Saturday, November 26, 2011

Breaking the Rules

I was a woman of the shadows, living on the borders of life. My place was on the edge of the community, but never part of it. For twelve years I had been unclean, because of my bleeding, cut off from the life of my own people, shunned from the feasts and the worship. After a while I came to believe I was shut off from God as well. If He loved me, if He wanted me, why did He curse me with this shameful condition that left me alone in the darkness?

Twelve years of bleeding. Twelve years of mess and discomfort. Twelve years of always feeling tired and weak from the loss of blood. Twelve years of feeling like I had failed at being a woman. Twelve years of seeking out every doctor in the district, hoping one of them would have a cure. Twelve years of being subjected to painful and humiliating “cures” that never solved my problem but just added to my suffering. Twelve years of spending money I could not afford in order to seek healing, until all my money was gone. Then the doctors lsot all interest. Twelve years of watching my neighbours withdraw from me, and the judgemental looks in their eyes. Surely I had committed some terrible sin to be so afflicted? Twelve years of questioning my own heart and life, trying to understand what my terrible sin had been. Twelve years of despair, and loneliness, and pain.

Sometimes, when the town was busy and crowded, I would slip out and mingle with the crowds. Under my veil, nobody noticed me. I knew I was breaking the rules, since anyone who came in contact with me in the crowd would be unclean also, but if they didn’t know, did it matter? Yes, God would know, but since I was already outcast from His presence, unable to venture near synagogue or temple, I didn’t really care.

And this day there was a special reason for the crowd. Jesus was here. I had heard the stories – how He taught like nobody else taught, and healed like nobody else healed; and the thought came to me that if only I could touch the hem of His garment, maybe, just maybe, I would be healed. It was madness, of course – the very idea of an unclean person, and a mere woman at that, going up and touching a rabbi was insane. It broke all the rules I had known since infancy. But in a desperate situation, you think of possibilities you would never have dared consider otherwise; and I had nothing left to lose. So, veiled and hidden in the shadows of my own garments, I forced my way through the crowd. It was unladylike; but in that milling excitement no one really noticed.

And then – I touched Him. I brushed the hem of His garments with the tips of my reaching fingers, and the bleeding stopped immediately! Not only that, but the lassitude and weakness was gone from my bones, and felt as if I could stand up tall and strong. I thought I would melt back into the crowd and disappear into world of shadows to study whether I still carried shame.

It was not to be. “Who touched me?” He demanded, and in the end, seeing His insistence, I had to step forward and, shamefaced, admit what I had done. I was a mess of misery and embarrassment, for here all my shadowed places were being held up to the light. What I had failed to understand was that light added from a different direction can make the shadows disappear.

And so it was.”Daughter”, He said, with infinite tenderness, “your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” It was only then that I dared to raise my eyes and look into His, and my whole world changed. I had feared judgement and longed for mercy, but this was more than mercy. It was understanding and affirmation. It was love. He had healed so much more than my body.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Sacrifice

It is easy to give away something you haven’t got, or is it? Certainly my husband thought so. When my womb quickened with the child I had desired for so many years, and I told him of my vow, his first response was to shake his head in incredulity. He thought I had done something very foolish, which I was going to regret enormously once I had to relinquish the child to the priests. He did not understand that, even deeper than my longing for a child, was my fear that God had forgotten me; that I had been somehow overlooked in the divine plan, or else that was simply unworthy to ever receive the gift of a child.

But the Lord had heard me, had understood me, and responded to my desperate prayer. My husband did not understand the depth of my grief; man-like he had said to me, “Aren’t I enough for you?” How could I answer that? And my rival, sleek in the triumph of her motherhood, would goad me with her taunts until my every thought oozed bitterness and grief. And the priest thought I was a foolish drunkard, profaning the tabernacle with my inappropriate behaviour. But the Lord heard my prayer and had mercy on my grief, and gave me the child I had been aching for. And I had promised to give the child back to Him as soon as he was weaned.

It was too much for my family. My husband, who already had sons and daughters aplenty from Peninnah’s womb, said only that I must do what seemed best to me. And my rival? She was silenced by my choice. No longer could she mock me for barrenness, but my choice to give the child away totally confused her. All her married life she had used her children as weapons, a means of keeping score against me because she knew Elkanah loved me more: now, having conceived, I had chosen an inconceivable action which undid her whole system of thinking. But we had never understood one another.

Yes, of course there were hard moments – moments when I looked at my nursing child and wondered if I would ever have the strength to let him go. But then, all motherhood is a journey of letting go, from the moment the child exits one’s body, through learning to walk, weaning, learning, growing .. all the way until they marry and leave home. Every step is a step away from the circle of their mother’s arms. My Samuel was just going to go through the process faster than most.

