this issue. What does The Eyes of Gutete Emerita by Alfredo Jaar have to do with worship?
When we look into Gutete’s eyes, what do we see? Anguish? Despair? Christ? Do we see a child of God? Our sister? She has a name; she has no voice. Will we speak and pray on her behalf? Will we sing the songs she needs to hear?
The Gutetes of the world are looking at us, watching us, pleading for us to do something. We say we believe in a God who is loving and just, a God who provides. But the only God many will know is the God they see acting in and through God’s people.
Take a few minutes to check out the justice ministry pages on your denomination’s website, or go to www.amnesty.org. The sheer number of crisis issues is overwhelming and can easily lead to despair. And it ought to. The statistics of how many people die daily from a lack of food and the injustice of human trafficking and slave labor should indeed cause us to lament.
But we do not lament as people with no hope. We bring our lament to God and cry, “How long?” We bring our lament to God and ask for miracles of intercession and healing. We pray for justice, reconciliation, and peace.
We can do that because Jesus Christ suffered the greatest injustice of all—he who was sinless was crucified for our sins. We can pray for the miracle of shalom because Christ overcame the greatest enemy, death itself. We can pray with hope because that same Christ who knows what it means to suffer pain, humiliation, torture, and rejection, that same Christ ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God interceding for us. We lament because we know that Christ laments with us. Christ cares deeply about Gutete Emerita and all the voiceless ones.
Yes, the statistics and magnitude of the issues are overwhelming, but we do not address them by our own power. The Holy Spirit, the true Comforter who came to us on that day of Pentecost, continues to work in and through us. The Spirit guides us to use our resources, words, and energy wisely. The Spirit spurs us on, encourages us when we need encouragement, rebukes us when we need to be rebuked.
We need to be advocates for Gutete. But I am quick to recognize how helpless I am to address so great a need. That is why understanding the church as a body of believers is so important. There are people in our churches who have the resources to learn about and assess what is happening around the world and then make informed decisions about how best to respond. It is our job to learn about the work they are doing in order to support them effectively.
It is also our job to look for ways we can make a difference. Much injustice occurs in our own corner of the world. Do we look the other way, or do we work alongside those who are suffering? Do we think of the needs of others and of how our own actions can contribute to shalom?
It’s a place to begin.
Worship planners and pastors have a prophetic role to play: to take up the message of Amos 5 and make sure our worship and daily living are in sync. As prophets, we need to remind our congregations of injustice in the world and lead our brothers and sisters in lament and prayer. We need to confess our role in the system of haves and have-nots; to confess that more often than not we think of ourselves as “better than” rather than as equals; to confess that our personal gain is sometimes at the expense of another. As prophets we need to lead our congregations in prayer for the Gutetes of this world. Help God’s people to see them and speak for them. Bring the world’s events into the community’s prayer. Help us to learn their songs, so that we may sing praises and prayers to God in their words, joining them in song even when half the world separates us.
Gutete Emerita is watching. What will we do?
For background information on The Eye of Gutete and the events surrounding the photograph go to www.hoodmuseum.dartmouth.edu/collections/recent/200617.html