Saturday, March 27, 2010

Living Holy Week

The world seems bound and determined to be as stressful and as aggravating as possible, not to mention as fear-full as it can be as well. Bad news abounds -- earthquakes, floods, traffic fatalities in double digits per accident, the infrastructure is fragmented badly and there doesn't seem to be a lot to be done about it, at present anyway, political rhetoric has taken on a terroristic stridency in a time when people feel most helpless and fearful of things they don't really know or understand but have strong opinions about anyway. It just keeps piling up and short of turning off the television and radio, unplugging the computer and locking the front door, there doesn't seem to be much relief from it.

Flipping through the TV channels I've found a plethora of programs on natural disasters that are going to happen sooner or later. Yellowstone has a supervolcano under it that will erupt, Cumbre Vieja will slip a 5-mile section of the island off into the Atlantic that will start a tidal wave that will engulf the East Coast, a major hurricane will hit New York, a supertornado will hit Dallas, a megatyphoon will lash Hong Kong. Coupled with all the recent news of severe earthquakes and floods in various places perilously close to home (OK, maybe not next door but part of the same earth we all live on) and pictures of the suffering and devastation are almost too much to bear. And then there are the little local problems like the economy, loss of jobs, fear of losing jobs, mounting bills, shrinking paychecks, and the rising cost of just about everything we consider necessary for life -- food, electricity, gas for the car, funds to pay the mortgage, the whole nine yards. It doesn't take much of a push to make someone on the edge feel that there's a hand on their back pushing them toward a precipice and a fall they aren't sure they can survive.

Even in church we can't escape turmoil. Sexual abuse of children is alleged and denied, the role of all the baptized in ministry (and not just the ordained ministry), arguments of the validity or invalidity of varying interpretations of scripture, claims (often thinly veiled) of being the "one true" religion -- where does it all end?  Where do we find the actual true message of Christ and the true worship of God, not the message of this or that preacher or pope, this or that religion reporter, this or that religious writer or newscaster?

Holy Week is, at least by those closely involved in church work, either a Happy Occasion (Palm Sunday), a really down day (Good Friday) and a SUPREMELY Happy Occasion (Easter) or A Happy Occasion overshadowed with knowledge of what was to come, several days of introspection leading up to a foundational meal and followed by a dark day of penitence and reflection. It isn't until almost 24 hours later, at the Great Vigil of Easter, do things become bright and joyous and celebratory. I probably could unfavorably (and probably frivolously) compare Holy Week to visiting a dentist. You know it's probably going to involve some pain and that is something you'd rather avoid but by the time it's over you're so relieved to have it done you practically dance out of the office.

Living Holy Week, though, isn't frivolous and isn't really easy. It isn't supposed to be. Holy Week in some quarters is called "Hell Week" because the amount of work and preparation for the physical participation in services, be it sermons, amounts of freshly and perfectly-laundered linens, suitably exuberant flower arrangements and musical offerings, and even service booklets so everybody can follow along without having to juggle Bible, Prayer Book and Hymnal. It's supposed to be a time where, as we have been encouraged to do throughout Lent, we be more introspective, more thoughtful about what Holy Week represents, a lead-up to Good Friday and not just Easter Sunday.

Looking at my own life, this past week has brought a lot of stress and, at times, it has been overwhelming. I've done the time in the garden, wrestling with "Please -- can we just skip this part?" and trying to maintain a professional attitude when the inside is screaming and shaking like jello in an earthquake. There have been times when it felt like I was before Pilate and the Sanhedrin, having to be silent when I wanted to scream and feeling alone and scourged. There have also been a few moments when I could offer something of encouragement to someone in a similar situation, a word, a smile, an ear, a touch on the shoulder that reminded them that they have value and weren't alone in their fear and frustration. I can't look to the joy and release of Easter Sunday. Physically I know that the true Easter Sunday is a week and a day away but in terms of personal Easter Sunday resurrections, I'm not at a place where I can even conceive of it much less look forward to it. But that's my problem to deal with. Others have their own.

