13 December 2016

The Witch of Endor: Poor Child

1. Samuel 28:3-25

You used to be the mighty King,
persecutor of the likes of me;
the scourge of all who practised my craft,
enemy of those not loyal to your god.
Your name alone meant dread to me -
today, do you bring death to me?

But now
your shell is cracked
and you seep through:
wounds and tears
from beneath the armour,
a broken man
underneath the mask.
I thought you were a mighty King -
but I all I see is a lost child
cowering frightened at my feet.

You believe yourself forsaken
by God and by men,
thrown aside and replaced
by a better man.
You believe yourself hated,
feel lost and alone -
my hunter is hunted
my persecutor brought low.
You have clung to your power;
you fought and you fought...
but not even the mighty
can stay the hand of God.

You used to be the mighty King,
persecutor of the likes of me.
Now here you are, a lost child,
cowering frightened at my feet.
Now I could gloat
to see my hunter hunted,
to see you brought low
by the god you disobeyed.
But all I see is a lost child
cowering frightened at my feet.

So I will be the comforting arms
to rock you, poor child, into much-needed sleep.
So I will be the motherly love
that you so hungered for.
So I'll provide you with one last meal,
with strength for the road,
that last heavy road
into failure and death.
So I, the heathen, will be God's final sign
that he hasn't forsaken you.


[13. December 2016]

The story of Saul, first king of Israel, is a very interesting and tragic one. Saul is chosen by God to be the first king when the Israelites pressure Him for one. He is a quiet, reserved, taller-than-average guy, used to farming. But he becomes Israel's leader in the wars against the Philistines. But then, he falls into disgrace with God and things start spiralling down. Saul is "rejected" by God, and a new king, David, is annointed. My Old Testament professor once pointed out that Saul was not rejected or forsaken as a person, but as king. Saul's mistake was clinging on to power after God had told him it was over. The Israelites wanted a king - God gave them a king, but on His own terms, meaning this kingship would not be like that of the gentile kings. God would be above the king, and God would be the one to decide who is king and for how long, i.e. the kingship wouldn't be a lifelong or inheritable thing.

This story of Saul's encounter with the witch / medium in Endor (1. Sam 28) begins with silence... Saul stands before a war with the Philistines and no matter what methods he tries to communicate with God and find out God's will, God is silent. Which of course only increases his feeling of forsakenness which has been following him for years now. In utter desperation, Saul goes to a medium - someone practising the forbidden Canaanite practices that he had tried to exterminate. He wants to try to talk to his dead mentor Samuel to find out God's will.

Is Saul really as forsaken as he feels? My OT prof's view that God did not reject Saul as person, but in his role as king, really opened my eyes to a new understanding of Saul's story. Saul develops a kind of "persecution complex", especially once he starts to see David as a rival. But David never tries to forcefully take the kingship from him - i.e. Saul's fear is not really warranted. It is Saul's insistence on clinging to power that drives him mad and makes him paranoid. And maybe Saul himself, like many interpreters of his story, believes God has rejected him personally.

What Saul doesn't see is the many little messages of grace along his way. David sparing his life multiple times is one of the more obvious ones. But especially towards the end of his life, there are little pinpoints of love which I believe (and maybe I'm reading too much from the p.o.v. of the New Testament but I don't care) are from God. One is the witch insisting on giving Saul food and rest before he goes to the battle that will kill him. Another (after Saul's death) is the people of Jabesh ensuring he gets a proper, honourable burial when no one else seems to care.

And yes, I do believe that God can work through unexpected, "unholy" people like this medium who did stuff that the Bible calls an "abomination". As I said: I'm coming from the NT in this. Because in the NT we see Jesus praising gentiles for their faith (the centurion, the Syro-Phoenician woman), saying prostitutes will get to heaven before Pharisees and Saducees (the religious people of the day). It's not even just in the NT actually; already in the OT we often see non-believers showing more understanding and faith than the believers (the people of Israel), e.g. the prostitute Rahab, Uriah the Hittite who was more just than David, and quite a few others. God works in weird ways and not at all in our neatly bounded system - and I think through that shows us all the more strongly that He is God of all the world. I believe the fact that a "heathen" shows love and care to Saul at the end of his life shows all the more emphatically that God has not forsaken him - and that He does speak, just not the way Saul expected him to.

Picture by Dmitri Martynov

22 November 2016

Ishbosheth's Porter: Was it me?

2 Samuel 4 (LXX)

Was it me?
Was it my fault?
Because I left open the door?
Because I fell asleep?
Was it my failure
that let them slip in?
Was it my negligence
that killed my king?

I know, it was them
who wielded the knife.
I know, it was them
who committed the crime.
And yet it is I
weighed down by guilt.
And yet it is I
weighed down by shame.

What if
I had stayed awake?
What if
I had locked the door?
What if
I had been there to stop them,
to prevent their evil plan?
What if
I had not lain
huddled in a corner
fast asleep?

I know it is foolish,
but my mind twists and turns,
playing with "what ifs",
repeating the scene
in all the variations
of what might have been,
what could have been prevented
if not for me.

There is no punishment -
there is no reprieve.
I am alone,
imprisoned in this guilt
that makes no sense to feel.
Who can set me free
from these what ifs
screaming in my mind,
accusing me?

Was it my negligence
that killed my king?
Was it my fault?
Was it me?


[21. November 2016]

Actually this woman doesn't exist. Maybe. I found her in 2. Samuel 4:6 in my 1982 Luther translation - turns out she shows up nowhere else, and the 2017 Luther Bible has her removed. After discovering that the verse is so very different in all other Bibles I checked, and even looking up the Hebrew (although my Hebrew sucks), I decided to check the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT, which in a few places is different from the Hebrew basis of our modern Bibles), and - tadaa - there we have our porter, though the English version I linked above makes it male (Luther clearly makes it female). I checked my Greek dictionary: the porter is ἡ θυρωρὸς - according to the dictionary the usually masculine -ὸς ending stays the same in the feminine form, but the feminine article ἡ shows it's a female porter. Which means Luther is correct and in the Septuagint it is a woman!

