15 November 2017

Rizpa: I Am Mother

2. Samuel 21:1-14


I am grief,
My heart torn with loss,
an aching hole
where once you were.

I am loss,
alone now, forsaken,
robbed of my sons,
bereft in a cruel sacrifice
done in the name of god.

I am love,
pouring from a shattered heart
flowing in tears
that can't bring you to life,
enveloping arms
to shield you from the sun and rain.

I am fury,
fighting for my children
against all forces of nature,
if must be: against god,
spitting in the face of death,
battling down decay.

I am fidelity,
more powerful than hate,
sharper than a sword,
stronger than death,
enduring all storms,
ignoring my own pain,
your protectress
beyond the end.

I am Mother.
My love never dies.
I would kill death
if only I could.

Where now is God?
Delighting over human sacrifice,
or fighting death with me?

________________________________

[15. November 2017]

I have been intrigued by the picture of Rizpa furiously fighting off the carrion birds to protect her dead family members.

Rizpa's story is a terrible one. After David's rule has been established, there is a famine, and David asks God why. The answer: there is "bloodguilt" on the family of Saul because Saul killed the Gibeonites, i.e. in the tribal system of those days, revenge was still pending. Now instead of asking God what to do, David asked the Gibeonites what they wanted - and they demanded human sacrifice. So David had all the remaining male descendants of Saul killed (except Jonathan's family).

Here's where Rizpa, Saul's concubine, comes in. She goes out to the corpses and defends them - throughout the harvest season! Rizpa remains mother even in death. I find that picture very impressive.

Interesting to note: the famine does not end after the men were sacrificed - but after they were given a decent burial. Not only they, but also Saul and Jonathan who had been dead for years. Which to me shows that God clearly did NOT accept the human sacrifice. There is a lot of ugly violence in the Old Testament, and this is one example of it. But God does not condone it. The hero in this story is Rizpa, who shows David what is to be done. The end of bloodguilt is not punishment and sacrifice but forgiveness and burial.

Rizpa fighting death made me think of how in Jesus God conquered death for us. I see God in her, in this story - not delighting over the murder of men innocemt of their forebearer's crimes.

17 October 2017

Sarai: Is This Love?



Genesis 12:10-20 | Genesis 20:1-18

So this is love:
to sacrifice myself,
my body,
my integrity
to protect you.
So this is love:
giving up myself,
endangering myself,
risking my own neck
so you can be safe.

I don't deny
that this is love:
to give, to risk, to sacrifice.
Yes, this is love:
to look for your best,
to want you to be safe.

But
is this love
when it is always me
sacrificing,
always me
giving,
always me
paying the price,
always me
losing out
in the end?

You ask me to lie
out of love.
You ask me to endanger myself
out of love.
You ask me
to claim I'm your sister
to protect you, my husband.

And now here I am,
in the chambers of a mighty stranger,
unfaithful by force,
unfaithful out of love,
trading my body
for your safety.
Is this love?

Now here I am
a piece of flesh
thrown before a hungry man,
while my husband
cowers safe and cowardly
far away from me.
Now here I am
without you to protect me,
because this is how I protect you.

My love
you got it all wrong.

This is love:
when a husband gives his life,
risks himself,
for the sake of his wife.
This is love:
when you no longer need
to sell my integrity for the sake of your own.
This is love:
when my life and my body
are as valuable as yours.

This is love:
when it's no longer just me
giving, risking, sacrificing.
This is love:
when it's no longer just me
looking for your best,
wanting you to be safe,
but you
looking for my best,
wanting me to be safe,
standing by me
no matter the price.

______________________________________________________

[17. October 2017]

This story appears twice in Genesis - either it happened twice, or there's two traditions that came together in the Bible. The same story also appears with Rebecca, wife of Isaac.

The first version of this story (Gen 12) goes like this: Sarai and Abram go to Egypt - and Abram gets a bit nervous because of Sarai's beauty, so he makes her lie that she is his sister, so no one will want to kill him to get at his wife. Meaning: Abram is not going to risk his life for her protection. He'd rather risk her (making her more "accessible" for other men as an unmarried sister) than risk the eventuality of someone trying to murder him for the sake of getting her. What ends up happening is that the Pharaoh gets attracted to her and takes her for himself.