Did Jesus know he was going to die that week? Did he know what pain and suffering he was going to have to endure, mental, physical and spiritual? Did he anticipate how all this was going to take place? Did he believe that even if he died that he would live again?

Perhaps I'm at just the right place for me to be this upcoming Holy Week. As EfM teaches, we are to apply our lessons and insights to our lives and ministries and I think I've just begun mine. The insight is that no matter what I suffer, Jesus has suffered more. No matter how much fear I face, Jesus faced more of it. No matter how much hope I have that God will make all things right, Jesus had the faith that moved the mountains, not just hope they would move.

I think that this year, even though I won't be actively participating at the local parish, I will be extremely conscious of Holy Week and what it represents. I will walk through it, lurch through it perhaps, with mindfulness and introspection. Thanks be to God.

Monday, March 22, 2010


hard to see what's happening inside so
she feels a need to give complete reports
whenever someone asks.  

----  shamelessly stolen from GrandmĂ©re Mimi who got it from the StoryPeople

The late Spousal Unit, for most of the time we were married (all 27+ years of it), was a great believer in giving me all the information he thought I needed in order to tell a story, convey a doctor's report or even just recount a meeting with someone in the grocery line or at the auto parts store. I confess it drove me absolutely bonkers to listen to a 10 minute recitation when I really wanted the Reader's Digest version. I really didn't need a word-for-word recitation of every word of a casual conversation when all I really needed to know was that he had run into so-and-so, they were fine, their family was fine and said to tell me hello.

The older I get the more people I seem to know who have become folks who give full reports on internal stuff (and even some external stuff). The state of their arteries, heart, feet, (occasionally liver) and eyesight require a full recital. Of course it is of primary concern to them and because I'm a friend, it is of some concern to me. Still, there are a lot of times I could do with a little less information.  As they say in the blogosphere, sometimes there's just a bit TMI. So often I grit my teeth, remember to say "uh-huh," "is that so," or "that's awful/wonderful" from time to time. After all, I really do care how they are but I also would prefer talking about books, music, the state of the church or even, heaven forfend, a little about my own health.

I've learned that people really don't want to listen these days but they really do want listeners. Ok, I confess, that rings true for me so I'm not just pointing fingers at other people. There are times I'm sure I give people entirely too much information they don't really need --- or want -- but conversely I'm entirely positive there are a few times I don't give them enough.

Good thing I don't have to explain everything to God.  There are times I just don't want to talk and God understands that. Sometimes I offer a comment but it has little effect on the flow of conversation of others so I sit on the bank with a few pebbles and watch. With some folks it's one of those "companionable silences" that two people can have when they know each other, are comfortable with each other and understand that not every moment has to be filled with questions, statements, comments, asides and even puns. Luckily I have some friends like that -- although admittedly with so many long-distance friends it's hard to have a companionable silence at however-many cents per minute. And even more fortunately, God doesn't insist I spend time detailing every event, thought or twinge. God knows it all anyway and sometimes I just don't feel like reiterating it yet again when I've been through it a dozen or more times in my own head.

The other kind of silence is that of "what can I say that won't sound stupid, whiny, edgy, unkind or that will even be noticed?" There's an old saw about it being "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt."  Sometimes the conversation around me goes in places I can't go or to places about which I know nothing. This is a a more defensive silence.  There's stuff going on unseen inside but there's no real need to air out the dirty laundry or even express an opinion that goes against the grain. With God I don't have that worry. Whatever I say or don't say, God understands and that means a lot in a world where listening is almost a lost art.

God's attentiveness ---- something I can count on. Something I need to learn to emulate.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Book vs The Soul, Part 3

I loved Bible study.  I already knew a lot, sometimes more than most in my class, simply because I'd been exposed to so much scripture study in my early life. Still I found new things to learn, new interpretations, social-cultural studies, differences in languages making for differences in meaning, etc. I worked hard at studying, sometimes spending whole days searching the web for things related to what I was studying. We spent over a year studying Genesis chapter by chapter and I ended up with two 3-inch 3-ring binders of articles and the like from the web on Genesis and the stories in it. I took a class in the social-cultural world of the Bible and wished so much I'd found that years earlier. We had to write a paper for that class and present a 5-10 minute talk on it. My paper was 26 pages and I could have gone on longer. The rest of the class did 3-5 pages. But I was hooked on study.

