30 October 2013

Bilhah: Shackled

"While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine. And Israel heard of it." (Genesis 35:22)

I wear my body
like a shackle;
to what is not my own -
no escape.

They see me -
they see my body.
They use it
for pleasure,
for gain,
for themselves,
not asking me,
for my body is not my own
and I cannot be free.

How I wish that,
like clothes,
I could take it off,
let it drop to the floor,
slip out of it, free -
but would I still be me?

I wear my body
like a shackle -
how I wish I could love it
like a friend.
it is my trap,
locking me
in the arms
of man after man
who wants it,
who owns it -
no escape.


[30. October 2013]

Huge family drama: Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel (who were two sisters). Leah had children, Rachel had none, so Rachel became jealous. They ended up having a sort of "baby war", competing for Jacob's love and attention, so because Rachel could have no children she gave her maid Bilhah to Jacob to have children in her stead. When Leah couldn't have children anymore, she gave Jacob her maid Zilpah. Bilhah and Zilpah often "go under" and aren't remembered (maybe because they don't make it into children's Bibles) - but what could it have been like for them, stuck in their mistresses' fight?

And then Reuben slept with Bilhah too (incest, and it got him disinherited). With that story, I was wondering: what was Bilhah's part in it? Some people might like to paint it as a seduction (blame the woman, as always). Or one could see it as Bilhah rebelling in a sort of 'bid for freedom' and 'true love' (which is understandable but maybe a more 'modern' reaction). Or was it rape?

When I got to writing, I ended up focusing on Bilhah's position of no choice, and the problem of being treated as a sex object.
I was thinking in particular of the relationship one has to one's own body
(inspired actually by one half-sentence in Tess of the d'Urbervilles: "Tess had spiritually ceased to recognize the body before him as hers - allowing it to drift, like a corpse upon the current, in a direction dissociated from its living will." - good book btw).

I think we should have a good relationship to our body, not just see it as "the flesh" (contrasted to the soul) but as part of who we are (as was the original Hebrew notion, actually; the concept of "soul" as a separate entity is Greek). If someone destroys that, e.g. through abuse, then that is a terrible thing. Terrible because we might end up not caring what happens to our body, or might end up harming ourselves. Terrible also because you can hardly escape from your body - and I think our body is a major part of who we are, especially as a woman (our emotions being connected to what goes on in our bodies, and all that). It's not really "good" to reject your body. But it's terrible when people force you to, or when they turn your body into something that imprisons you - e.g. by viewing you only as a sex object.

Anyway, that's sort of what flowed into this poem...

Picture by Etienne Dinet

28 October 2013

The Adulteress: Stones

John 8:1-11

I see their feet.
I don't want to see more.
Soon, I won't.

I hear accusations.
I don't want to hear more.
Soon, I won't.

I feel naked,
bare, in the sight of all,
don't want to feel more,
don't want to feel their stones,
their stones.

My thoughts:
if only I hadn't...
if only he wouldn't...
if only, if only.
His lips that kissed me
no half hour ago -
my heart, stone-cold.
Why is he not here?
Why do I get the stones,
while he gets away?
Why was I so stupid?

I see them shuffling.
I hear discussions.
I feel so numb.
Soon I won't
when their stones hit me
and end it all.

No turning back,
no chance to change,
no sorries,
no forgiveness,
no mercy,
just mockery,
God laughing at me
from the stones they throw
in His name.
cold as a stone,
is that what He is?

I see one drawing in the sand,
I hear: He without sin
shall throw the first stone.
I don't know what to feel.

I see the stones fall, one by one,
into the dust, and not on me.
I hear their footsteps slowly fade.
I don't know what to feel.

What is this now?
Does life start anew?
A chance to change?
Forgiveness and grace?

God is not mocking -
He never did.
Instead he stoops down,
and takes my hand,
lifts me up,
and says:
"Go now and sin no more."


[December 2011]

It's so easy to condemn. But actually we have no right, because we're all sinful. Only God has the right to judge over others, and to take revenge, and to punish. And He will in time. But shouldn't we right now on this earth be giving people the chance to change before they can't anymore? I believe God wants us to give people that chance.