Abram doesn't do anything to stop that, does not defend his wife. Sarai is basically being grabbed against her will to become a fling or concubine or wife of the Pharaoh, and Abram would rather stay safe and does not intervene. Isn't this terrible?! (Plus, Abram benefits from Sarai being taken by Pharaoh: Pharaoh does a deal with him, pays him a lot in livestock for Sarai's sake. Abram is making a profit and practically selling his own wife!)

Abram does not stand up for his wife. God, however, does. God is the one who intervenes, warns Pharaoh, even brings a plague over him and his family. God defends Sarai.

Writing this I had to think of the description of marriage in Ephesians 5, in particular verse 25: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." Abram's relationship with Sarai in this story is one of one-sided submission of the wife to the husband; the husband is worth more, his safety is more important, it's okay to risk her life, to sell her, to allow abuse to happen to her, as long as the man stays whole. But that is not the way of the Gospel. Ephesians 5 is often abused to uphold a "hierarchy" of men above women. But I believe what it is actually saying is that men and women are of equal worth, and that a relationship needs to be one of mutual giving - not just the wife serving her husband and giving everything for him, but the husband sacrificing for her as well.

A husband should never let his wife get abused for the sake of saving his own skin. (And vice versa.)

Picture: The Egyptians Admire Sarai's Beauty, James Tissot.

13 October 2017

Judith: Black Widow

"Bring to pass, O Lord, that his pride may be cut off with his own sword." (Judith 9:12)

You see me - you see flesh,
a thing to devour,
to use for your pleasure.
You are used to power,
getting all you desire.
Am I but a fly
caught in your web?

Is this how low
a woman must fall,
giving her all
to a ravenous brute,
submitting to your desire,
letting myself be used
by the oppressor of my people,
flirting with abuse?

Am I but a fly
caught in your web?


You wish.


Fall down, o predator,
for you are now prey.
Fall down, o power,
for you have been conquered
by the one you thought the weaker sex.
Fall down, o mighty one,
and face your death
at the hands of Woman,
at the hands of your prey.

I have turned your lust
into my own weapon,
I have used your desire
to ensnare you in my trap.
You are a fly
caught in your own web.
Fall down, o power
and face the Lord
who chooses the weak
to dominate the strong.


________________________________________________________

[13. October 2017]

I wrote this really quickly... I'm a very lazy poet.

The story of Judith is part of the Apocrypha, i.e. late Old Testament texts which the Catholic Bible has, but Protestants generally leave out due to the Reformers thinking they had less value than the others due to being written in Greek and not Hebrew (bad reason, seriously...). Martin Luther did say, though, that the Apocrypha were an excellent supplement to the rest of the Bible and worth reading, so any Protestants wanting to go "but..": follow his advice and read them first, they are quite okay! (And were part of the early church's Bible anyway.)

So, Judith: I mostly knew Judith from the gory paintings of her chopping off Holofernes' head, until finally reading her story last year. The story takes place in the time of the Exile (under Nebuchadnezzar). Basically Judith stands up for the Jewish people against Holofernes, one of Nebuchadnezzars generals, by tricking him into thinking she wants to spend the night with him. She gets him all tired with food and drink and conversation, then - off with his head!

Anyway I read the story ages ago and today just suddenly got a few lines and sentences popping up in my head, also related to the abuse scandals going around at the moment I suppose. The story of Judith has a strong aspect of "weak winning over strong", God standing with the underdog (shown strongly by the victory of a woman - in that culture deemed weak and inferior - over a man). I especially like the twist of Judith using what was Holofernes' instrument of power (coerced sex) against him.

When you read with an eye to the women's stories in the Bible, you realise (in my opinion / my experience) that the Bible is all about the "weak" overcoming the powerful, God taking the side of those who are expected to submit, and God using them to teach a lesson to the powerful ones (Tamar and Jael come to mind). :-)

Oh, and "Black Widow" is because a black widow spider kills her mates - and Judith was a widow.


Picture by Artemisia Gentileschi

18 July 2017

Cozbi: Pierced


Numbers 25

I am pierced
for my transgressions,
pierced by your spear
and your holy zeal.
I am your atonement sacrifice,
human blood to quell the wrath
of the angry deity.
My death buys an end
to suffering and plague,
my sinner's sinful death
in forbidden embrace,
in the midst of the act
that brought this disgrace.