Then the world caved in. I was told in a Bible study class something the priest had said several times in private. I did my homework and that encouraged others not to -- they would wait for me to give an answer and then they could discuss that rather than offering their own answers. I tried to continue. I took knitting to class to keep me present and focused but also with hands busy so I would have to stop and think about speaking before I said anything. I always waited for someone else to start the conversation but it wasn't enough.  I was still too... whatever you want to call it. I was sort of un-invited, unofficially. I tried to keep other commitments to the church I'd made: as a lector, as a server at any service I was asked to do, as a vestry person, a liaison to the worship committee, doing the weekly bulletins, Altar Guild, but I was gradually shut out from those too. There really felt like there was no answer but to leave.

I found EfM. I'd heard of it and had asked our priest if we could hold a class at our parish since there was a certified mentor in our congregation. The answer was, "You can get a much better education from one of my Bible studies than from that class." Luckily, and to make a long story short, I found EfM. I could study as much as I liked and, with it being online, I could interact with people from all over who wanted to study too. I could offer what I'd learned and receive what others had gained in their own experience. I found new things about the Bible I hadn't known, even with all the study I'd done. I found church history, something i'd only really come across very peripherally in required history classes in school and college, and I found theology, a subject I'd been interested in for at least 8 years before I even found Bible study and then EfM.

One things still bothers me, though. Even though I've been Christian more or less all my life, and even though I pursue my studies with almost as much passion as I did several other times in my life, there's still something not there. The Book is there but the soul?  Where is it? What is its passion? What does it believe or not believe?  For what does it wish? For what does it need healing and for what does it need to offer healing to others? 

After years of being Christian, I don't know it all. I could go back to confirmation class right now and probably learn a lot, maybe about the church, maybe about living the baptismal covenant, maybe just about myself. I could go back to Bible studies and probably learn a lot more both about it and about me.

I may have a lot of book knowledge but the soul, and the heart --- it's never enough.

So why am I writing this?  Perhaps it's just time to put it on paper (or on electrons) and look at it for what it is, the story of a journey that has more than its share of failure in so many ways and areas but which isn't over yet. It's still a search for the answers -- and for the God I worship inside but don't really know or understand.

The Book vs The Soul, Part 2

One of the thrills of my teenage summers was visiting an adult friend and her family in Washington DC. I'd met her when I was in 3rd grade and she brought slides of her travels in Europe to school as an addition to our geography classes. We became friends despite the age difference (and trust me, I went through crushes on both her sons who were around my own age)  and remanded so to the end of her life a few years ago. She was Episcopalian and I went to church with her during my visits. I'd visited a couple of other churches back home thanks to the Girl Scouts (Methodist, Roman Catholic and Baptist) but the first time I went through an Episcopal service I knew this was something different, something immensely important and to which I immediately felt connected. It was so much of what my own church wasn't --- I didn't hear what a rotten sinner I was (except in the General Confession), the final hymn wasn't stopped after every verse for another exhortation to "let Jesus into your heart", there was a lot more scripture read than just the verse the preacher chose for the sermon that week, and most of all, the hymns had a beauty and dignity rather than a simple, romantic (in the sense of appealing to the sentiment) poetry that emphasized God's goodness and our own human guilt and hand-wringing.  In DC we visited other churches and even a mosque (a favorite place of ours: beautiful, quiet, and with a presence of God there as well) but my very favorite place was the National Cathedral. We revisited it every summer. It just wasn't a complete visit unless we did. How to become a part of all this, though?