Anyway, the story behind this: Saul has been killed in battle, and David has finally become king - but only of Judah. The rest of Israel is ruled by Saul's son Ishbosheth. A war ensues. But Ishbosheth is starting to lose support. Two of his captains plan to kill him. They sneak into his house and kill him in his bed.
The porter is only mentioned in passing - and only in the Septuagint. I wonder why older versions of the Luther Bible have this Septuagint verse. I don't mind really - it added me another lady to my list and let me write this poem. ;-)

The porter was asleep when the two assassins sneaked in. I decided to write about the guilt she might have felt... I can imagine that when you are involved in a tragedy or crime or surprising loss, you start wondering whether you could have prevented it from happening, what you might have done, what you did wrong. That she fell asleep is already one thing she can hang a lot of guilt on: maybe she thinks that if only she had been awake, she would have been able to keep the men out. (But would she, though? They were his captains. She would probably have trusted them and they might have made plausible excuses. Being awake would probably not have prevented the crime either! But when you're running through the "what ifs", you don't consider that!)

That kind of guilt is very hard to deal with, because we have no answers - we don't know what would have happened if we had only done this or that differently. And it's easy to imagine that one little thing might have changed the whole outcome of what happened - but who knows? I guess going through such feelings of guilt is also a natural part of grief... as long as we don't stay stuck in it. I'm thinking what's helpful is to voice the guilt, to let it out (to God, to another person). And for others to take the guilt seriously, but also be comforting and remind the one affected that it is not their fault.

06 November 2016

Eve: The Fall

Genesis 3

Lies plant the seed
of distrust, clutching like a weed,
whisp'ring to my heart,
tearing me apart.
Distrust clouds my eyes;
feeling wronged, deprived
wrongfully - why
why can't I take what I desire?
Greed feeds the fire,
distrust rankles, the gap grows wider -

I am on the throne.
I rule myself now.
I, not you,
and I am free.

You call my name -
I flee in shame.
What have I done?
I need you near,
but, filled with fear,
repel you. I run
but cannot hide
from this guilt that stings inside.
What have I done?

Gnawing and biting,
a monster growing,
unwashable stain,
unquenchable pain,
sorrow and night,
no help in sight.

Homesick, I cry,
but the gap is too wide,
the road back fissured and torn.
I seek and wander aimlessly,
ensnared, when I would be free.
I reach - I fall - I fall again,
burning with the fire
of unsatisfied desire:
a hunger for you.
What can I do
to be saved from this death?

You reach - you die.
Why, oh why?
Into my destruction,
into my night,
you bring your light,
pull out the weeds,
rekindle trust.
No longer lost
I live again,

you are on the throne.
You rule my life now.
You, loving you,
and I am free.


[July 2013 - commentary November 2016]

I originally wrote this poem as a reaction J.R.R. Tolkien's Silmarillion (excellent book!), which had made me think more deeply about what the "fall" (Sündenfall) means and how it came about. A prose version of those thoughts can be found here. ^^;

I find this poem really suits Eve. It was written sort of from the point of view of the "falling one" - though I believe that all of us go through our own "fall" and it is wrong to put the whole burden on Eve, as though she were the one who first brought sin into the world. We each bring sin into the world again and again, by repeating the mindset that got it all rolling... I know that I went through the kind of thing this poem describes!

What I realised reading The Sil (I love how novels and other books sometimes open my eyes anew to the Bible) and, at the same time, studying the themes of sin, atonement and justification from a shame-culture perspective, was that sin is not about breaking rules or being disobedient. It's actually about a break in relationship, about a loss of trust which leads to all sorts of other ills. The break of relationship with God leads to a break of relationship with others: we see that when Adam and Eve start pushing blame. And it goes on and spreads and grows: Cain kills Abel, committing the first murder. We see violent people like Lamech in the early genealogies of Gen 4-5. Sin is not just about me and God - it affects everything, it is a "social" thing. That is why when Jesus calls us to repentance, He calls us not just to love God, but to love others. Because reconciliation is not just about receiving forgiveness from God, but about peace with other people and with all creation, too.

Many people are uncomfortable with being called "sinners". Maybe because Christians have used the concept of "sin" almost like a weapon, or pressured others with it. But I believe that deep down we all know we have a problem, that we keep hurting each other, hurting ourselves, that something is broken between ourselves and God, ourselves and other people, and also within ourselves in the way we look at ourselves. And I believe that is sin. Sin is not about the things we "do wrong" (although that's part of it). Sin goes deeper; it's about the fissures and cracks, the distrust and fear and harmful attitudes, that keep us restless bring about the wrong that we do.

I know many are uncomfortable talking about sin - but I believe we must talk about sin, we must be able to confess sin, we must be able to openly face our brokenness. Because we know it's there and we struggle with it. I believe - and have experienced - that it is very liberating to be able to admit to what is broken in me - and to know that this brokenness is not everything, that there is healing, that God does not want to cast us out but comes looking for us (as He looked for Adam and Eve in the garden), that He wants to reconcile us to Him and help us find reconciliation with others and with all of creation. Confessing sin does not mean saying you're a bad person - it means being yourself before God, with all parts of you, even those you don't like - and knowing that, just as you are, you are loved.

Picture by Lucas Cranach der Ältere.

11 October 2016

Susanna: The God Who Questions Me

Luke 8:1-3

God used to be easier
when his views fit my own,
when he affirmed what I already believed,
when he moved within my stereotypes,
proved right what I already knew.

God used to be easier
when my enemies were his,
when he affirmed my prejudice,
when he approved of the boundaries
drawn up between "us" and "them".

God used to live
in this comfortable box
of the culture I knew
and the worldview I treasured,
among people I loved
who thought just like me.

But now
You have opened the box
and He runs wild and free,
challenging me
and who I thought He is.

This God questions my long-held beliefs,
challenges all I thought I knew,
tears down my prejudices
and won't let me be
the way I used to be.

Now God is teaching me
to touch those who once disgusted me,
to love those I looked down upon,
to open my heart to the ones I rejected,
to open my eyes to wounds I was blind to see,
to embrace those who once were repulsive to me.

For you touch the lepers,
you eat with sinners,
you mingle with rabble,
commune with foreigners.
You show me the God
I have misunderstood,
the God I only saw
through my own clouded lenses
that sought confirmation of my distaste
instead of seeking truth.

So let me follow You, my Lord,
overcoming all hatred, disgust and fear.
Let me follow You, my Lord,
my God who questions me.


[11. October 2016]

Susanna is one of the female followers of Jesus listed in Luke 8:1-3. Most likely she was a wealthy woman, since it says she contributed financially to Jesus' ministry. We know little more than that about her - so in this poem she is the "voice" for a particular issue of following Jesus that has been on my mind lately.

I believe what makes Christianity different is (or should be, if Christians were actually Christlike) the overcoming of boundaries, loving people who are unlovable either to our society (outcasts, people our culture looks down upon) or to ourselves (enemies, personal disgust). "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Mt 5:46-47)

Our faith should not affirm our disgust with certain people or groups, but challenge us to go beyond our feelings, also beyond what society says, to show them God's love.

