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.