The answer came in college. There was an Episcopal church near the campus and so I went and asked to be part of the confirmation class during my freshman year. I gave myself a birthday present that year when on the day before my birthday I was confirmed into the Episcopal Church. I did ask my adoptive father's permission before doing it, partly because I felt I needed his approval and partly because I would be in a sense repudiating the church he still believed in even though it had ultimately treated both him and Mama somewhat shabbily.  Having his permission and without anyone from my family present, I felt the bishop's hand and that was that.  A couple of years later our college choir went to the National Cathedral to sing for a 10am Sunday morning service. I can't remember many experiences that came close to that one. I wasn't just worshiping, I was a participant, an active one, and hearing our music bounce off those stone walls and pillars, hearing the organ booming from all around and seeing the sun shine through the stained glass windows of the yet-unfinished place I'd loved for a long time, it was intense. My only regret was that we were not permitted to take communion that Sunday because of our place in a gallery above the cathedral floor.

Typical Episcopalian. As the old joke says, "Confirm them and you'll never see them again."  I went walkabout for some years. I graduated from college, taught school for a year, got married to an agnostic and had a son. I did have my son baptized in the base chapel in the Philippines. My husband didn't particularly approve but had no real objections. Again, nobody from my family was there any more than they were when i sang in church or was confirmed. Anyway, that was the end of the churchy-ness until after my divorce.  I played the organ at the local Roman Catholic church in the town in Oregon where we split but stopped when the job I got transferred me to San Francisco.

Still no church involvement. It was easier to give up on it than to try to...  Even though I was divorced, some of the lessons my then-husband taught me stuck like
"the worst thing your old man ever did was send you to college," and "lotta good your religion does you, you don't act like a Christian." To be fair, he and I stayed friendly through the divorce and afterward mainly because it wouldn't be fair to make our son a ping-pong ball in a battle of parents, but yet I still felt like I had to follow his wishes about the church.  As a side note, he remarried as did I --- me to a Roman Catholic, him to a Jehovah's Witness.  I still get a sort of laugh out of that.

I remarried a good guy with strong religious beliefs. For a while I tried to be a Roman Catholic but I just couldn't do it. There ware too many things my thoroughly Protestant soul couldn't go for -- the emphasis on Mary, the lousy contemporary music (in a church ht at had such a glorious musical history), the incessant rules and return to feelings of guilt for just about everything up to and including breathing sometime.  A friend invited me to her church for Christmas Eve -- a church just down the street from the house we had lived in for 5 years or so and which happened to be Episcopal. I fell in love with it all over again.

I slowly put my toe in the ecclesiastical waters -- first choir, even though I hadn't sung a note in years because.. well, that isn't important, then as church secretary, then adding Altar Guild. I loved it. I had a great boss in the priest. He and his wife (and his cat, Emerson) and I became good friends which we are to this day, 20-some years later.  When he left I worked hard during the interim, including trying to help keep things on an even keel even when one of our interims committed suicide. He had seemed fine in the office that day but that night ---.  Anyway, may he rest in peace.  The new rector fired me and so I left, not wanting to be where I wasn't apparently wanted. I went to the Cathedral for a while and loved almost every minute there. Eventually, though, we got another rector and I tried again.

Some years later we got yet another new rector but with a difference -- this one had long hair and had a clergy spouse who was male. It took a while for her to be completely accepted but we felt we'd really gotten a winner. She was graceful when celebrating, an excellent preacher, a terrific teacher. I did something I hadn't done in years: I returned to Bible study. I found a way of reading the Bible and studying it that I never dreamt existed. I found it was okay to question, to wrestle, to argue, to be passionate about something other than being "saved" or saving others. It was a tremendous gift.

The Book vs The Soul, Part 1

Caveat: I've been "Christian" all my life. I put it in quotes because I've both been a practicing and non-practicing Christian, a church attender and a non-church attender. The views expressed here are my own view. YMMV.

OK, I'm Christian. Not sure I was totally born into it but if not I got there by being adopted into a house of Christian folk with room for a child only one birth parent wanted but couldn't keep and other birth parent didn't give a rip or whatever. I grew up going to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and, yes, Church-with-a-capital-C once and sometimes twice a day. Most of the time there wasn't anything called "child care" during the service. When you were a kid you either sat in church with the big folks or somebody stayed home with you. You learned early to sit and behave -- or at least amuse yourself quietly while grown-ups listened to sermons and sang hymns.