I am pierced
for my transgressions,
your human sacrifice.
You have killed the sinner
to end the sin,
killed the guilty
to free from the curse.
Now your violence
bears the blessing of peace,
the seal of approval
from your god.
Now your line
is a line of promise:
eternal priesthood -
forever like this.

And they will wonder and speculate
that He Who Will Come will come from you,
that He Who Will Come will be like you,
eternal priest,
burning with zeal.
And they will wonder and speculate
and look for another Phinehas
who takes the spear
and with one good thrust
rids the world of godlessness,
cleans the world from sin at last.

Will they then look
upon the one they pierced,
pierced
for our transgressions?
The one who did not wield the spear
but had it thrust into his side
till blood and water came spilling out;
the one whose zeal
was not spelled out in violence
but in death and suffering;
the one whose victory over sin
was not won by killing sinners
but by self-sacrificing love?

Will they see
their God
pierced
at the hands of the Phinehas' of this world,
at the hands of holy zeal,
their God,
a sinner pierced for blasphemy?

Pierced
for our transgressions,
pierced by our spear
of holy zeal.
God, our atonement sacrifice
to appease an angry humanity.
God, not an angry deity,
but love
pierced
by our hate,
a mirror to wake
a dreaming world,
break our spears
and forgive.

___________________________________________________

[18. July 2017]

Cozbi was a Midianite woman, likely a temple prostitute. Israel on the way through the desert encountered Moabites and Midianites and started worshipping their god/s (Baal Peor) and getting involved with their women (a big deal in a culture where religion is passed on through the mother). As a consequence, there was a plague, from which many people died.
Phinehas, a descendant of the high priest Aaron, killed Cozbi together with her Israelite husband / lover (apparently "in the act" so they were both pierced through - as in the picture above). The text describes this as "atonement". The plague ends after this.

It's a somewhat weird story - and not a very comfortable one, in my opinion. The killing of Cozbi and the man, Zimri, is like a "human sacrifice" appeasing God. Phinehas is lauded for what he did, his action receives a godly "stamp of approval", he receives blessing and promise, in fact a very similar promise to what David received. David was given a promise of "eternal kingship", Phinehas one of "eternal priesthood" (v.13).

While researching my Master thesis about the genealogy of Jesus, I came across all sorts of interesting Messiah theories from the centuries before Jesus. There was a strong tradition expecting the Messiah to come from the line of David, be another David or Solomon, a "King-Messiah". Another tradition believed in a Messiah from the line of Levi, a "Priest-Messiah" (either the same person or a second Messiah in addition to the Davidic one). Because of the promise to Phinehas in Numbers 25, there was a line of thought that expected a "Priest-Messiah" in the pattern of Phinehas. In general, Messiah expectations were not very unlike Phinehas. Especially during the time Israel was under the Greeks (and later the Romans), with foreign religions encroaching, there was a tendency to hope for a powerful "military" Messiah who would with force remove the "godless", non-believers, sinners etc.

So I find it very interesting that Jesus is very different from Phinehas - and Jesus' "atonement sacrifice" is very different from this "sacrifice" of Cozbi and Zimri. Jesus does not kill sinners with "holy zeal" - instead He actually ends up killed by the "holy zeal" of the religious leaders who name Him a blasphemer. Jesus is the one who ends up pierced with a spear (reference to John 19). I believe the concept of "penal substitution atonement" is wrong: God is not an angry god to be appeased. In Taiwan where I grew up, the ones needing appeasing were the ghosts and demons - and my God is not a demon. Jesus' death, the way I understand it when I read the Bible, is not to "appease God" because Jesus is God, as part of the trinity. Jesus is God showing us that God is different, that God is not an angry god needing appeasement. In fact Jesus' death shows us that it is us human beings who are looking for blood and violent solutions. I believe Jesus' death shows us the dangers of "holy zeal" going so far as to kill God Himself. Jesus did not die to appease God - we killed Him to appease our own lust for violent solutions. And the power in Jesus' death is that God does not react with revenge and punishment to the greatest sin of all (the murder of God), but with forgiveness - and that is the point from which we can change, from which we can forgive and reconcile and become more like Him.

