Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Boundary

She had always lived right on the edge, both literally and figuratively: literally, because her house was right on the city wall; figuratively because she inhabited the outskirts of society, in a kind of no-man’s-land (or, more accurately, no-woman’s-land). Living on the wall had never bothered her, after all, she had to live somewhere, and this was a position that gave her (and her customers) some privacy to come and go as they needed. Living at the edge of society was not so pleasant. A woman alone had to make a living as best she could, and she was fortunate to have a property. But a woman innkeeper was always suspect; for different reasons both men and women assumed that she was only too happy to give her customers (who, after all, were almost always men) whatever else their lustful hearts desired of her. It was very wearying to have to steer her days through the buffeting currents of male lust and female disdain. And now, if rumour was true, her property was about to become totally worthless. It was time to rethink everything.

When the men came, she knew who they were, and willingly gave them shelter. There was something about them she liked – a kind of cleanness and honesty. They looked at her as if she were a person, and not just a chattel for their use. And besides, if she were to have any future at all, she would need them. She had much to consider.

Rationally, it seemed an easy choice. If even half of what was whispered about them was true, there was no future at all unless she cast her lot in with them. They were not a large people in numbers or military strength, but the trail of victories and miracles that accompanied their march indicated that something remarkable was happening. They claimed (this was well-known) that it was the favour of their God which had enabled their success, and she saw no reason to doubt it. Besides, she had long since lost faith with the Baals of her people. However, it was a huge step. She had crossed many boundaries in her time, losing her respectability in order to live in relative freedom and comfort, but this boundary was much harder. It meant giving up her own people, her own city, and becoming one of an alien people with an alien god. It meant starting from the bottom all over again, knowing that she would come among them as one of a despised and conquered race. But wasn’t the alternative death? She found herself praying to this God she did not know.

For hours she struggled and it was only when she heard the approaching footsteps on the street outside, and rushed to hide her guests under the flax spread out on her rooftop, that she realised that her mind was already made up. The very act of hiding the spies was a betrayal of her people – at least they would certainly see it as such! Somewhere, at some deep place inside herself, she had already made her mind up. She had crossed an unthinkable boundary, the only thing that remained was make it actual. She didn’t think it would be a problem, after all, her quick thinking had already saved their lives. By every custom of human decency they owed her a life ...

It was only much later, when Jericho had fallen and she was safely in the Israelite camp and betrothed to a wonderful man that she looked back and marvelled. It had been a boundary as deep as a mighty chasm, between life and death, between the false, mean gods of her people and the God of loving-kindness, yet, by some miracle, she had crossed it with such a little step!

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