If you let a criminal be sentenced to death, isn't that the most terrible thing you can do? You are in fact cutting him off from salvation, preventing him from having another chance and changing his life, which maybe he wants to. God wants everyone to be saved, no matter how terrible the things they've done. That's one reason why I'm against the death penalty.

Picture by Valentin de Boulogne

23 October 2013

Potiphar's Wife: Seduction

Genesis 39

It is a strange feeling,
this power over men
- and I'm drunk with it.

I love it
how a single look
    a single touch
    a single word
can set them crawling at my feet
like worms.

I love it
being irresistible
turning them into grovelling dogs,

It is a strange feeling,
this power over men
- and I'm drunk with it.

But what happens
when one says NO,
won't take the bait,
and runs away?
When my power fails,
abandons me?

Then I'm just a girl,
desperate for attention,
yearning for true love,
weak behind my mighty mask,
hiding my fears
beneath the blankets.
so lost,
and so alone.

I will hide it,
put my mask on again,
make myself drunk with power,


[December 2011]

Some time ago I realised for the first time how powerful we women can be - and how good that can feel! It's pretty dangerous. And I can imagine it can be a way we try to hide from ourselves our problems and weaknesses.

I think what we need to see first is that it's not the right solution. If I have self-esteem issues, or really need attention, then hiding it by temporarily feeling a bit powerful is not going to help. Problems are overcome when we face them, when we admit them, when we bring them before Jesus who can heal them. Because His love is real and permanent.

Another thing I think we need to see is that women who "sleep around" and look for men's attention all the time are not "evil", but people with needs which maybe they're trying to fill the wrong way. We should remember this before judging, and instead of putting them down as "bad people" give them the love they're looking for in the wrong places.

Picture by Carlo Cignani.

17 October 2013

Mary Magdalene: Gone

John 20:1-18

are my hopes:
nailed to the cross.
are my dreams:
drowned in blood.
So much I gave -
for nothing?
is my Lord
and what I thought he was.

An empty grave.

my hope of a last goodbye.
the chance of one last look
at your so loving face.
Gone -
where have they taken you?
Gone -
what am I to do now?

why are you weeping?
Whom are you seeking?"

are my hopes:
nailed to the cross.
are my dreams:
drowned in blod.

At last
my eyes can see!

is no good-bye
but a new beginning.
I see you for who you are.
Here -
for you are risen again.
Here -
and you make all things new!

are my sins:
nailed to the cross.
are my failings:
drowned in your blood.
So much you gave -
for you, may I live.
are you Lord
and you always will be.


[Easter 2011]

Picture by Rembrandt

16 October 2013

Dorcas: The End

Acts 9:36-43

It was the end,
and all I could think was:
"No Lord! Please!
I'm too young to die,
and I haven't finished sewing
that widow's dress.
And who else will lead
my neighbour to Christ,
and answer her questions,
or continue to teach
these women your word?
I'm too young to die!
Don't take me yet!"

But it was the end,
and there I was, dead,
and all these things
torn from my hands -

How could I forget
that they are in yours,
that even without me
you still work on?
My time is held
in your capable hands -
can't I trust you to know
better than me where it ends?

It did not end there
after all
for you still have a plan for me.
You brought me back,
but now I think
I've finally come
to understand.

It was the end
of looking at me,
and the beginning
of looking at you,
at you to plan my life and work,
and take it someday from my hands,
a day that only you can choose,
at just the time that you know best.

It is not my work,
it is yours,
so lead me now
to do your will,
and give me strength to let it go
and trust that you are in control.


[October 2011]

Dorcas is one of the less-known women of the Bible - she only appears in Acts 9:36-43 but there already one can get an idea of who she was. She was a Christian lady who helped widows by making clothes for them. I imagine her as the kind of missionary who teaches poor women how to self-support, and at the same time passes on the Gospel - through the life she leads, through the good things she does to them, and through telling them about Jesus.