I often hear this kind of argumentation in the context of calls to be "stricter", to push through some "biblical law" against "feelings" and "modern culture". You may have noticed I take this the other way round in this poem... The specific discussion I'm coming from is the ongoing (getting really tired of this) debates around homosexuality. Many Christians push for a "firm stand" for "what the Bible says". The truth is, though, that the Bible says much less about the issue than we like to think it does. Ultimately, I believe, if we are honest, our views on this issue are based much less on the Bible than on our feelings and our cultural norms, which lead us to back off from anything that doesn't fit the standard. That is a completely natural human reaction! The natural reaction to anything foreign and strange is defensiveness and rejection. However, Jesus calls us to go beyond our natural human reactions. Which means going beyond our feelings (of disgust or confusion or fear) to see the human being before us.

I believe that God loves all of us, as sinful as we are. His love calls us to love Him back. We love God by keeping His commandments (John 14:15) - and His greatest commandment is to love our neighbour (Mt 22:36-40), to love each other (John 13:34). Being holy and perfect like our heavenly Father means loving our enemies and the unlovable, even those undeserving of our love (Mt 5:38-48) - because that is precisely what God did by becoming Man and letting Himself be brutally crucified, forgiving His murderers. Love is the fulfillment of all commandments. Which is why love needs to be our priority - without love, we are not fulfilling all the other commandments either!

It's easy to look over the fence into other people's (and other Christians') lives and say what they need to be changing. And maybe they do need to do some changing - a changed life, after all, is a central part of being a Christian. But it's not always "the others" (the "sinners", e.g. LGBTQ) who need to change. Maybe we need to look in the mirror first and change too. More often than the "sinners" and outcasts of the time, it was the pious people, the "Bible-based believers" of the day, the Pharisees, whom Jesus called to repentance! Shouldn't that be food for thought? Where are we holding on to cultural norms and insisting on reading the Bible through a biased lens, instead of letting God actually challenge us? Where are we ultimately abusing the Bible for our own ends, to legitimise or explain our discomfort, instead of letting it question our assumptions?

I see a lot of conservative Christians accuse pro-LGBTQ Christians of not taking the Bible seriously, and instead adapting it to fit their own feelings, wishes and agendas. I must say I used to think that way too. But it's a lazy argument - one which can be turned around. Because I believe very often, we have used the Bible and used God to only confirm what we already believed, to confirm our prejudices (not just in this issue but also in others like race, support for war, etc.), and to legitimise our lack of love. But love is THE commandment of God. It is never right to legitimise a lack of love towards other people - because God calls us to love the unlovable, even our enemies. A lack of love is something we need to confess and pray about and wrestle with (maybe all our lives), but never something we are allowed to make excuses for.

Sorry. Probably stepped on some feet. Here, have a band-aid. <3

Picture by Jean-Marie Melchior Doze (Jesus healing a leper).

09 October 2016

Abigail: Disobedient

1. Samuel 25

I will disobey you,
my Husband -
I will ignore your command.
I will subvert your decision,
I will counter your wish.
I will disobey you,
my Husband -
and save us all.

How can I idly sit and watch
as your choice risks our destruction?
How can I stay silent and passive
in the face of such danger?
How can I submit
to the threat of war
when in my hands
lies the chance to make peace?

I will disobey you,
my Husband -
I will do what you refused:
I will share of our wealth
with these men who have asked us
before they take it by force.
I will disobey you,
my Husband -
and save us all.

I will not let my weapons rust,
my gifts of wit and diplomacy.
I will not bury God's gift of wisdom
beneath a false submissiveness
when I can use it now for peace,
to reconcile
and save us all.

God does not ask me
to submit without question
and obey you unconditionally.
God does not ask me
to sit silent at home
while all around me
the world crashes down.
God does not ask me
to quash my own will
beneath that of a man,
be it my husband
or my future king -

I will disobey you,
my Husband -
I will take initiative.
I will go out and save you
from certain death,
I will go out and save him
from the sin of murder,
I will go out and save us all.


[9. October 2016]

Recently I read this story again... David (on the run from Saul with a band of outlaws) asks the wealthy landowner Nabal to provide food for his men - in return for the protection they have given Nabal's shepherds. Nabal refuses. David is angered and decides to kill everyone on Nabal's estate.

This is where Abigail, Nabal's wife, steps in. She decides to override Nabal's decision and goes out to meet David with the provisions he asked for - thus preventing the massacre David had planned. She saves Nabal (and the servants, shepherds etc) from being killed, and saves David from bringing sin upon himself. Abigail becomes the mediator between Nabal and David, and becomes their "saviour" - all this by being disobedient and insubmissive!
(The help comes too late for Nabal, who is so frustrated with what Abigail has done that he "becomes like stone" and dies some days later. David, on the other hand, takes Abigail to be his third wife.)

This made me think of how conservatives like to talk about "biblical womanhood", i.e. what the role of women should be according to the Bible. According to conservatives ("complementarianism"), God has given men and women distinct roles: men shall lead, women submit and follow. The man is the head of the family, the woman should obey him. Leadership roles in the church also are reserved for men alone; women are not allowed to become pastors, preach or teach men. This is based mainly on a few texts in the letters of Paul (e.g. Eph 5:22, 1. Tim 2:11-15).

I believe this is a highly selective reading - and one that is not "counter-cultural", but clinging on to the patriarchal culture the Bible continuously subverts. The Bible is full of stories of women who dance out of this pattern of submissiveness and through their insubordination actually end up saving the day or fulfilling God's plan. Abigail is just one example. Others include:
  • Zipporah, who saved Moses' life by circumcising his sons (Ex 4:24-26) - something he for some reason had failed to or refused to do.
  • Deborah, who was a prophet and judge (leadership role), and in her story comes across as the strong woman warrior braver than the male captain Barak. Her husband hardly features in her story. (Judges 4)
  • Esther, who broke the rules and dared to approach the king unbidden to speak up for her persecuted people (Esther 5). Even as his wife, Esther was barred (on threat of death!) from coming to the king unless he called her.
  • Women in the early church like Philipp's daughters, the deacon Phoebe or the apostle Junia who did not stick to the traditional "women's roles" dictated by their culture, but served God in the church and in teaching and leadership roles.
There is hardly a single woman in the Bible who fits the "subservient" role conservative Christian leaders call "biblical". If we want to understand texts like Eph 5 and 1. Tim 2 properly, then we need to understand them in the context of the whole Bible, which includes stories of women disobeying their husbands, taking initiative and taking on roles conservatives like to reserve for men.

