For some of us, death, especially so premature, is a reminder of our own limits on life. We sit in the presence of eternity, and reflected on what we are living for, and whether we are prepared for life with God.
All too often the media relates horrific stories of our fractured and violent world. Women and children battered, abused and often murdered by partners or family members. Domestic violence un-checked in a society where the weak and vulnerable stand little chance, confronted with anger, addiction, abuse.
At least one woman each week is killed in Australia by their former or current partner. Do you know that women in certain age brackets are more likely to die of violence than obesity and smoking, or drugs and alcohol abuse? For this, tears AND anger are appropriate.
Domestic and family violence is the major cause of homelessness for women and their children. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s report, Specialist Homelessness Services 2011-12, shows that people experiencing domestic or family violence make up one-third of the almost 230,000 Australians that accessed specialist homelessness services in that period. Of such clients, 78 per cent were female.
On Friday 18 October, 500 people gathered at Aberfeldie Baptist Church for a thanksgiving service for Rekiah O’Donnell. Rekiah grew up at Aberfeldie Baptist with her parents Craig and Kerryn, and siblings Jesse and Indiana. This year she turned 22, but in early October she was shot by a violent ex- partner, leaving her family and friends, and the broader community, shocked by the violent injustice.
But I suspect many of us also sat with anger and rage. We were digging deep for comfort and peace, relying on God and one another for reassurance and grace; but whether with words or tears we struggled with the confusion and fear, and senseless and tragic loss of Rekiah. We sat with that, but I prayed – for God’s sake and for Rekiah’s and for others like her – I prayed that we wouldn't just sit but take a stand for hope.
We sat at Aberfledie with our memories and grief, with friends and family we love. But as we left the church, Rekiah’s life AND death reminded us to take a stand for a world that is more loving and compassionate, more hope-ful and safe; a world where justice and respect, hope and grace are a reality for all.
In times of grief and loss we’re confronted with our deep desire to nurture our relationships; we cry out for people to take a stand for safer neighbourhoods, for healthy living, for respect for one another – for communities that are more in line with God’s dream. To say NO this is not the way things should be. We ask “Where is God? Where was God?” Whether we ask it after Auschwitz or 9/11, after the disaster of hurricanes or accidents, after the murder of Tracy Connelly in St Kilda or Jill Meagher in Brunswick, of after Rekiah O’Donnell’s murder in Sunshine, can we answer anything else other than God is here in the pain. God is suffering too.
Our hope comes not from being rescued from pain, but in experiencing God coming alongside us in our pain, that we would know and experience God’s love and comfort, and grow wiser and stronger though we feel crushed and bereft.
Our hope is outworked in taking action, standing up against injustice. Standing for respect and safety. Our hope is outworked when we notice those at risk and offer support and way out. Our hope is given voice when we break the silence and speak out about violence.
White Ribbon Day (25 November) is one action people are taking to raise the issue of violence against women.
How can you take a stand?
How can your church get involved? http://www.whiteribbon.org.au/
A version of this article was originally published online as Darren Cronshaw, “Domestic Violence – Where Is God in the Grief?”, Witness (20 November 2013).