Age 8 brought me to the door of Christianity via baptism. It was something I felt I needed to do as a result of the preaching of an elder cousin who was a minister preaching at a revival at our church. Mama questioned my commitment and wisely made me wait to officially walk down the side aisle and tell the preacher (our own preacher, a guy who lived in our garage apartment and who had his knees under our dining-room table as often as not) I wanted to accept Jesus as my Lord and personal Savior. After a few ritual questions while the congregation sang yet another verse of the interminable "Just As I Am", I was officially introduced to people who had known me all my life as someone who was becoming one of them in a different sense. I was baptized about a month later and began the harder work of being Christian.

As a kid, I figured I was supposed to bring other people to Jesus so I didn't hesitate to carry a Bible around, hoping someone would ask me about it. They didn't. Heck, most of them either went to my church or other churches around the area. Living in the Bible Belt in those days, just about everybody was either a church-goer or looked at askance and with subtle hints that Jesus was looking for them in church. Anyway, I read the Bible, went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School just as I had before my baptism but this time when I went to Big Church (our word for sitting through the regular service)once a month  I could have a little square of bread and tiny glass thimbleful of grape juice "in Memory of Me" as the front of the communion table carving said. Quite often Mama was one of the ones who carefully cut the crusts off the Wonder Bread or Betty Lewis Bread, as we usually had that kind (besides, Mama could use the wax wrappers to curl my hair on Saturday nights) and carefully pour the grape juice into the little tiny cups before putting them in the silver trays to be taken to the church the next day.

I did all the church-y stuff growing up --- Bible studies, prayer meeting, teen group, adult choir (starting when I was about 12 because musically I was ready for it rather than the kids' choir), taught adult Sunday School on what was our equivalent of Youth Sunday once a year, taught Vacation Bible School, helped Daddy (the treasurer) count the coins in the collection plate for the day (he counted the bills), the whole nine yards. I gave up carrying a Bible around and trying to tell people about Jesus but I could find my way around the scriptures quite quickly thanks to  the "Sword Drills" we had. You started with your hands on top and bottom of your closed Bible with no fingers hanging over the edge to give you a little time-boost,  when someone gave a book, chapter and verse. When told to "Charge!" you moved as fast as you could to get to it before anyone else. It was a sort of status thing --- you couldn't have any markers to help you, you had to know about where in the Bible a book was located and then how far to go to find the rest of the citation. Thanks, though, to the experience and the emphasis on studying the Bible, even if there were only one accepted interpretation and one accepted translation. It made it easier for me later on in life when I really wanted to study and from a number of different translations and interpretations. At least I knew OT from NT, what books were in which, what classification they were and about what they had to say.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Some Days All You Can Do Is Laugh....

There are some days it almost doesn't pay to get out of bed.

Was supposed to have jury duty today but got word last night that it was canceled. Great. That was a good thing.

It's Friday. I could have a 3-day weekend and nobody'd know the difference. Nahhhh. Decided to be a good doobee and a real team player and go in. Told the boss I'd be in long enough to get the usual work done and then take off early. Okay with him so that was a good thing.

Got to work early. Barely got the usual first-things-first done when a truck shows up. Trucker-baby has a narrow trailer --- and parked to one side of the dock. Then he got in a hurry and tried to lower the dock plate -- which got caught on one side of the trailer and stuck. Oh, crap. Try explaining a broken dock plate to the publisher when it's hard enough to get necessities like sharpies and index cards. Luckily got the plate back up while super-trucker pulled forward and finally got lined up with the dock so the plate would work. Whew.

Quiet morning on phones, thank God. Gave me time to do the rest of the usual morning stuff and even get done earlier than usual. Good thing. Visions of early homecoming danced like sugarplum through the brain. Sure signal that all **** is going to break loose. It didn't fail me this time either.

Boss comes in. How long am i staying? Long enough to get this and that done and then I"m gone, why?  He wants to take a road trip to check a route if i could stay that long. Did I want to go to lunch first? Nah, I'd work until he got back and then take off early with an hour for lunch tacked on the end of the day. Good thing.

