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)

Standing
before this abyss of pain.
What can I do?
The words that I speak
are but pebbles that fall
down
down
echoing
into its depths,
swallowed,
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.

Standing
before this abyss of pain.
Am I afraid
that if I silently sit
and listen to your tortured tale
it might suck me down
down
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?

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[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.

03 May 2016

Zelophehad's Daughters: What Makes Us Stay

Numbers 27:1-11

This is what makes us girls:
always coming second
because they put boys first;
shackled to men,
our fate is bound to theirs -
we pay for what we cannot help.

This is what makes us girls:
always losing double
just because of our birth.
Now our father's gone,
our fate is bound to his -
left destitute, we'll lose everything.

Is this what makes us girls?
Must we remain victims,
and take this lying down?
No - we won't cry about it
but do something about it,
for we are bound to God
who sees everything.

This is what makes us stay:
knowing our God
created us the same;
trusting He's above
this culture we are in,
not preferring boys,
not preferring girls
but caring for our needs
and giving us our right.


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[7. June 2013 / edited 3. May 2016]

Zelophehad, an Israelite in the exodus before they reached the promised land, had five daughters. He died. Because women couldn't inherit, this would basically leave them with nothing (hence the "losing double": they lost their father and at the same time were bound to lose all they had). But they went to Moses and asked in the presence of God to be allowed to inherit. And this was granted to them.

The last part ("This is what makes us stay") was inspired by the conference on women's contribution to religions I went to recently (June 2013). One of the speakers started the conference with the question: "Why do women choose to stay in a system which oppresses them?" In many religions (we looked at Christianity, Judaism, Islam and New Religious Movements) women are, let's admit it, restricted a bit. For instance, in some of my churches I would not be allowed to preach or be ordained (though this appears to be changing).

Why do we stay? The answer I got through writing this poem was: God is not a patriarchalist; He created both men and women in His image so in His eyes, we have the same worth. In the end it doesn't matter what society / culture thinks and says, but what God says. In my opinion, if read in context, the Bible is way less oppressive of women than certain churches. The Bible is for equality, but the fallen world (culture) has created a false hierarchy.

Picture by Charles Foster.

And yes I'll admit that I was thinking of the Lana del Rey song "This Is What Makes Us Girls" while writing this. I was thinking there's more to being a woman than what the song portrays, and considering the kinds of things that "make us girls". Then I thought of Zelophehad's daughters and - voilĂ .