August 7, 2011

The Woman with the Flow of Blood.

(Love Your Enemy, Part 2. Part 1 is here)

I know a great many things about myself, and most of them are wrong.

For instance, for years  I  believed that I just don’t “get anything out of” guided visualization. I figured I respond better to sounds, I lack imagination and attention span for the visual, I’m not a narrative thinker, yadda yadda yadda. Then recently I experienced a guided meditation on a gospel story often known as The Woman with the Flow of Blood:

(A) woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her,“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering. (Mark 5:25-34)

The guide simply read the story twice, very slowly, then instructed me to imagine, in as much detail as possible, that I was witnessing the event myself.  She didn’t fill in any specifics, which gave my mind the opportunity it needed to go off on one of its bizarre flights.

I found myself picturing the story taking place, for some reason,  in a Pennsylvania Dutch country market–a setting with which I am very familiar. I could see the bins of big belt buckles, banjos hanging on a rack, baskets of kitchen implements, racks of Christian books, tables of pies and bin after bin of fresh produce. Amish and Mennonite men and women were all around me, as well as their more “worldly” neighbors who, while not officially “plain,” were certainly not “fancy.” I smelled freshly ground horseradish, heard snatches of conversation in Pennsilfaanisch, and breathed in the atmosphere of religious conservatism and rural tradition.

As a group of men came in one of the side doors, a palpable current of hostility began to flow from the people around me toward the man at the group’s center.  Who does he think he is? He grew up right around here like the rest of us; where does he get off acting like some kind of leader? Where did he get all this so-called wisdom from? Though many seemed to welcome the man’s arrival, others obviously thought him far above himself.

But the animosity toward Jesus was nothing compared to the all-but-tangible hatred toward the woman who crept fearfully up to touch one of his Muckmaster® boots.  What does she think she’s doing? It may not be her fault, but the Law is the Law. She must have done something wrong or this wouldn’t have happened to her.

Now, one thing that may escape modern readers is that in Jesus’ time, a woman with a “flow of blood”–that is, vaginal bleeding–would have been considered “unclean” under Jewish law, and any man she touched would then be considered unclean also. This accounts for the fearful way in which the woman approached Jesus–who, never one to prioritize the letter of the law over its spirit–healed and blessed her. When the people around me realized what Jesus had done, the atmosphere of outrage in the hall became positively stifling.

At this point, the guide instructed me to let the scene fade from my inner vision, until only Jesus and I were left. “What do you say to Him?”, she asked.

For a moment, I had no idea what to say–until a revelation came crashing in upon me like daylight into a dark cellar. They aren’t bad people are they? I said to Jesus. All these people hating You, hating the woman, so narrow in scope and rigid in their beliefs–they aren’t bad people. These are the people I buy horseradish and shoo-fly pie from, the people I sing Sacred Harp music with. They’re just people, doing the best they can and trying to do the right thing. They aren’t evil. And as I said it, I began to weep–great racking sobs for all the years I had sat in judgment on “those backward people.” I had said “Aha–see?” when someone vandalized a Lancaster synagogue, but been silent when over eighty people arrived to clean up the damage. When local residents fought against the establishment of Lancaster County’s first gay-friendly church, I shook my head in self-righteous disgust; when a Church of the Brethren pastor stepped forward to broker a peace accord between the church and the borough, I said nothing.

And even if these people hadn’t had what I consider “redeeming characteristics,” who am I that anyone should need to be redeemed in my eyes?

I am a mysterious to them as they are to me, aren’t they? I said to my Lord. They aren’t bad people.

Since then, I have refrained from dismissing any spiritual practice out-of-hand, thinking that it “wouldn’t work for me.”

I recently learned that the Mayor of Lancaster has OK’d domestic partner benefits for gay city employees. Well, whaddya know; looks like what I know about other people is wrong, too.

(This post originally appeared at Scott’s spiritual direction website, Open to the Divine.)

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