Oh, by the way, could I Tom-erize this list from another driver, meaning putting the list not in any logical order recognizable to man other than the driver who has it arranged in throwing order. Small matter of only about 48 entries to be re-ordered on the route sheet plus 13 that have to have a status change and then be put in 2 places other than the other 48. Eyes were watering bigtime by the time that got finished. Boss finally got back at 3 and I was outta there by 3:15. With the lunch hour I didn't get to take at the usual time, I only lost 45 minutes of paid time. Not a bad thing.

Got home. Starving. Breakfast at 6 am and a double hand full of Wheat Thins at 9:30 don't last all day. Fixed some fish and shrimp and even fed the cats early so I could enjoy a quiet dinner. HAH.  The first plate full tasted so good I decided to try a second.  Had just sat down to continue eating when a cat barfs on the floor. Why do they always have to do that at mealtime?  Got up, grabbed paper towels and proceeded to clean up that spot only to hear a second spot being created around the corner. More paper towels. Sneak look at dinner plate -- good thing, no cat in sight. Mop, mop, return to garbage can to discard paper towels before turning back to dinner ------ and find another cat on the table just beginning to scarf fish and shrimp. This was too much to be borne!  I yelled. Cat flipped around and dove off desk followed by plate of fish and shrimp --- and chili sauce. Food flies everywhere.  Cat disappears. Swept and wiped up food. Settled for a bowl of cereal for the remainder of dinner.

I'd go to bed now but the way this day is going the dam thing will collapse on me or something.

Some days all you can do is laugh helplessly because if you cry, you're sunk.

I sure hope Saturday starts out better or I'm definitely NOT getting out of bed on Sunday!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lesson from a Book

I got a book in the mail today. That's nothing exceptional for me since I get most of my books from places on the internet. It may be prideful, but books I want to read aren't commonly found on the shelves of Barnes & Noble three miles down the road to the west or Borders three miles in the opposite direction. That would be great if I read thrillers and mysteries like I used to and in the quantity I used to, but aside from forays into the Harry Potter books as soon as they came out, I've felt little draw toward even the British cozies that used to be my favorite reading matter. Once in a while they still are like a cool lemon sherbet that refreshes and cleanses the palate while not taking up a lot of room in the tummy but for my normal meat-and-potatoes, I crave denser, sometimes drier fare.

I found it as advertised: looking new, dust cover still fully intact, binding tight, no underlining or highlighting, and, in short, looking like it had never been opened although there was a little wear on the back of the dust jacket. Right in the middle of the front jacket, though, was a price tag with a ridiculously low price the bookseller was asking. The bright yellow of the tag stuck on the clear red, blue and white of the dust jacket was almost an affront.

I'm prideful enough to want people to think I can afford to buy books without sale stickers. To walk around with a book that has a reduced price tag on it is almost like walking around with the price tag on a shirt or pair of jeans hanging out or having a piece of toilet paper trailing from the bottom of a shoe. People judge things based on how much they cost and how luxurious they appear to be. It's a pretty shallow way to look at things, in my opinion, but I do it myself so that makes me as guilty as the next Joe or Jane.

I couldn't wait to liberate my "new" book from the ignominious tag someone had glued on the front of it with a price that had been scratched out and a second and lower price added. The book did seem to look a bit brighter with the cheap tag removed, like it had a bit more self-respect. The colors brightened up considerably. The value of a book, for me, isn't in the price I pay for it but rather what I get from it. Maybe it’s anthropomorphic of me but I think the book senses that.

So now I have my book in my hands and I have begun reading the introduction. If it continues in the vein in which it has begun, the $1.25 price tag will have been ridiculously cheap.

People aren’t commodities like books or Hummers or Gucci bags and shoes but they are still subject to judgment of their worth based on appearance. While people don’t wear price tags visible on their foreheads, there are some who appear to me as if they’d been consigned to the “used” bin with sale prices cut to the barest minimum and some who seem to have stepped right out of the window of Tiffany. I’m guilty of making those judgments myself. I’m looking at their covers rather than at what’s inside. When I look in the mirror I see a huge price tag with a sum that could buy several pieces of penny bubble gum. Subconsciously I know God doesn’t see me that way but it’s what I see. Maybe God is just as anxious to rid me of the ugly bright-yellow sale tag on my forehead as I was to rid my book of its sticker.