Read Numbers how you will - I choose to read it through the lens of the Gospels, through the story of Jesus. I don't want to "sanctify" Cozbi here; we really don't know enough of her story. But what I did realise last time I read this story was that we have someone pierced by a spear here - and we have someone pierced by a spear in the Gospels. And it was expected that the Messiah would be the one wielding the spear and piercing sinners - like Phinehas. But what really happened was that the Messiah took the position of Cozbi and Zimri, the "sinners", and let Himself be pierced. And that made me think and I hope it makes you think too. :-) I find such things very fascinating to think about.

Quick word about my "hermeneutic" here: I believe the Bible is given to us by God and is inspired, that it is full of wonderful and important things to learn. At the same time, I believe that God chose to reveal Himself and all these truths through human beings who were tied to their own time and culture. This does not mean we shouldn't take the Bible seriously, or that we can't ever hope to understand the Bible. My answer to this issue is to on the one hand try to understand the original culture at least a little bit - I read into background culture things a lot while doing this challenge, because especially women's issues in the Bible are very hard to understand without some idea of the patriarchal culture the Bible was written in - on the other hand, to have a place to read the Bible from. For me, that is Jesus and the Gospels - I read the whole Bible through that lens. Which means that if something - like this story of Cozbi and Phinehas - does not fit with the idea of God given to us by Jesus, then I don't throw it out the window but ask myself what God shows me through this difference. Which is what I did in this poem... If we read this without Jesus, we could conclude that religious violence is okay - and it has been read like this in the past, to horrid effect. I believe we need to read the Bible through the lens of Jesus, if we want to understand it properly.

(Feel free to ask and challenge me on this bit. This has been my hermeneutic for the past few years. It has meant taking seriously the fact that there are problematic texts in the Bible, that there are texts that have been used in a very problematic way in the past, while at the same time loving and respecting the Bible as given to us by God.)

04 July 2017

Cozbi: Goddess

Numbers 25


NB this is about sacred prostitution (sexual rites as part of worship in Ancient Near Eastern religion).
WARNING: Sexual content.

In this moment
I am the Goddess,
and what we do is holy.
In this moment
we enact spring,
the eternal dance of life and death,
as you rain your seed
into my dry earth.
In this moment
our bodies are prayers;
I am a sacred vessel,
a sacrifice.

As you kiss these lips,
are you aware
you are kissing the lips of the Goddess?
When you touch my breasts,
do you know
you are touching the breasts of the Goddess?
In this moment
I incorporate her,
I am a sacred vessel,
I am a sacrifice.

Our bodies are prayers -
is this a prayer, to you,
as you kiss these lips,
as you touch these breasts?
What we do is holy,
the eternal dance of life and death.
Is this a prayer, to you?

Or are you
conquering, dominating,
taking
what you want as yours?
Is this a heavenly intimacy,
making love
so love may birth life and fertility?
Or is this
just another show of power and control?

As you kiss these lips,
are you aware
you are kissing the lips of the Goddess?
When you touch my breasts,
do you know
you are touching the breasts of the Goddess?
As you take and conquer me,
does it feel
like you have conquered the Goddess?

Is this prayer
lovemaking
or rape?

Maybe
the Goddess is as unfree as me.

________________________________________

[4. July 2017]

Sacred prostitution was a phenomenon in the Ancient Near East - one decried in the Bible. The Israelites were warned against taking part in the rites of neighbouring nations - including sexual rites.

I know more about ancient Chinese sexual rites than Ancient Near Eastern ones, but from some quick research I gathered they're pretty similar... basically the "temple prostitute" represents the goddess, the man sometimes representing the god. The rite is meant to be for fertility. You can read more here.

On the way through the desert, the Israelites got involved with Moabite idol worship and sacred prostitution (Num 25). Cozbi is a Midianite woman who most likely is this type of "sacred prostitute". Her story is pretty gruesome: she is killed together with the Israelite man who was together with her. It's a pretty problematic story, and I want to write a second poem about her violent end. But here I wanted to look a bit at the phenomenon of sacred prostitution.

To be honest the idea of sex as prayer is kind of beautiful, I think. Though the one of embodying a deity in this act is pretty freaky.
What inspired and influenced me a bit was reading a bit about the connection between sex and power in Margeret Farley's Just Love: A Framework of Christian Sexual Ethics. Towhat extent is "being the Goddess" liberating and powerful, to what extent is the Goddess herself being degraded and treated as an object here?