Then came the time of his weaning and the journey to Shiloh. I had expected it to be difficult, but to my amazement it was not. The child seemed to understand perfectly – so perfectly that I had to believe that the Lord himself had been preparing Samuel for the place he had been called to – to serve at the Tabernacle of the Lord all the days of his life. When the moment of parting came, and I presented the child to Eli, instead of being torn and broken by the grief of farewell I was filled with joy: wild, fierce and exultant like the cry of the eagle soaring into the wind. It was a joy that could not be contained and, to the astonishment of all who knew me, I burst into a song of praise to the God who turns man’s injustice upside down! In that moment I knew the whole point and purpose of the surrender God had asked of me – that this child would grow to be his great servant in Israel, prophet priest and judge, set apart to Him from birth. And my arms would not be left empty, I would go back to bear more children in thankfulness and joy.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Finding Courage

One does not say to God “You’ve got to be joking!” but I came very close. It was such an improbable, crazy command. This man was our sworn enemy, a leading agent in the persecution of the saints, and now God was asking me to go to him and heal him?? It didn’t make any sense. And what did God mean “he is praying”? Everyone knew that Saul was a devout Jew. Of course he prayed!!

I repeated the instructions over in my head, to make sure I had heard it right. I was to go to the house of Judas and ask to see Saul of Tarsus, because he had been praying (!) and the Lord had given him a vision of me coming and restoring his sight. “Why me??” was my other immediate thought, but I knew better than to say it, not because I feared some dire punishment, but because I knew enough to know it was a waste of breath. God’s reasons are often inexplicable to man.

Inexplicable? Yes, but not back-to-front-and-inside-out crazy. If our enemy had been struck down (and rumours had been running rife that something very strange had happened to Saul on the way here), wasn’t that the time to rejoice that God had rescued us from the hand of the enemy, not reach down and help him up so he could attack the saints all over again? I paused for a moment, while a heavy lump of fear consolidated inside me. Then, choosing my words carefully, I pointed out to the Lord the obvious problem: there had been many stories circulating about how this man had set about the persecution of the Jerusalem church, and it was a known fact that the temple authorities had sent him up here to do the same, and arrest in their name the followers of Jesus. Surely going to visit him was as insane as walking deliberately into the wolf’s den?

But the Lord wasn’t interested in my fears, however reasonable they seemed to me. He commanded me to go and lay hands upon this bitter enemy, because he (the Lord) had chosen Saul to carry the gospel into the nations of the gentiles and “show him how much he must suffer for my name.” There was no room left for argument.

If anyone ever writes the story of that day, they will simply say that I, Ananias, went to the house and entered it, laid hands upon Saul, prayed for him and he was healed, both in body and in spirit, as the Holy Spirit did His mighty work in him. And that is, of course, the truth. But it leaves out the struggle within me, the slow reluctance of my steps, the shaking of my sweating hands or the way I walked up and down the Street called Straight several times before, having run out of other options, I went up to the door. It was the hardest thing I have ever done – the bare word of God versus everything that my heart and mind could tell me. In the end, faith and courage are nothing more than taking the next step because it is the only step, and God was already waiting there for me, on the far side of my fear.

It was only when I entered the room and approached Saul that the power and love of the Holy Spirit filled me, and I knew exactly what to say and do. And the miracle occurred. But the greater miracle had already taken place in each of our hearts.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

No Going Back

No going back at all, my hand in His
Is held fast close for all eternity;
Nor would I turn aside if that I could,
His love is all the universe to me.

All of this striving, all this wearing thin,
Falls from me like dead leaves at Autumn fall,
All swept away with yesterday’s debris
At that small moment when I hear His call.

All the complaining of my jaded heart,
All of this grief because in dark I dwell,
All of this jarring noise He has caught up
In the vast harmony of His song’s swell.

No going back – not because I am brave
But because He continues to the end
And holds me still, myself continuing
All that I am into Himself to spend.

Forward and frontward, upward and afar,
Over soft meadows or through piercing stone,
I shall go on, there is no other way.
I shall go on, afraid but not alone.

Even when darkness weaves its bitter doubts
Even when fear destroys my solitude.
Still, in the poisoned night I cling to Him:
My only rest lies in His amplitude.

I – who am I and what shall I become?
Who is this mystery that I call me?
What shall I be when love has had its way?
What is this song in its entirety?

No going back till every note is made
Beautiful in His loveliness made whole.
He is the song, and I a tuneless voice
Wrapped in His music, mind and heart and soul.