Tuesday, September 28, 2010

midrash on the hemorrhaging woman

Homiletics (the study of preaching) is my favorite class this semester so far. One of our assignments was to read Mark 5:21-43 and either write a poem or a midrash (literally meaning "investigation," midrash is a Jewish practice of interpreting Scripture that "fills in the gaps" of what is not included in the text. So in this case we were to take a minor character and tell the story from their point of view). Mine was kind of a midrashic-poem, and it was weird because the story kind of took hold of me and wouldn't let me go until I had finished. As strange as it sounds, it was almost as if the hemorrhaging woman was begging me to tell her story. Now, I made the story/poem up, but even if it is not factual, I tend to align with the late author, Madeleine L'Engle, in maintaining that "Truth is what is true, and it's not necessarily factual. Truth and fact  are not the same thing. Truth does not contradict or deny facts, but it  goes through and beyond facts. This is something that it is very  difficult for some people to understand. Truth can be dangerous. If you  go beyond the facts, [bad] things can happen...But  wonderful things can happen, too."

It took a lot out of me to write this. It was painful and yet strangely healing. But I felt inspired by listening to what my classmates had written. So, in the spirit of being honest and open--and to prove that I actually do work in seminary--I thought I'd share what I wrote. Many thanks to Melanie and Becky for listening and giving suggestions over coffee :o)

I stare warily at the cup coming toward me,
     the sanguine liquid within a reminder of the very thing I have tried so
     desperately to forget.

My life had been one of privilege: a solid upbringing, a suitable marriage.
     I was content to begin a life of bearing children.
The first died before birth, and I had collapsed, weeping, in my husband's arms.
The second one died before they had even cleaned him off.
     And then the bleeding started.
Its unpredictability meant that I could not venture into public for fear I would make things impure,                                                               unclean.
     I did not mind; I didn't want to see their pitying looks or to hear the 
     whispers that trailed after me as doggedly as a shadow. 
The physicians tried desperately to come up with a solution.
     One after another, they turned me away, the questions unanswered.
I visited specialists, and when that didn't work I turned to healers, superstitions--
     anything that had even a remote chance of a cure.
With each poke and prod and failed remedy I drew deeper and deeper within myself,
     until even I couldn't recognize my reflection.

I did not blame my husband for divorcing me; 
    I had failed to do the one task required of a wife.
He had been better than most; he had stuck around for 5 years of it, had 
    grieved with me, had footed the bill. But he had needs, too, and 
    eventually his interest and sympathy waned.

That was seven years ago.
I had seen him, once, holding his son's hand as they made their way to the synagogue.
I liked to imagine that the little boy was mine:
     what stories I would have told him,
     what silly jokes we would have shared,
                and what his sleepy weight would feel like in my arms.
I would play this little imaginary game to pass the time
      as I waited for strangers to have mercy on me and drop coins in my lap.

One day, sitting in my usual spot, I was suddenly pulled out of my reverie by loud shouting.
      Grumbling to myself, I glared in the direction of the commotion.
A large crowd of people had rounded the corner, moving from the lake into town. 
As they drew nearer, I spotted the source of the shouting.
      His clothing revealed that he was a man of importance, a leader of the 
      But his fine garments were disheveled, his face was sweaty, and he 
      breathed heavily, as if he had been running.
               "My little one is dying! Come put your hands on her and heal her. 
               Please! My little girl..." 

Over and over he sobbed, gasping, choking on the pain.

      I recognized the desperation in his eyes;
               I had donned that look myself many a day.
Slowly I shifted my gaze, curious as to whom a respected leader like this would turn to in a moment of crisis.
His back was toward me.
I watched him wordlessly put his hand on the leader's shoulder.
      The leader's entire countenance changed, a 
      look of peace where only a moment before 
      lay                                                                                                   despair.
      He picked himself up off of the ground.
What kind of man could have such an effect on a person, let alone a person of authority?
I half-stood, straining to get a better look. 
      Suddenly he turned and his gaze rested briefly on me.
      I observed the dark shadows underneath his eyes,
      the worry lines that had formed above his nose, a testament to the 
             compassion and concern he felt for the multitude surrounding him.
      They were like children begging a doting father for sweets, and he 
      listened to them each tenderly, loving them all, but so unbelievable sad 
      to witness their                                                                         
There was something about this man that I could not put a finger on,
and I sensed something awakening within me, something I hadn't felt in awhile, something like...hope?!
      If he could calm the leader of the synagogue with just one touch, 
      then surely he could make me, a lonely, broken woman, feel the 
      same kind of peace. 
The crowd passed by and I found my legs moving me in the same direction,
      my body knowing my plan before it had even entered my thoughts.
            "I'll just reach for his robe, that's all it'll take. The crowd will hide 
I stre----tched and grabbed hold of his clothes.
      In that instant I felt a rush of inexplicable joy,
            and I wanted to laugh, to dance, to sing, to weep;
            I knew that the illness had                                             vanished.
He stopped abruptly. "Someone touched me," he said. "Who was it?"
     My heart began pounding, but some men nearby interceded, calling 
     the question unreasonable because of the throng pressing in on him.
"I know that someone touched me," he insisted.
    I stepped forward and fell at his feet, the men's faces mirroring my 
    own shock at this boldness. My body began trembling violently as
    I confessed what I had done.
He helped me up and spoke warmly, "Daughter, your faith has made 
    you well; go in peace, and be healed of your dis-ease." 
    And with that, he left.

Now, many years have passed and I am crammed around a table in
a friend's house for a secret meeting. The head of the household 
invites us to share in a meal just as the Teacher had; "Drink this to
remember the one who shed his blood for us."
     I can no longer associate blood merely with pain, for it carries
     also memories of life restored, of an uninhibited love.
            The cup has made its way to me. 
             I reach for it and drink deeply.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, I have a relative who is unable to give birth, and a husband or two left her because of it. Saying they were OK with it, but soon they were not. Thankfully, though, she now has a great husband: a minister with sons from a previous marriage, who themselves are married, performing missionary work, and having children. So, this story definitely hit close to home for me.

    I did something like this once, during the college course about the holocaust in Europe. I imagined being a bystander, not being hunted but watching others being taken away or killed and wondering if I should do anything about it. Albeit my life has not had such an extreme situation, I drew from memories of not helping others when I could have and the pain it caused me, sometimes for years. It did scare me to realize what I carried for so long, but it was a catharsis and ultimately I felt better for it, learning more about myself than I had expected, and all because of a class assignment :-)