I believe true biblical womanhood is not unquestioning submission to your husband. Men can be wrong. We have been given gifts by God which we are to use. Marriage is about teamwork, not about my husband telling me what to do and me slavishly following without asking whether he's leading me in the right direction. Being a wife is not about simply doing all my husband wants, because there's a world out there and maybe his decisions harm us, or himself, or people out there. We are responsible before God and we can't hide behind submission - we have been given gifts to use them, when God calls us we are to follow (even if He calls us into a role our culture doesn't agree with), and when our husbands' decisions are harmful and we know it, we are in a position to do something. Like Abigail, like Esther, like many other women in the Bible who "disobeyed" - and in doing so, saved the day and did right in the eyes of God.

"Submission" is not about unconditional obedience, but about love, honour and respect - and sometimes love, honour and respect are exactly what call us to disobedience... (Btw for more on the correct meaning of "submit" in Eph 5, check out this article.)

Picture by Juan Antonio Escalante.

24 August 2016

Mother of James and John: Greatness

Matthew 20:20-28

I thought you had come to bring success,
health, wealth and all the rest.
I thought you had come to fulfill all our dreams,
restore our nation to greatness,
grant prosperity.
I thought you chose my sons
to lift them into power,
helming your revolution with you,
mighty and glorious in your splendourous reign.
How disappointing
to be turned away.

But here at your cross
I understand.

I sought greatness, fulfillment and glory -
you taught the path of selflessness.
I wanted God to grant me my wishes -
you chose humble obedience.
I wanted power -
you carried the cross.
I wanted to win -
you freely chose loss.
I was serving myself,
while you served God
and served us all
through your self-denying love.

Here at your cross
I understand
that the first will be last
and the last will be first;
that greatest is she
who makes herself small -
for the Lord of all Lords
became servant to all.

Here at your cross
I understand,
as God is revealed
in godforsakenness,
as a weapon of torture
becomes your throne,
as your shame becomes your glory -
I understand.


[24. August 2016, between Kaohsiung and Hong Kong]

Mrs Zebedee had high hopes for her sons. The other Gospels have James and John ask Jesus themselves; only in Matthew does their mother ask him for them (I picture her as an ambitious Tiger Mother): Might James and John not become Jesus' "second in command", top ministers in his Kingdom, at his right and left?

Jesus said no - they did not understand what they were asking for (v. 22). The places at his right and left were already decided on (v. 23 - said to be the criminals crucified with Jesus). The greatest in God's Kingdom is not the one who has power over others, but the one who serves (v. 25-28).

Mrs Zebedee is thinking in very human terms, our own human ideas of what greatness is, what prayer / asking things from God means, etc. She has human expectations. Jesus revolutionises that kind of thinking. It's what Paul describes in 1. Cor 2-3 as the wisdom of God and "spiritual" thinking replacing our "fleshly" way of thinking. That is a process (growth and discipleship), as the Holy Spirit works in us.

It is very easy to stay stuck in Mrs Zebedee's way of thinking, though... to remain in some way self-obsessed (maybe even unconsciously, maybe even supported by bad theology e.g. the "prosperity gospel"), wanting only blessing and success from God, expecting him to give us a comfortable life, when really he calls us to emulate his Son in self-denial, service and love to the others (especially those hard to love).

I believe we need to look at the cross of Jesus... Some traditions (comparing the different Gospels) equate Mrs Zebedee with Salome, one of the women who stood by the cross as Jesus died. Maybe she did not really have her "aha moment" there, but I believe a good look at the cross can give us one! I especially like John's representation of the crucifixion as Jesus' "enthronement", his moment of highest glory. Jesus' glory was where by our human thinking we would have seen total shame. God subversively turns around our thinking and our understanding of greatness and glory. Glory is not to be found in power, the cross shows us, but in weakness.

So our priorities should not be success and comfort and getting all we want. Our priority should be the good of others (just as it was for Jesus), even at the cost of suffering and failure. Jesus did not call us to become "great" - he called us to be a blessing.

Picture by Paolo Veronese.

21 August 2016

Michal: The Love is Gone

"Now as the ark of the LORD came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. (...) Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, 'How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!'" (2. Samuel 6:16+20)

The world has lost
its rose-tinted hue.
The butterflies
have flown away.
What I once felt for you
has gone.
I don't know where.

when I look at you
I feel only resentment
and pain;
at having been so stupid
to fall in love with you.

You were my hero,
you were my hope.
I gave everything for you.
I lied for you,
I would have died for you.
All these years
I waited for you,
I pined for you,
I wanted to stay true to you -
But what did you give to me?

I thought
that you loved me too,
as strongly and dearly
as I loved you -
was it asking too much
to expect you to be
faithful to only one woman - me?

The world has lost
its rose-tinted hue -
I see you now
as you truly are,
and can't believe
I ever loved
this womanising man
for whom I'm just a trophy,
something you paid for
to add to your collection,
one among many -
you disgust me.

I look at you
and all the love is gone.
I look at you

and despise you.


[23. / 24. November 2012] - one of the very old ones

Michal was David's first wife. She was in love with him (1 Sam 18:20); he "won" her from Saul by killing 200 Philistines and bringing back their foreskins (ew). When Saul wanted to kill David, she saved him. (1 Sam 19) Later when David was in hiding, Saul married her off to someone else (1 Sam 25:44). Once David became king, he fetched her back (2 Sam 3).

I've noticed people often view Michal negatively. Probably mainly because of her reaction in 2 Sam 6:16-23 to David's dancing in front of the Ark of the Covenant:
"Now as the ark of the LORD came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. (...) Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, 'How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!'" (2. Sam 6:16+20)

But isn't her reaction understandable? She was David's first wife. He had how many other wives after that - and then danced around (half?)naked in full view of everyone. Sure, he said it was for the Lord (v.21) - but after all the womanising she'd seen I think it's understandable that she did not accept that for an answer.

So this poem is basically about "falling out of love". At first we see only this perfect image of our partner - and with time, that perfect image gives way to who he really is. Question is: do I like it, can I forgive him, can I live with it? Michal's answer was: no.

Picture by Francesco Salviati

20 August 2016

The Poor Widow's Offering: Generous

Mark 12:41-44

Generous God,
you have given me
all that I need -
not very much,
but it is enough.
Open my eyes
to see all you've provided -
more than possessions,
a wealth more than wealth.
I want to give thanks
for the riches you've given:
the breath in my body,
enough food to eat,
my beautiful children,
the knowledge of You.

