The news out of Lesotho is grim: "A confluence of factors - including culture and the destitution that turns sex into currency - has transformed AIDS here from an indiscriminate killer into a plague against women," reports The New York Times (July 20). The statistics are even grimmer: "Worldwide, 48 percent of those with H.I.V. are women .... But in sub-Saharan Africa, including Lesotho, women are 57 percent of the infected."
I read the story wide-eyed. Half a world away though those women may be, their faces and stories beg attention - action. Moved, I begin to pray.
I'm struck by the apparent hopelessness of their situation - the vicious cycle of poverty and their second-class-citizen status, just two of many factors contributing to the perpetuation of this growing problem. I ask God, "Where are You?" These women deserve to feel the presence of the all-embracing Mother, Love. They deserve to be cared for, nourished, honored, comforted.
"I was with Hagar," God reminds me. "And that's a promise for all time."
It's true, I realize. And that Bible story becomes my prayer for the women of Lesotho.
Hagar's situation was similarly hopeless, though it didn't start out that way. After Abraham's wife, Sarah, found herself childless, Sarah gave Hagar, her servant, to Abraham to produce an heir. Hagar did: a son, Ishmael. And Abraham loved the boy - son of a servant though he was.
But when Sarah had a child of her own, things turned sour. "Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son," she told Abraham. A troubled Abraham turned Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert.
I imagine the relentless sun, the growing despair in Hagar's heart as the water in their bottle sank lower and lower - and then disappeared. No resources. No hope. No one to turn to.
Yet, help was there. "The angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven," the Bible relates, "and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? Fear not."
"And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water," the story continues, "and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink. And God was with the lad." (See Genesis chapters 16-21.)
I'm struck by God's mothering. God comforts Hagar. She opens Hagar's eyes to the fact that she's not helpless, that, in actuality, she and her son are cared for. In a practical way, God shows Hagar and Ishmael that it's according to Her nature as divine Love to give Her children everything they need.
It strikes me, too, that God cares for Hagar and her son irrespective of the fact that she's a "bondwoman" or second-class citizen. In fact Hagar is free to enjoy Love's resources because of her status as the child of God. In the eyes of Love, she's worthy of a wellspring of good, worthy of satisfaction, comfort - of life!
As I pray about Lesotho, I see that the same Mother-love that saved Hagar is a living, palpitating presence in the lives of these women, too. That in a place where, to all appearances, women must resort to sex-for-pay to support themselves - often with deadly consequences - Hagar's story offers another answer. It offers hope.
Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy certainly saw the Bible's assurance of God's ongoing care - of what God does and is doing for each of Her children, for all creation. And as I continue to think about what's happening in Lesotho, I remember this statement from her primary work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," about the example Jesus set: "It is not well to imagine that Jesus demonstrated the divine power to heal only for a select number or for a limited period of time," she wrote, "since to all mankind and in every hour, divine Love supplies all good" (page 494).
To all mankind and in every hour, divine Love supplies all good.
It's not a pipe dream or a platitude. That statement is a prayer - an acknowledgment of what God in Her great goodness is doing for everyone. So this becomes my prayer for Lesotho and beyond: the realization that "divine Love supplies all good" can start today. And that we as a world community can resist the inevitability of HIV or AIDS, trusting that the great Mother of all is loving and caring for each of us.