It made me think about prayer - how we pray to God. We don't do sexual rites; God clearly said no (which makes sense because I believe it would involve a lot of abuse). But where do our prayers become abusive? Where do we turn our prayers into take-take-take, instead of sharing intimacy with God?

10 June 2017

Maacah Mother of Tamar: Mother Lioness

2 Samuel 13

Tear my clothes,
throw ash upon my head.
Today my daughter is dead.

Why do we bear daughters
only to watch them be consumed
by the fires of the lust of a man
eating them alive?
Today my daughter is dead,
alive but dead,
an empty shell,
a rejected husk,
a ghost condemned
for another's lust.
Why do we bear daughters
only to watch them be destroyed
by a world that blames the helpless
and lets evil win the day?

They say a snake corrupted Eve -
today, it speaks to Adam
for it lives between his legs.
Why do we bear daughters
only to watch them be devoured
by merciless greed,
then cast away shamed,
a broken reed?

I want to tear him apart,
I want to rip his throat,
I want to bite off his manhood,
show no mercy to this merciless brute
who had no mercy for her.
Why do we bear daughters
only to watch them be regarded as objects,
playthings to be used and cast aside?
Why do we bear sons
if this is what they become?

I want to devour him
and leave nothing left,
I want him destroyed
the way he destroyed her.
I want to wail to the skies
forty days and forty nights,
tear my clothes,
throw ashes on my head
for today my daughter is dead.

Why did you create us
only to watch us like this,
tearing at each other
like wild beasts?
O God, like me you bore children
and you watched them fall apart.
Does your Mother-heart
break like mine?
O God, do you mourn
every day and every night
for your degenerate children
who wander as though dead?
O God, do you long, like me,
to go out in fury
like a mother lioness,
tearing evil limb from limb?

Or do you, like me,
tear your clothes,
throw ash upon your head,
and mourn your broken children,
alive but dead?

_______________________________________________________

[10. June 2017]

Thought I'd write from the point of view of Maacah, mother of Tamar. Tamar, daughter of David, was raped by her half-brother Amnon. With "alive but dead" I try to refer to how in a shame culture, being shamed in this way (by rape) can make a woman completely lose her worth in society. Tamar would have been made unmarriagable, all her chances for a future destroyed. To society, she was as good as dead.

Victims of rape generally reap more consequences than the perpetrators. Perpetrators get away; punishments are all too often not at all proportionate to the crime. A raped woman is innocent of what happened, but all too often is treated like a sinner. She suffers because of the sin of another.

When the Bible talks about justice and punishment and judgement, I believe it talks about things like this... about God standing in for the suffering and abused.

I decided to play with female imagery of God again here... not everyone's cup of tea, but it is a fact that God as God is "genderless", i.e. definitely not male, and that the Bible uses a lot of feminine imagery for God. I think the mother lioness fits to God... mother animals can be extremely ferocious when their children are attacked. While I am certain that God loves both perpetrators and victims, and salvation is about restoration and healing for both, I also believe (also from some of the pretty gory imagery that we read e.g. in the prophets) that God can be as ferocious as a worried mother animal when it comes to defending those who are wronged. The hard part is that we are all His children (tried to touch on that a bit in the last two stanzas which talk about all the children, not just the daughters), perpetrators and victims alike. God wants all to be saved; at the same time He does not stand for injustice. God's mourning over us must be all the greater, then... a combination of Maacah here, and Ahinoam, Amnon's mother.

Other poems about Tamar and Amnon here.

15 May 2017

Wise Woman of Tekoa: Justice and Mercy



2. Samuel 14:1-24

Justice must be served,
the guilty must be punished;
justice must prevail
through the hand of the King.
As a just ruler
you must deal out judgement,
appeasing the masses
that clamour for blood.
Wrongs can't be ignored,
evil can't be covered -
the guilty must be punished,
justice must be served.

But, Lord,
I am a Mother,
and you, Lord, are a Father.
Does not your father's heart
throb in you like mine?

Justice must be served
on my son who killed his brother;
the thirsty masses cry for blood.
I can't ignore his wrongs
that tear my heart asunder -
but vengeance will not heal me,
retribution won't atone my loss.
I have lost one son -
would you have me lose another?
Justice must be served,
but is this truly justice?

For, Lord,
I am a Mother,
and you, Lord, are a Father.
Does not your father's heart
throb in you like mine?