Mysterious God,
it is true
my cup was not always sweet,
and much bitterness
has stained my years.
And I've cried and complained,
not understood your ways -
except this: you are love
and you understand my pain.
I have swallowed the dregs
of loss and poverty,
of loneliness
and a mother's worry.
Daily I struggle,
yet stubbornly believe,
though you lead me rocky ways,
that you care for me.

Bountiful God,
all I have is yours -
that's so easy to say,
yet so hard to do.
Give me the peace
to share generously -
just like You.
Let me live out the love
you have given to me,
with no fear of tomorrow,
with no fear of suffering.
Let me open my hand
knowing that yours
is always open to me.
You have covered my needs -
how can I not seek
to cover those
of others I meet?

Loving God,
I know my gift is small,
disappearingly small
beside the greater gifts
greater people can bring.
It shames me
as they give me looks
as though I were stingy,
whisper of "impertinence"
or say, "The more you give
the more you shall receive."
You see my gift,
worthless in their eyes -
worthy in yours,
for you see my heart
and what this means to me.
So here I bring
though to them it's nothing,
and I won't be ashamed,
for it's not their approval I seek.

Take my silver and my gold,
not a mite would I withhold -
and if I have no silver nor gold,
take my mite - take them both.


[20. August 2016]

Italicised bit at the end is from Frances Ridley Havergal's hymn "Take my life and let it be" (an old favourite of mine).
Parts of this poem were inspired directly by yesterday's "3 minute retreat" from Loyola Press - highly recommended; it's an app too, try it out (Apple / Android)!

A widow gives two small coins as an offering in the temple (the temple offering would probably have been for supporting the Levites / priests working there - they had no land to farm so were dependent upon tithes etc - and upkeep of the temple). Others give a lot more. Jesus, who is watching, says that the widow in fact gave more than those who brought big gifts, because she gave all she had while the wealthy gave just a portion. I believe she is a perfect example of what Jesus taught about giving in Mt 6. She received no admiration for her gift - and yet it was a big move for her (and God saw it).

There's a lot of (false) preachers pushing for congregations to give money. A huge deal is made out of tithing - often with the tagline "give and you will receive". Giving is good - that "tagline" is dangerous. Because if you give in order to get back, you are in fact acting like an idol-worshipper. A principle I have watched often when I grew up in Taiwan was "give and get back". In traditional religion, you give sacrifices so that the god will give his services to you. It's basically a "business contract". I believe this is the "natural" human way of living religion. But Jesus has taught us a new way. Which means giving is no longer part of a "business contract" with God, where God is "indebted" to give us something back, and where God's blessing is in proportion to the size of our gifts. We are in a relationship with God, welcomed to freely give out of love, not because we "must" and not because we "get something" out of it.

And that's how I view this widow's actions here. She gave out of the generosity of her heart (and possibly out of the experience of God's generosity despite her hardships), gave what she had (trusting in God's provision), and was brave enough to give what must have looked pretty measly to onlookers. Generosity is not giving with the hope of getting something back... it's also not something only possible if you have a lot to give. Generosity (not only when it comes to money, but also e.g. in treatment of others, giving time, giving kindness) takes courage - the trust that we are not going to "lose out" by giving to others.

I have discussions with my boyfriend about tithing sometimes (because he doesn't really believe in it, or the way some people do it). If we're tithing because "it's what one does", or because we "ought to", or because we think we'll "get something back", then I believe we are not tithing in the right way. The size of our gifts doesn't matter, the frequency of our gifts doesn't matter, what matters is our attitude. What matters is our relationship with God. So I believe ultimately it's better not to tithe regularly (but e.g. give randomly when we see a need) than to tithe out of a wrong attitude of legalism (just keeping the rules) or because we want to look good to others.

Picture is by Frederick Goodall.

17 August 2016

Mrs Peter

He comes home
in the middle of the night -
his birthday; I'd cooked
and waited, as it got cold.
He comes home,
shouting, "Darling! Pack! We're leaving!"
And off we are again
to I-don't-know-where.

He comes home
just before lunch -
I'm in the kitchen, cooking
for two, but he
brings a crowd, because
"John's got nowhere to go,
and here's this guy we met today,
and here's his wife,
and look - our new brother!"
(Don't ask me how
our food multiplied.)

Or he doesn't come home
for days on end,
and I wonder:

Is he in prison?
Is he dead?
Or at the other end of the world?
He comes back a month later
with all sorts of news,
lots of dirty washing,
and here and there a souvenir.

Sometimes I miss home,
or times of just us together,
or simply normal life
without faces at the window,
without twenty guests a day,
without fear for his safety.
He doesn't smell of fish now -
which maybe is a good thing -
but some days he comes back bloodied,
and I no longer clean the nets
but his wounds.

But this is my service
of love to him,
and this is my service
of love to the Lord.
Cleaning wounds,
cooking for armies,
meeting the strangers he drags in,
moving so often,
visiting him in prison,
fearing for his life -
all this is worth it,

I get to meet so many people,
I get to share in so much joy,
I get to see so many places,
I get to shine for Christ my Lord.
I would not exchange this life
for comfort or riches or normality -
would not exchange the experience
of watching reconciliation bloom,
of seeing broken lives made new,
of seeing hope rise where there once was despair,
of being a puny cog
in the marvellous work of God.


[17. January 2012 - edited 17. August 2016]

I'm a second generation missionary kid, so I've seen and heard a bit about the lives of missionary wives. I have for instance heard the story that my grandfather (missionary in Sicily) used to bring people to lunch unannounced quite regularly. And I know of missionary families where they had to move from one moment to the next because there was a war, or they were being kicked out of the country, or similar. Not easy.

But missionary wives are not just tag-alongs or behind-the-scenes workers; they are also missionaries in their own right, or should be. In fact, hospitality and cooking for whoever the husband brings home can be a really important way in building relationships and helping people come closer to Jesus. Because often what people experience or see in our family life or our relationships to each other will convince them a lot more than any words we preach! They want to see that Christianity works.

Anyway, the wife of the Apostle Peter probably didn't have it very easy - those days it was a bit harder again than it is now, after all. For instance: we have internet and telephones now, but just a hundred years ago, leaving one's friends and family to become a missionary meant not seeing them or hearing from them for ages. Letters took months to arrive! In ancient times it was even worse. Travelling was harder too, and took longer. No planes, no trains, no cars. And even now, being a missionary is not always easy - depending of course where one lives, and how one lives.