Now if I could just remember to look at others at full value and without sale tags or store labels. I wish that were as easy as it is with books. Maybe that’s an unintended and unwritten lesson from the newest book in my library. We’ll see.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Woman With the Bent Back

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. -- Luke 13:10-17, NRSV)

Have 10 people read this story and tell what the story is about, you'll probably hear "Oh, it's about the (fill in the adjective or expletive) Pharisees trying to trap Jesus for healing a woman on the Sabbath. Well, normally I'd agree with them but I read something a few days ago that turned my thinking around.

In Killen and De Beer's The Art of Theological Reflection, one of the exercises for a TR beginning with a tradition or tradition source was this passage.  They offered a meditation not on Jesus and the Pharisees but on the woman, the bent-backed one who precipitated the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees and who slipped back into oblivion as suddenly as she emerged from it.

I don't know a lot about her, only that she was a woman, she had been afflicted with the severe curvature of the spine for 18 years, and she had come to the synagogue. That's not a lot of information to go on but perhaps it is enough to be of value.

I know people suffering with osteoporosis, some of them having suffered with it for years and to a great extent. If I walk around bent over at the waist for a few minutes and try to see something above the ground it hurts, and the longer it goes on the worse it gets. There isn't much to be seen other than the ground, the edge of the road and people's feet unless I strain my neck upward which adds another level of pain. Nothing is said of her pain but it's almost certain she had it. It didn't stop her from going about, though, at least, not to the synagogue and probably other places as well. She might have gotten jostled by people looking over where her head would be and not seeing her but that was their kind of blindness just as seeing too far ahead and too high up was hers. People would probably have ignored her, possibly being afraid that to take notice or be kind would open them up to the same kind of spirit coming into them as they were sure had come into her. It wasn't a "go see the local orthopedist and see if he can't help" kind of culture. Whatever was wrong with you probably came from an evil spirit as a result of something you (or your parents) had done and this was the punishment.

She was a woman. In those times she would most likely have been a wife or widow but for her affliction. If she were unmarried she would have been under her father's care or her oldest brother, and would probably been considered a burden since in her disfigured state she could not marry or bring a dowry to the family while still needing to be fed and taking food from someone else to supply her meager needs. Her coming to the synagogue alone was clue -- she probably did not have a husband, father, son or brother to watch out for her. It was unheard of for women to just go wandering about, even to do such a  thing as going to synagogue alone.

I wonder what went through her mind when Jesus, a stranger and therefore someone who would not have come in direct contact with a single female to whom he was not related, called her to him. What did she think when he spoke to her and, horror of horrors, actually put his hands on her! He was compounding taboo on top of taboo and yet suddenly she could stand up straight for the first time in 18 years and look him in the eye. If she had come to the synagogue to praise God before, she now had a thousand times the reason to continue with what she had originally come to do.

Putting myself in her shoes, I wonder what my particular bent-edness is. Physical pain, yes, I have that. Anger, yes, fear, yes, envy, depression, uncertainty, all yes. What would life be like for me if I walked into church with the sole purpose of worshiping and were suddenly healed of the brokenness that had been a crippling part of my life for so long? The woman most likely had the philosophy that "what can't be cured must be endured," and she (and maybe her family) had possibly tried everything possible to cure her of her infirmity. I can understand that one. Still, pain or not, she plugged along as best she could.

There are times I wish I could run into a Jesus who would call me over and without a protracted examination of what was wrong with me, what results I hoped for, what treatment I'd had and what life changes I were willing to make in order to be healed, would just tell me to stand up straight and it would be an achievable action. So far I haven't reached that level of faith, if that is what is holding me back.

I do thank that nameless woman, though, for reminding me that there is bent-ness and broken-ness I can bring to the praise of God. I'm not dead so even if I hurt or feeling broken and brittle I can still praise God and maybe, just maybe, healing will result or at least begin unasked.