Justice must be served
on your son who killed his brother.
As a just ruler
you must deal out judgement.
But Lord,
you are a Father
and he is your son.
Close the eyes of the ruler,
look with the eyes of a Father,
and tell me what you see.
Put aside the ruler's iron mind
and listen to your father's heart.
See your child
and find mercy.

Evil can't be covered,
but mercy covers all.
Wrongs can't be ignored,
but a Parent's heart sees
the broken child beneath the sin.
Open your arms,
give in to your longing,
invite your child home
to the embrace where he belongs.
Let love restore
that which was broken;
let the tears of mercy
wash away the pain -

For justice is not retribution;
wrongs can't be healed by revenge -
justice is mercy and restoration,
justice is a parent's love,
justice is God
sparing His weak children,
granting us life again and again.
Justice is a Mother's embrace,
a Father's grace.

________________________________________________

[15. May 2017]

So: King David's eldest son Amnon raped his half-sister Thamar. Thamar's brother Absalom, seeing David do nothing, took justice into his own hands and murdered Amnon. David reacted by banishing Absalom. The wise woman of Tekoa comes in as an attempt of David's general Joab to convince David to end the banishment and let Absalom return.

I really like this story. It shows the complexity of justice and mercy and a parent's love - and it made me think about God's mercy and what that means.

The wise woman of Tekoa basically told a story similar to David's: the case of one of her sons killing his brother, and the people demanding punishment. The way she told the story she nudged David into saying the murderer should be spared for the mother's sake - because otherwise she would lose both sons. That way she could "twist" David into realising that the right decision for him would be to call Absalom back. That's how Bible wisdom works, apparently. ;-) (Nathan used the same method to bring David to indict himself on the Bathsheba incident...)

What the wise woman of Tekoa showed David was: he should look at the matter not as a ruler, but as a father. She showed him it was all right to give in to his love for his son - that it was not any less "just", but more so, than punishing him.

How do we imagine God looking at us and "judging" us? As a ruler? Or as a Father? A ruler or judge looks at the law and how well we followed it. He is completely neutral. A parent is not neutral: a parent loves his/her child. I believe God looks upon us as a parent; He sees us as His children and wants to save us. His aim is salvation, not ensuring all the rules are followed. "We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up. But God will not take away a life; he will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished for ever from his presence." (v.14)

And, yes, there are perpetrators and victims, as the complicated story of Amon, Thamar and Absalom (including later Absalom's rebellion) shows all too well! But both perpetrators and victims are loved by God. God wants salvation for all. God's justice is justice for perpetrators and victims - which means it is more than just retributive justice or "paying back" what was done. I love the concept of "restorative justice"; I believe that is what all of us actually need... because victims are not really served by retributive justice either. The woman of Tekoa, a victim because she was robbed of her son, is not helped by the execution of her second son! I believe the justice of God is restorative justice: healing and restoring relationships, helping perpetrators to stop being perpetrators, bringing victims to their rights. And that is the kind of justice we Christians are called to live as well.. giving people a chance to change, helping up the downtrodden, working for peace and healing between people who otherwise would hurt each other.

As for "justice is mercy"...this is on my mind a lot. It bothers me how, very often, I see the word "justice" abused in the Christian context, as though justice were the opposite of mercy. As in: "God is a merciful God but He is also just", as if justice and mercy were opposites. Biblically, they are not - they are tightly and inseparably interlinked.

06 March 2017

Éowyn: The Cage


"What do you fear, lady?" He asked.
"A cage," she said. "To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire."

Too often have I heard of duty,
too often been told what a woman should do.
Too often have I heard of duty,
and duty has become my cage.

My duty to cheer as the men ride to war,
my duty to stay behind.
My duty to rule while they are away,
my duty to submit when they return.
My duty to fill empty bellies,
my duty to keep hearth and home,
my duty to marry a nobleman someday,
my duty to give him sons.
My duty to watch them ride away
to shed their blood on a foreign field,
my duty to suffer and wait.
My duty to mourn them when they fall,
my duty to praise their glory in song,
my duty to wile the nights away,
left behind, alone.
My duty never to question
where my life has gone.

Too often have I heard of duty,
and duty has become my cage.
Imprisoned behind the bars
of your expectations,
I do what I must, but without joy,
I am what you want, but not myself,
I gaze through the bars longingly
at the life that should belong to me.