BUT it's worth it. Because there's more to life than comfort, and we have heaven before us with all eternity to catch up on good things we're missing now.

By the way: we don't really read about Peter's wife in the Bible, but we do know he had one. Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law (Mt 8:14-15), i.e. Peter was married, and Paul mentions Peter taking his wife along with him on his mission journeys in 1. Cor 9:5.

Picture is "Fisherman's Wife praying for a happy return" by Henri Jacques Bource - I felt it was quite suitable.

15 August 2016

Euodia and Syntyche: Of One Mind

" I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord." (Philippians 4:2)

How can I agree
with one who is so worldly,
accepts and serves
at expense of God's own truth?
Leaving that out
which is the most important:
salvation and change,
obedience to God?

How can you love God
and yet accept what's sinful?
How can you just preach
what people want to hear?
How can I agree
to what I see you doing?
I cannot be
of one mind with you.

But if my mind is Christ
and if my heart is love
He opens up my eyes,
I see in you
the same passion for Him.

And as we break this bread
and as we share this cup
we are one body, we
are One in the Lord,
Sisters in Christ.

How can I agree
with one who's so one-sided,
obeying the rules
at expense of those God loves?
Talking so much,
not standing up for justice,
not loving the lost
or the marginalised?

How can you love God
and yet not love your neighbour?
How can you condemn
with words that hurt his soul?
How can I agree
with what I see you doing?
I cannot be
of one mind with you.

But if my mind is Christ
and if my heart is love
He opens up my eyes,
I see in you
the same passion for Him.

And as we break this bread
and as we share this cup
we are one body, we
are One in the Lord,
Sisters in Christ.

He gives us gifts,
He gives us love,
He sends us out
to be His light.
The gifts we have
are different
yet incomplete
when separate.

So may our minds be Christ
and may our hearts be love
and may His Spirit work
through gifts that He
has given to us.

We may be different
yet we are meant to share;
we are one body, we
are One in the Lord,
Sisters in Christ.


[23. June 2013]

Inspired by an awesome ecumenics course (June 2013). ^^

I suddenly had the idea that this would make a good "duet" - since it's about two people. And the idea is that they go from disagreeing to seeing that Christ unites them. So this turned into a song and yes it has a melody (but due to my music theory being really crappy I have still not written it down 3 years later).

I opposed two viewpoints in this poem; I'm not sure I chose the right positions to pit against each other, but since I had a melody in my head this was what fit the melody... ^^; (Yes melody sort of came first for this one.)

Both of these things are important (loving God and loving one's neighbour) but I get the feeling that certain (mostly theologically conservative) churches put more focus on loving God, sometimes to such an extent that they don't think so much about actually going out and changing the world, or even hurt people in the process of trying to teach them truth, while others (generally more "liberal" / "progressive" churches) put more focus on serving people, sometimes to such an extent that they bend the Bible a little or become selective so as to be more accepting of marginalised groups (e.g. concerning the homosexuality issue).

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus wants both love of God and love of neighbour from us, since He says the greatest commandment is both (Mt 22:36-40). And it's a sad thing that it's so easy to get one-sided and emphasise one thing so much that the other side gets neglected. We need both.

But this poem is not just about "balancing out" the viewpoints or which is "right". It's about church unity. Who are Euodia and Syntyche? They are two co-workers of Paul who disagreed about *something* (doesn't say what), and he exhorted them to be "of one mind" (Phil 4:2). I took them here as examples of disagreement, differences and unity in the church.

Recently I realised the beauty of being brothers and sisters in Christ, about how Jesus actually breaks down boundaries between people (story here). And I think denominational boundaries shouldn't block us from each other either. I sometimes see certain Christians venting against certain other Christians, and I think often the problem is that when we act like that, we fail to see the other person as someone just as passionate for Jesus. Last week I was with people I did not always fully agree with theologically. But I had the impression with most of them that they really have a genuine relationship with Jesus. In the end, only God knows who the "true believers" are - and those are scattered, in my opinion (and Augustine and Luther thought the same haha :D) throughout the different churches of the world (in the universal "invisible church"). We don't need to all think the same way - but we need to recognise others as our brothers and sisters even if we don't always agree with them 100%, and let ourselves and our way of thinking and doing be challenged by theirs. This past week I learnt that each denomination has its strengths which we can learn from. God has given us different gifts, different points of view, different areas of focus - and I believe we're meant to combine all this as one body, to His glory, instead of rejecting one another.

A true Christianity is in the end both positions together (i.e. loving God and loving our neighbour). Because we can't love and serve God without loving and serving our neighbour. I wouldn't compromise at all on that. If people use "serving God" as an excuse to trample on people, they are in the wrong and behaving in a non-Christian manner. Most of the time, though, where churches have a different "focus", we can learn from each other or be reminded by each other of certain aspects we are weaker on. Differences in theological detail do not mean that "something's wrong"; we should be open to working with and learning from other denominations, and recognising in them our brothers and sisters for whom Jesus is just as important as for us! (More here - from ages ago though)

Picture by Théodore Chassériau

14 August 2016

Nympha: Make This House Your Own

"Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house." (Colossians 4:15)

O Lord our God
who has brought us together,
turned this hodge-podge mix of people
into a family -
take this house, we pray,
and make it your own.

May this be a place
that strangers call home;
an open door
to the far and the near,
the lost and the seeking,
sinners and righteous,
Gentile and Jew.

May this be the place
where we can show our true face:
be ourselves without fear,
confess and find forgiveness,
be radically accepted
into bottomless grace.

May this be the place
where we learn to love each other
as you have loved us,
where enemy becomes brother
and stranger becomes friend.

O Lord our God
who has brought us together,
take this house, we pray,
and make it your own.

Save us from the temptation
of making it a fortress,
fenced off from the world,
from which we defend
our values and beliefs.

Save us from the temptation
of shutting ourselves in
and keeping for ourselves
what we were meant to share.

Save us from the temptation
of trying to create
a perfect kingdom here on Earth
at the cost of the broken
whom you have come to heal.

O Lord our God
who has brought us together,
take this house, we pray,
and make it your own.

May it be a refuge
from the storm of persecution,
a safe haven
in a world that's torn apart,
a rock for the castaways to cling to.

May it be a greenhouse
where your children can grow
ever deeper in the fullness
of your love and your mercy,
bringing fruit to feed
those who hunger for you.

May it be the table
at which we are strengthened,
prepared for the task you have set us to do,
from which we carry your gifts
to a waiting world.