And then she died! I tried to imagine what she'd be feeling - and so this poem actually reflects what went through my head in all the "oh no I think I'm going to die and I don't want to" moments (e.g. whenever I think the plane I'm in is going to crash... really stupid moments actually).

The conclusion I came to, after all those (unnecessary) worries, was: God will only let me die if it's really the right time. I won't be "missing" something He'd have wanted me to do, because He won't let me go before. And when I do die, it will be when I've done what God wanted me to do. Actually, some old people see comfort in the fact that God still keeps them alive not to torture them but because He still has a plan for them.

And that's why Dorcas was brought to life again - because God still had more plans. But also, through that miracle, many people believed! Sometimes God can use even death to show something.

13 October 2013

Levite's Concubine: Sacrifice

 Judges 19

My blood,
poured out upon your doorstep.
My dignity,
trampled underfoot.
My virtue,
offered up,
a sweet sacrifice
to their idol of lust.

Here I lie instead of you,
ravaged, ruined,
destroyed, defiled,
your human shield,
your sweet sacrifice
to selfish fear.

Because a woman
is never worth
a man's self-sacrifice.

You should be my protection,
but I'm protecting you,
taking the blows,
devoured by their lust,
thrown out to the dogs
by one I should trust,
my sweet sacrifice
- for what?

Because a woman
is just a body
to be used and abused
until it dies.

And so it dies,
this creature
that was never worth
more than a lamb of sacrifice
to pacify the wolves
and save your skin.
So it dies -
and all my pieces cry:

Do you think God is pleased?
For God Himself would sacrifice
Himself for a woman like me.


[10. October 2013]

Short summary: a Levite is travelling with his concubine; they stop at Gibeah where no one wants to offer them hospitality except for an old man. In the middle of the night, a group of men knocks on the door demanding the old man to hand out the Levite so they can rape him (it's basically like Sodom and Gomorrah, but this was happening in Israel). The old man offers up his daughter and the Levite's concubine instead. When they don't listen, the Levite throws his concubine out to them where she is raped all night. In the morning, she dies on the doorstep. The Levite takes her body home and cuts it into 12 pieces, which he sends around the country to bring attention to what happened (hence "all my pieces cry").

It's a terrible story. When I read it I felt like the men were using the concubine like their protection, or a replacement sacrifice. I only noticed after writing this that the way I used the sacrifice imagery here is pretty ironic, considering the Levite's job was to sacrifice for the people - and here he's sacrificing his concubine to save himself. As I wrote, this poem turned into something about the worth of women - how a male-centred mindset led to this woman being treated as something dispendable, her life and well-being less important than a man's. When God created both men and women in His image, and no one is worth less or more than the other. The people in this story were in a terrible and difficult situation. But just throwing this woman out to suffer so the men could get away... I don't think that was right. They were treating her like something it was all right to lose. It makes you see why she got angry at the Levite and went home to her father in the first place...

Picture by Gustave Doré

05 October 2013

Eve: Helper

Genesis 2:18-25

I want to be your helper,
the arms that support you,
surrounding you with love.
I want to be there,
ready to catch you,
standing behind you,
someone to lean on.

I want to listen to your problems
before I tell you of my own.
I want to ask you how you feel,
pick up the broken pieces,
be ever on your side
- even when it's hard.
I want to be your helper,
surrounding you with love.

I want to be a comforter,
to put your needs before my own.
I want to strengthen you,
to heal your hurts.
I want to love you
more than feelings.
I want to be your helper,
surrounding you with love.

I want to be a part of you,
belonging to you
- your rib
close to your heart,
protection and support
and loved.
Bone of your bones,
flesh of your flesh,
I want to be your helper,
surrounding you with love.


 [25. November 2012]

I think Genesis 2:18-15 shows a lot of important things about relationships and marriage. I find it very inspiring. I wrote this just after studying that text (in the midst of a relationship crisis) and v.18 really spoke to me, and even though it's less precise I really like Luther's translation, something like: "a helper surrounding him" (eine Gehilfin, die um ihn sei). It makes it sound like an embrace. I think a central thing about relationships is that we should care more for the other than for ourselves. Man and woman are created to support each other and help each other, and work together to reach God's goal and do His will. Not one dominating the other, but combining strengths in partnership.