I was born for more
than cleaning up after men,
than singing their praises
and sitting at home.
I am a daughter of Eorl,
no dry-nurse, no serving-woman;
a sword is at home in my hand.
The call to war resounds in my blood -
how can you tell me 'no'?

I was born for more
in this time of need;
I am filled with purpose,
I have so much to give.
I am a shieldmaiden
and this will not be my fate:
I won't stay behind bars
and let my gifts go to waste.
If I will die on a sword,
let me wield one first
and make my death worthwhile.

Too often have I heard of duty.
All your words are but to say:
'you are a woman -
this is not your part.'
Yes, I am a woman.
Alas, I am a woman
and you are blind
because you are a man.
Yes, my Lord: I love you.
And yes: I know
it is but a shadow and a thought.
For it is not you I love
but the dream
of being like you,
respected and free.

_________________________________________

[6. March 2017]

The Lord of the Rings is one of the books that has most impacted me growing up, and Éowyn is one of the characters who most left an impression on me (partly because during 7th grade my friends and I roleplayed as LOTR characters and I was Éowyn). I have often found myself identifying with Éowyn, especially with her fear of a "cage".

Re-reading that conversation between Éowyn and Aragorn (The Return of the King V. chapt. 2 The Passing of the Grey Company), I realised something about Éowyn's inner conflict. Society (and the men around her: her uncle Théoden, her brother, and Aragorn) have expectations towards her - and always she is fulfilling these expectations, always doing her duty. But she wants more. She knows that she is completely capable of more - but nobody lets her do it.

Writing this I have to admit I had to think about the debate over whether women are allowed to preach / be pastors. I think the situation is similar.. women find they have gifts that fit current needs (like Éowyn knew she had what it took to contribute in the battle against Sauron) - but too often men restrict them by saying it is "not their part to play". I understand Éowyn's frustration. She had to "hide her light", "bury her talent" - like many women who are called and gifted for the pastorate are still told to do today. In the end, however, she played a vital part by killing the Witch-King whom it was said no man could kill. Her "rebellion", riding to war disguised as Dernhelm, was necessary.

I talk about women's ordination etc because that is my context and the kind of debate (as a woman pastor) I have had to deal with. But I guess Éowyn's example applies to and inspires in other situations too.


Here's a good article to read about her: http://www.themarysue.com/the-story-of-eowyn/

Picture by Edmund Blair Leighton

03 March 2017

Merab: What Could Have Been

1. Samuel 18:17-19

Strange to think now
I could once have been yours,
that it could have been me
gracing your side.
What might life have been
if my father kept his promise?
What might life have been
if you had married me?

Strange to think now
that I ever wanted you,
that there was a time
when I'd see you and swoon,
when my heart would beat faster
each time you looked my way.
Such a silly girl,
young and in love,
protesting when they gave me
to another man.

Strange to think now
what I might have endured -
could I have endured it
the way she did?
Could I have stood by you
against my own father,
abandoning my family?
Could I have lied to protect you
from the people I loved?
Could I have endured
years of separation,
fearing for your life?
Could I have endured
being reunited with you,
when you no longer loved me
but had married many more?
Could I have endured
a life torn in two?

Strange to think now
I could once have been yours.
Strange to think now
that I ever wanted you.
Could I have endured it
the way she did?
I was such a silly girl,
young and in love.
But today I look back
and thank the wiser hand of God
for not granting me my wishes
and not letting dreams come true.

___________________________________________________

[2. March 2017]

Merab was the elder daughter of Saul. Saul originally promised her to David, not her sister Michal - but then gave her away to be married to someone else (probably to spite David). Merab doesn't really get a voice in any of it; we don't see how she felt, whether she actually "liked" David the way I portrayed it here (though he was so popular, especially with the ladies, that I think it's quite possible). As often happened to women (especially princesses) in those times, others decided her fate for her and she had no say.

The theme I decided to pick up on here was how sometimes, it's better not to get what we wish for - that sometimes, we only see later how things would have unfolded, and have to admit that not getting what we wanted was better. We may sometimes be disappointed by God not answering prayers or not letting things happen the way we'd like them to - but "the wiser hand of God" knows what and how much we can take. I keep marvelling at how much Michal, Merab's sister (who became David's first wife), had to go through (and I'd like to write many more poems about her!) - and that she didn't break under all that. She had to take sides between her father and her husband - a dreadfully painful thing! So when Merab says in this poem, "Could I have endured it / the way she did?" she is talking about Michal. Not everyone can bear things the same way. God knows which trials to give us, and which to spare us from.

