Saturday, January 15, 2011


She would light a lamp and put it in the window. Wasn’t that what you did if someone was lost in the darkness? A light to guide them back hoe again, no matter how terrible the storm? Did it make any difference if the someone who was lost was yourself?

She sat down heavily, elbows on the table, head in her hands. How had it all gone so terribly wrong? She didn’t want to remember, the whole sequence of events left her sick to the core of her soul. It hadn’t been her fault to start with, but one man’s misuse had left her vulnerable to another’s – once a woman had been shamed there was no road back to purity and virtue. There was only darkness and disgrace and pointing fingers, and a succession of men, each one crueller and coarser than the one before.

And she had believed their lies – that if the path to virtue and honour was closed to her, at least the path she was embarked on would lead to riches and comfort. What a fool she had been to believe them! Such men as would take advantage of a woman’s vulnerability cared nothing for her well-being. Their words were merely tools to control her and bend her to their desires, not promises they saw themselves being under any necessity to keep. Once, younger and not yet completely defeated, she had dared to protest at a broken promise – the response had left her too afraid to ever voice such a complaint again. They were creatures of darkness, dragging her done into their night, and she did not believe there was any way she could ever experience light again.

She had come to live in Jerusalem because there was a certain anonymity in the city. At least, as long as she kept herself veiled, she could scurry about in the daylight and draw little attention. Not like the village where she had grown up, where women would draw their skirts aside and spit on her if she ever appeared on the streets.

But here she was more lost than ever – another used and discarded woman, drowning in shame, struggling to survive. How could she put a candle in the window when she had no window and no candle and no idea how to find her way?

Unable to bear it anymore, she got up and went out into the city. She was tempted to kill herself, to put an end to this grinding misery, but what if God was no more merciful than men? Then she would be locked in horror forever.

She wandered aimlessly until she came across a gathered crowd. She cringed back because she saw Pharisees there, some of whom would recognise her from their sordid transactions. She could not bear to face the condemnation I their eyes. But they weren’t looking at her, they were looking at a man who stood in their midst, who was addressing them in clear ringing tones. Even at the edge of the crowd she could make out his words.

“I am the Light of the world,” he said, and she heard the scornful laughter of the teachers of the Law. But He was not abashed. He just looked at them a little sadly, as if they were the ones who were being foolish. Could a person be a light? Was that possible? Was it true what He was saying, that it was possible to never walk in darkness again? Did he know how terrible the darkness was? Never had her darkness looked so awful – something that clung to her and she could never be free of it again.

She had lost track of what he was saying, it was hard to follow. Then he looked, very sternly, at the Pharisees. “You judge by human standards,” he said. (But they had always told her it was God who condemned her for being a woman of sin.) “I pass judgement on no one” he continued, and as he spoke he looked straight across the crowd to where she was cringing in the shadow of the building, and met her eyes. For one brief moment he smiled at her, and in that moment her whole world fell apart. There was a light that shone in the darkness, and the darkness could never put it out. And the name of that light was Forgiveness.

She turned to a nearby stranger and asked, “Who is that man?”

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