O Lord our God
who has brought us together,
take this house, we pray,
and make it your own.


[14. August 2016]

A prayer for a church...
In the early church, Christians met in each other's houses. More well-off people offered their houses to be used as meeting places. Nympha is one such "benefactress" who opened her house - probably quite a challenge, because the Church was and is truly a "hodge-podge mix of people", not all of whom would have been pleasant house guests.

Writing this poem, I had to think about what the Church is, or is meant to be. I believe that Jesus came to reconcile us to God and to each other, to heal broken relationships and begin reconciliation in this broken world. Jesus came to save everybody. The consequence of belonging to Jesus is, then, that I will be part of a very mixed group of people (the church), PLUS I have the call (together with this community) to bring reconciliation and the love of God into the world - to people who are different from me and whom I might prefer to avoid. A major challenge in the early church, for instance, was a cultural / racial one: overcoming the gap between Jews (the "original Christians" were all Jews) and non-Jews (Gentiles).

I believe the church is meant to be a community, like a new sort of family - but a family that is open to all, not just self-obsessed and closed off to strangers, or so tight-knit it's hard for people to get into. (Sometimes, I've realised, we Christians have developed a kind of language that non-Christians don't understand. We talk about the Gospel but our explanations make no sense because we don't speak the way non-Christians do; we throw around vocab that they don't really know the meaning of - and maybe we don't know the meaning either!) I have experienced church most strongly there where I was a visitor and felt completely adopted into the community. E.g. this April I visited an Anglocatholic church with a friend (beautiful church service with incense!! Loved it! Will go again!). In the prayers, people from the congregation were mentioned by name. When the priest found out that my friend and I are getting ordained later this year, he said they would pray for us. That's what I call Church. It doesn't matter whether your worship service has a band or incense or flashing lights or whatever, but it matters that we care for each other as the worldwide Christian family, no matter whether we know each other "personally" or not.

Another thing about church as family is that it is open for all. We need to learn to accept all the way Jesus accepted us - no matter the background, political leaning, race, "sinfulness", etc. The great miracle of the Church is that it is the place where "enemy becomes brother / and stranger becomes friend". Our old enmities or boundaries that we had in our "worldly thinking" no longer should count! Because Jesus wants us to love others the way He loved us.

And that is a challenge! But I believe that is what Jesus is calling the church to... not just to celebrate our salvation in comfortable groups of like-minded people we get along well with, but to go where it's dirty and invite more people into the embrace of Jesus, and to celebrate together with people who are different from us - an even greater celebration, don't you think?

One more thing: Church is where we can "show our true face". I realise that is not at all easy. Churches are often the first place we expect to be judged in. Why, though? Why has the church become a place where we feel the need to "fake ourselves"? I'm not saying there should be no reaction to sin in the church - where we hurt each other or make choices damaging for ourselves and others, it is right for the church (and with that I mean the people, the members, the "family", not "church leadership") to step in and say something. But any correction should be done carefully and in love. The Church needs to be a place where we are not afraid to be ourselves, where we can also be open about our mistakes and sins. I think a first step is to take away the pressure to be "perfect"... then also, to take away the fear of being shamed. Best way to do this is precisely by being the loving family I believe the Church is called to be. We are not the perfect elected, but people growing towards Jesus - and all supporting each other on this way, not punishing each other for every slip-up.

For me, the Church is the community of reconciled people who have come into touch with Jesus and want to follow Him. We are all at different stages of our walk with Him, we all come from different backgrounds, we might even be "natural enemies" if not for Jesus. It is a challenge to overcome old assumptions and old boundaries, but that is a first thing Jesus calls us to when He calls us into the Church. The second thing is the call that goes to the Church as a whole: we are to be messengers of reconciliation. I believe we do that by living the love of Jesus (by fulfilling the first calling of accepting each other within the church) and by sharing it in the world through word and deed. That is my personal "ecclesiology" for you, in a nutshell... ^^;

27 July 2016

Abishag: Pity is not Love

[Warning: mild sexual content]

1. Kings 1:1-4

Here I lie,
afraid, ashamed,
in the arms of a man
who can no more;
trying to give you
what you cannot take,
caught in an embrace
that cannot satisfy.

Ashamed of my thoughts.
Ashamed of my feelings.
Ashamed that I recoil
at the sight of your body.
Ashamed that I flinch
at the feel of your touch.
Ashamed of my daydreams
of younger men,
the temptation to seek
my fulfillment elsewhere.

I want to be a good wife,
to make you happy -
but it's trapping me
in unhappiness.
It hurts to watch you
frustrated with yourself,
trying and failing
to be a husband again.

It fills me with revulsion,
it fills me with pity -
how I wish I could respect you
and love you instead!
But pity is not love,
and it can't help me endure.
Pity is not enough
to keep me true to you.

How I wish
they could just let you be old
and live out your days
calm and at peace.
How I wish
you must not bear this pressure
of being a king,
a potent man to the last.
How I wish
we could just admit weakness,
that failure must not be a shame.
How I wish
we could just be friends,
talking, playing games,
not trying every night
to do what we cannot.

Here I lie,
afraid, ashamed,
in the arms of this man.
Pity is not love.


[25. July 2016 above the South China Sea]

I've read a few interpretations about Abishag (including a feminist one I rather liked according to which Abishag had some power in government). I based this poem mainly on a quote from the Interpreter's Bible which I found on Wikipedia:
[T]he Hebrews...believed that the fertility of the soil and the general prosperity of the people were bound up with the fertility of the king. David by this time was old and decrepit and his sexual vigor is called into question. Attempts are made to remedy the situation. The first cure is to heap clothes upon his bed in order to secure such physical heat as might render him capable. When this fails a search is made for the most beautiful woman in the land. Great emphasis is placed upon her [Abishag's] charms. The LXX supports this by translating in vs. 2, "and let her excite him and lie with him." The fact that the king did not have intercourse with her is decisive in the story. If David was impotent he could no longer be king.
I also felt (after having read the story of someone who married an old man she was caring for out of pity, and then felt guilty for feeling disgusted, unsatisfied or attracted to other men) that I wanted to write about this situation of being a young woman with many opportunities (Abishag was said to be very beautiful), in an unhappy relationship with an older man.

What I realised while writing (and it comes out in the second-to-last stanza, "How I wish...") was that the attempt to keep David potent, and the belief that he could only be a proper king if he was, is once again the kind of human thinking that won't allow for weakness - a way of thinking that is not (from my understanding of the Bible) God's way.