But often we need the wisdom of hindsight to see that it was better not to get what we wanted.
For me this means: I need to trust that God knows what He's doing when He doesn't make all my dreams and ideas and plans come true.

Picture by Ernest J. Rowley, The veiled lady (1903).

26 January 2017

Mother of Amnon: My Son, my Son


2. Samuel 13:1-32

My son, my son,
what have you done?
My son, what have you become?
Have I taught you nothing?
Has my love meant nothing?
How can I still look at you
after this?

Where is my sweet, sensitive boy?
Where has he gone?
Who is this selfish, brutal man?
What have you done?
Have I taught you nothing?
Who are you now?

Don't you see
the pain you're causing me,
digging claws into my heart,
tearing it apart?
Don't you have a mother?
Don't you have sisters?
Did I not teach you
love and respect?
Where did you learn
this violence, this greed,
this cruelty?
Not from me.

I want to beat you bloody.
I wish you weren't mine.
I want to cast you out
far from my sight.
My son, my son,
what have you done?
How could you do this?
Why?

And yet
you are my son,
my sweet, sensitive boy -
somehow, somewhere
that child is still there.
How I wish he could come out,
set himself free
from the blindness of self,
the chains of lust and greed.
How I wish
your evil deeds could fall away
to uncover the true you
buried beneath.

I want to beat you bloody.
I want to love you back to health.
I wish you weren't mine.
But how can a mother
forget her child?

You are not
what you have done.
I hate your deed
but I love my son.
I love you
and it hurts.
I love you
with the shattered pieces of my heart.
I want to love you back to health,
love you out from the depths of your dungeon,
love the selfish, brutal man
into my sweet, sensitive child again.
My son.

________________________________________________

[26. January 2017]

For some reason 2. Sam 13 is one of my most-written-about Bible texts (Tamar 1, Tamar 2, Tamar Absalom's daughter)... and I'm still planning on writing a fifth poem for it, from the p.o.v. of Tamar's mother.

Amnon's mother is Ahinoam of Jezreel (2. Sam 3:2). I realised it would be interesting to consider this story, of his rape of half-sister Tamar, from his mother's point of view.

While writing this I realised that, despite the way it has been misused and therefore fallen into disrepute, we still need the phrase, "love the sinner, hate the sin". We just need to understand it correctly. I find the phrase has been badly overused and misused in the context of discussions about homosexuality, and is almost only associated with such discussions. The way I first heard it, though, it meant something completely different. To me, "love the sinner, hate the sin" means differentiating between the deed and the person, acknowledging that something someone has done (e.g. in this case rape) is wrong (also for the sake of standing up for the victim), but still caring for the person and wanting them free. I believe we have really watered down this important message by associating it with a "sin" as negligible as homosexuality (I don't actually think it is one, but that's another fight I've already had too much of).

What someone has done does not have to "define" him as a person. I guess no one knows this better than a parent. That's why the Bible works with father and mother imagery to describe the love of God. God as a parent sees not only what we have done, but sees the trapped child beneath. And grace means we don't have to be what we have done, we don't have to be trapped, we aren't doomed to repeat our mistakes, there is a chance to change and to be free.

We need to "hate sin" in the sense that we need to stand up against injustice, cry out against rape and abuse of all kinds.
And we need to "hate sin" in the sense that we want the person imprisoned by it to come free and find their true self again, which was created for goodness, not for evil.
But we need to see the person as not defined by what he/she has done. And no one does that better than a loving parent, I think.
To me, that is what "love the sinner, hate the sin" should mean. It should be about standing up for victims and at the same time recognising the humanity of the perpetrator and giving him/her a chance to change.
I think one reason it's so dangerous to talk about "hating sin" mainly in the context of homosexuality is that we lose all credibility when we want to talk against real sin, or - even worse - ignore the real sin, which in my understanding of the Bible is abuse of others, especially the weak, failure to help the weak, oppression of others, and injustice of all kinds. Read the prophets: all about social justice.


Picture by Käthe Kollwitz, "Woman with Dead Child".