homily: the songs of woman–miriam

A Homily delivered on 20 May, 2010 at CORAT-Africa in Naibori, Kenya for a gathering the Peace-building and Conflict Resolution class, and the Organizational Renewal class. The text is Exodus 15:19-21.

Singing Women: the Song of Miriam

Miriam's dance from the Illuminiated Tomić Psalter

Yesterday the peace-building class watched a documentary. The documentary took us to a community in North Eastern Kenya struggling with violence and cattle-raiding. One of the women spoke of singing songs…how the women of the village would sing songs of peace. And that in the singing of these songs of peace their men would be shamed. Shamed from fighting and raiding cattle and shamed into considering another alternative.

As i was mulling and praying about what message to bring this morning these women kept coming to me–and the Song of Miriam was layered over on top of them. This is where our reading comes from today. Miriam, along with her brothers Moses and Aaron have led the Israelites through the parted waters of the Red Sea and the Pharaoh’s men were smashed beneath the waters.

When the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his chariot drivers went into the sea, the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them; but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’
(Exodus 15:19-21)

Something that I appreciated about the documentary yesterday was that these women’s songs––their creative use of their culture and history was taken seriously by not only those creating the documentary, but presumably by the men of the area as well. This moment in the documentary was brief. As is this verse about Miriam––but the roles of all of these women are examples to those of us who dare to call ourselves followers of Christ.

Miriam. She saved her brother’s life. This is, of course, Moses. Her strength and reliability was evident even at that young age when she so boldly spoke to the Pharaoh’s daughter. Her strength and leadership only flourished as she grew. She stood along side her brothers (Moses and Aaron) as Pharaoh was challenged and she is referred to as a prophetess in ancient texts, including this passage from Exodus.

There is a lot we can learn from Miriam.

Her bravery, boldness and trust in God can be a pattern for us all. Try to imagine being a simple person––a nobody, and boldly approaching the Pharaoh’s daughter as she did. That action in and of itself was bold and heroic. Can you imagine what would have happened to her if the Pharaoh’s daughter had not been receptive? It could have ended very badly for Miriam!

I wonder: how can we be more brave…more bold in our trust in God?

Miriam’s bravery, faith and trust led her through the exodus from Egypt…and led her to lead others, too.

And what about this song?

A lot of Miriam’s life leading up to this point in history would have been strained. Difficult. The Hebrew people were under the oppression of the Pharaoh.

They worked for Pharaoh.
Their food went to Pharaoh.
Then he wanted to kill her baby brother.

But through clever actions and great bravery he was saved. And I am willing to bet that even after he was at home being raised by his mother and family that there was fear…in the back of their minds…wondering if someone was going to figure them out and kill not only Moses, but all of them.

What is Miriam’s response when they have finally crossed the Red Sea and escaped the Pharaoh’s oppression?

It is to sing praises to God.

Not to say “IT’S ABOUT TIME, GOD.” Not to complain. But instead she unashamedly takes up the tambourine and lets  praise pour forth.

What songs are we singing, friends?

Are we sining songs of peace to teach and lead our neighbors? Because you do know that they are listening, right? Are we singing songs of malice, bitterness and hatred? Or songs of God’s goodness?

Are we singing songs to remind ourselves and our neighbors of the goodness of God, or are we singing songs about the goodness of ourselves? How wonderful WE are, how amazing OUR accomplishments have been?

What songs are we singing? What stories are we telling?

I challenge all of us to take stock of our accumulated songs. Do we even realize what we are portraying? Do our words say one thing and our actions another?

I pray that as we challenge ourselves and each other as a community, to review our repertoire that our praises may become sweeter. That our songs become more honest.

And that we sing boldly and with abandon: proclaiming the peace of Christ, praising God for all that we have, and reminding ourselves and our communities of how God has called us to live as God’s Children.



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