In an ethics class I read a book by Wolfgang Huber (German bishop and ethicist) in which he differentiates between the "olympic man" and the "Jesus man". Human thinking wants the "olympic man", the athlete, strong and able, healthy, successful. This is what David's people were going for when they tried to keep him sexually fit to the last. You're not allowed to get old and decrepit and weak - and if you do, in today's Western culture, you all too often get pushed out of society e.g. into an old-age home. Contrast to that the "Jesus man": Jesus on the cross, weak and suffering. Jesus on the cross means that we are allowed to be weak, that there is nothing wrong about not being completely fit, active and capable of everything. God allows us to be weak and to fail, it is not "bad" or sinful to fail. In fact Jesus' failure on the cross was His victory!

So we ought to change our thinking... David's and Abishag's relationship could have been so different, if he had been allowed to be old and impotent. And I believe this also says something about how men need to be liberated and emancipated too from wrong ideas about manhood (an issue which - some of you might be surprised - feminism has started touching upon) which focus too much on strength and power. There is nothing "unmanly" about weakness - and thinking it is will only cause difficulty when, like David, you are stuck in a position where you are weak and there is no way out. We need to accept ourselves instead of trying to fit some human standard. Because that human standard is not God's standard...

Picture by Pedro Americo

14 July 2016

Gomer: Looking for Love

Hosea 2:2-25

Looking for love
in all the wrong places -
feels like I'm wandering
blind through a desert,
chasing mirages,
consumed by my thirst -
never satisfied.

I once had love
but I did not see it -
didn't recognise what I had.
Instead I set to wandering
towards the greener grass
only to find a desert
on the other side.

So burn me now,
my cuckold husband:
destroy me with your love
that I've turned into hate!
You loved me with a fire -
now it's a flame of rage.
So burn me with the anger
of your jealous revenge!

I once had love
and I threw it away,
looking for love
in all the wrong places.
Why should you accept me
into your arms again?
Why should you lead me
back out of this wasteland?
I know the power
of a man's jealousy -
I cannot expect you to love me again.

So what is this love
greater than jealousy?
What is this love
that overcomes revenge?
What is this love
that comes looking for me
out in this void that I lost myself in?
What is this love
that chases after me
drawing me back
into its arms again?

This is the love
I was looking for:
the love I had all along.
This is the love
I was looking for:
I see you - and I am complete.


[14. July 2016]

"And I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord." (Hosea 2:19-20)

Gomer is the wife of Hosea - an unfaithful wife. At the same time, she is a parable for the unfaithful people of Israel, who have turned away from God to idols, and away from the life God meant for them to a life that harms and oppresses others. The book of Hosea is full of calls back to the relationship with God and to a life of mercy and justice towards others (e.g. Hosea 12:7).

I find interesting how the book of Hosea portrays God's reaction to His people's sin to the reaction of a jealous husband to the wife who was unfaithful to him. Jealousy can be very powerful... I guess the greater the love, the greater the hurt when you find out you've been cheated on. The book of Hosea describes strong feelings of anger. And yet again and again it shows: God is not man; He won't be controlled by anger and jealousy, but goes beyond righteous anger to grace and mercy, giving new chances again and again. God overcomes the pain we cause Him, and invites us back where a human husband probably would have balked (and had a right to - the Bible allows and in places even encourages divorce from an unfaithful partner).

God does feel righteous anger and jealousy - because He loves us, and our unfaithfulness causes Him pain, and seeing us hurt ourselves in our fruitless search for love elsewhere pains Him too. But God is not fixated on anger. He wants to draw us back. That is why He has spoken again and again through the prophets: because He never forsakes us, but wants to win us back to Him again. It's up to us to recognise this love and return to Him. The doors are open!

24 May 2016

Job's Sisters: The Abyss

"Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring." (Job 42:11)

before this abyss of pain.
What can I do?
The words that I speak
are but pebbles that fall
into its depths,
useless in its bowels.

Helpless I face this yawning chasm
that consumes and destroys
all attempts at consolation,
my oh-so-spiritual explanations,
every piece of well-meant advice.

The words that I speak
are but pebbles in my hand -
but pebbles can wound and maim and break
an already broken heart.

before this abyss of pain.
Am I afraid
that if I silently sit
and listen to your tortured tale
it might suck me down
into the mire of despair
alongside you?
Am I afraid
of sharing your hurt,
of bearing with you this agony,
of wounding my heart
for the sake of healing yours?

What can I do
but stand here by the abyss,
stand here by you?
What can I do
but silently hold you
and listen to your pain
until my tears fall
together with yours?
What can I do
but pour compassion and love
into the bottomless pit
until it is filled?


[23. - 24. May 2016]

I only discovered Job's sisters in Job 42:11 "by accident" a few months ago. You see, there's a lot of women in the Bible who keep jumping at me from around corners just when I thought I was getting close to finishing with the challenge...

Job suffered a whole mass of misfortunes, one after the other, losing all of his possessions, his children and even his health within one day. His friends came to him and sat with him in silence in the beginning - then began trying to explain, to find reasons, to find something, anything sinful in Job's past to somehow explain why God would let something so terrible happen to him. The whole book of Job is basically about these discussions.

I think all too often we Christians act like Job's friends. We look for explanations, or try to give good spiritual advice (I do this too). Or if someone starts lamenting like Job, actually really fighting with God and even telling God off, we quickly try to correct them (well, I do). But does that really help them? God ends up telling off Job's friends. Job was just (even while yelling and complaining all the time), his friends, on the other hand, were in the wrong. Maybe they should have kept quiet, sitting beside Job in his suffering as they did at the beginning.

Job's sisters show up at the very end, after Job gets "rehabilitated" with God. They're at the start of his upward curve. There's not much about them, so writing this I decided to focus on the theme of comforting (since it says that's what they did, along with financial support that probably helped Job get going again).

I often find myself lost for words when I hear stories of suffering. Anything I could say feels meaningless. I know that this isn't always the case, that sometimes people need words. But I find that if I open my mouth too quickly, often the kind of things that come out are not what the person I'm speaking to really needs. Words can wound, whether on purpose or not, and sometimes our attempted "words of comfort" can cause just the reverse of what we want them to. I believe that the most important thing in supporting, comforting and counselling someone is to listen, to give them room to talk. To show empathy. This means making ourselves vulnerable, though - letting what we hear get to us instead of hiding behind advice and correct theology etc.

I think we need to be slower to words and explanations and advice, and quick to compassion in the sense of com-passion / Mit-leid, "suffering with".

Picture by William Blake.