Picture is "El primer beso" by Salvador Viniegra y Lasso de la Vega

03 October 2013

Sarah: He Who Laughs Last

Genesis 18:1-15

I laughed:
What a ridiculous notion!
Me: a mother?
At my age?
Yeah right.
We've been waiting for years,
and always: nothing.
You said and you promised,
but always: nothing.
Believe you now?
Not gonna happen.

We laughed:
What a wonderful moment!
Me: a mother!
At my age!
And yet -
after waiting for years,
and always: nothing,
I laughed at your promise,
and now, there's something!
Now this has wiped
the grin off my face...

I guess
you're laughing now
at this gobsmacked woman -
me - who laughed
at you.
You left us waiting for years,
and we saw nothing,
but you've done as you promised,
because nothing
is impossible for you.
And now, I am sure
you're laughing much louder
than I did before.


[October 2011]

Here's one thing you find out if you learn Hebrew: Isaac is, in Hebrew, Yizchak, which means: "He laughed." But who was laughing here? It was Sarah, wasn't it? So my Hebrew prof likes to say that Isaak should have been called Tizchak ("she laughed").

But maybe not only Sarah laughed. Writing this poem I had to think of the saying, "He who laughs last laughs loudest."

Picture by James Tissot.

02 October 2013

Naaman's Slave Girl: My Healing Hurt

2 Kings 5

I'm uprooted, homeless, exiled,
hurt, in a place I don't want to be,
a slave, unloved, without a voice -
I cannot understand.

Why am I here?
Oh God, why did you allow it?
My life was before me, all of my plans -
why have you dashed them,
why banished me
to this place where I languish
and cannot shine?

Some say
when you are hurting
you have a right to hurt,
to hear only your pain,
be deaf to that of others,
especially your oppressors.
But when I see my master
how can I close my ears?

In some ways, we are so alike:
helpless, hurt, outsiders.
They fear to touch him,
hate to look at him;
their respect is a thin veil
over disgust and contempt.
They do not hear his pain
just like they don't hear mine.
I cannot turn away,
though he is an oppressor,
when I know how to help.

And now I realise why I'm here,
and why you have allowed my pain.
Without my exile
who else could have helped him?
Without my hurt
how would he have been healed?
I'm a link in the chain -
at the right place, the right time.

How strange it is
that my sorrow has healed his -
that you have put purpose
even into my pain.
My burden is lighter
now that I carry his.
For I am in the place
where you want me to be,
and you, God, have a plan with me
though I can't see
or can't see why.

So give me strength to bear my hurts
and bear the hurts of others.
Let me not be here in vain,
but give me joy and open eyes,
to be your light in this exile,
thinking of others and giving to them
what I'd want them to give to me.

And just because
this is the place you want me to be
makes it the right place for me.
And just because
you touch others through me
makes my pain worthwhile -
and takes it away.


[January 2012]

Naaman's maid was one of the first missionaries, in a sense.
And we should learn from her, really. She didn't think in terms of "my country" and "the enemies". She thought in terms of needy people, instead of thinking first of her rights. In the end, it was Elisha who healed Naaman - but it was the maid who mentioned the possibility, so that Naaman went and asked at all.

One thought that really influenced this poem, or that I was reminded of again while writing it, is something my mother told me when I was having problems and really upset. She said to forget my cares by caring for others. (Or something along those lines) And I think that's very true. The worst one can do is wallow in one's problems and try to spoil oneself and everything. It one is really busy caring for other people, one ends up forgetting what one was so upset about.
(I wrote something else about this too once: [link])

Another thought that was in my mind while writing this is that sometimes, we may not like the things that are happening, and end up asking, "WHY God?" Which is a valid question to ask, I suppose. But God has ways above our own and He leads everything to the best. Naaman's maid was parted from her family, she had to become a slave. Nothing pleasant. But she ended up being in the right place at the right time to help somebody. Everything happens for a purpose - often we only see afterwards, though.