25 November 2013

Mrs Job: This Gaping Chasm in my Soul

Job 1-2

Then his wife said to him, 'Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.' (Job 2:9)

Curse God
and die!
What's the point
in going on?
He's taken all away.
What's the point
in holding on
when this is what you get
for all your faith,
for all your righteousness -
if even godlessness fares better,
why hold on to faith?
Why live
when He's cursed us already,
turned life into hell,
no longer worth living?

I cannot understand.
Is this what you call love?
Is this how you reward
faithfulness and righteousness?
Is this what we deserve?

What am I to do
with this gaping chasm in my soul,
hurling accusations
up to heaven,
rattling at your throne,
because I can't take it,
can't understand,
cannot believe

Who listens to my story?
Who gently heals my wounds?
Who lets me cry, and comforts me?
Who lets me curse and swear
as much as I need to
to get the poison out?
if not you?

Oh God,
the God who's wounding me,
the God who heals my wounds -
I do not understand you,
sometimes can't even like you,
and yet
you are still God
and I still need you
even when I hate you.

I can't forgive
what you have done -
so teach me to forgive.
I cannot love
the one who let this happen -
so teach me how to love you.
I cannot trust
the hand that let me fall -
so teach me how to trust again.
I can't believe
in a God of love
who allows this pain -
so teach me,
God of love,
to believe in you again.

When I can't do it on my own,
drowning in my darkness
of fury and despair,
Lord, save me from myself,
and make me yours again.


[22. November 2013]

Job's wife only shows up once, for one little sentence (that seems to be hard to translate because some translations have a footnote saying the Hebrew actually is "bless God" - which I think would change how people view Mrs Job, quite a bit). I suspect she's generally received rather negatively because of her drastic comment. Though maybe we need to remember that Mrs Job was suffering just as much as Job was, had lost everything too, all her children, and now had a sick man on her hands (at least Job could sit around and mourn and fight with his friends over the cause of his suffering; Mrs Job, being a woman, probably still had responsibilities in the house and towards her husband and less time to think and dwell on what had happened!).

I suspect what most of us know best is the first two chapters of the book of Job. Try reading all of it; Job doesn't sound any more pleasant than this poem a few chapters on and gets pretty negative about God too!! It's not an easy book to read. This poem reflects a bit of what comes in some of the later chapters (esp. 3-8).

I hope it's not too "negative". ^^; But if you think one can't speak about or to God like this, I suggest you read Job first - because now that I've read chapters 9-10, I think this poem is pretty tame.

One sentence I need to explain: "I still need you / even when I hate you."
Yes, I almost changed that, not only because I expect it will bother some people, but also because I had some theological doubts about it (Does God help people who hate Him? Isn't hating Him the worst thing we can do? Doesn't precisely that cut us off from salvation? I'm sure there's even Bible verses for that...). Maybe we need to think more about what "hate" means, though. In this case I see it as an emotion that is there and that Mrs Job wants to get rid of and actually needs God's help to take away.

I tend to try and bring out something "good" or at least something one can learn from, when I write these poems. Sometimes it can clash with what I imagine the woman I'm writing about would have thought and felt. I tend to edge towards the provocative (yes, it's on purpose) - when writing about these women's feelings I sometimes can't not write things that sound provocative. :P I try something between being honest to what I imagine these women's feelings to be, and being careful not to step on anyone's feet. But rather than cutting out "I hate you", I felt I'd leave it in, because I think it belongs there and I think there needs to be hope for people who really have trouble in their relationship with God when they don't understand Him anymore.

20 November 2013

Zilpah: Obedient

Genesis 30:9-13

Is this how far a maid must go?
Take off my clothes
and tremble
beneath the eyes of a man
I never chose
    - obedient.

I used to dream of love,
wonder what it's like.
I used to dream of a man
    - tall, kind, handsome
who would whisk me away.
I used to dream of more
than hasty stolen kisses
from shepherd boys.
I used to dream

but now
I'm in a nightmare,
embroiled in someone else's war,
a tool, a weapon in my lady's hand
    - no longer myself.

Is this how far a maid must go?
Give myself
at my lady's bidding
to a man too old, too ugly, not mine -
take off my clothes
and do what she says
    - obedient.

Is this how far a maid must go?


[May 2012]

Zilpah was Leah's maid, given to Jacob to have children in her stead once Leah stopped having children but continued competing with her sister Rachel over having children. We often forget about Bilhah and Zilpah. What was going through Zilpah's mind at this moment? How would you feel in her place?

By the way, a really interesting book based on the whole "handmaid" idea (letting someone else have your children for you - an emergency measure used by Leah, Rachel and Sarah) is The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Picture by Pantaleon Szyndler

13 November 2013

Leah: He Loves Her, He Loves Me Not

Genesis 29:14-35

He loves her,
he loves me not.
He loves her -
the pretty one.
I was always meant to be
the spinster aunt,
the old maid sister,
destined to remain
in her beautiful shadow.

He loves her,
he loves me not.
Who would notice me
when she is there?
And now she is
always here
always between
me and him
making him
love her, not me,
not plain old me.

He loves her,
he loves me not.
He loves me not -
the plain one.
Here I am,
forever overshadowed,
in a loveless marriage,
fighting for him,
for the least bit of attention,
and still always remaining
in her beautiful shadow.

And yet
you see my plight, o Lord.
You see me, the plain one,
and take pity.
The one less loved
becomes a mother of children -
children, the symbol of love.
He loves me not -
still it hurts,
but your love comforts me.
He loves her,
he loves me not -
you love me.


[June 2013]

I thought of Leah, the plainer sister, always in her sister's shadow, less loved by Jacob.
Thankfully we don't have to share husbands nowadays, but still I think the feeling of being overlooked because of someone prettier, or not being loved by the one we want love from, or being left for another, is something pretty universal (sadly). What Leah's story shows is that even if you don't get the love and attention from a man, God loves you - and His love is, in the end, what counts more. Though I don't think the hurt completely goes away; it's natural after all to long for love. But I think there is something really comforting in realising that God loves you more than a man ever can, and I think it's important to realise that a man can never fulfill and satisfy you; only God can. It's something I've been learning.

08 November 2013

Peter and the Servant Girl: Denial

Mark 14:66-72

"You there.
You also were
with Jesus of Nazareth."
Please tell me you were.
I've heard
so much,
want to know
so much.
You were there,
saw it all -
blind who could see,
lame who could walk -
is it all true?
Tell me I'm right,
that you are one of his -
there's so much I'd like to know.

Why do you deny it?
Was I wrong?
Didn't I see you,
singing with them all,
waving palms
to prepare his way?
"This man -
I'm certain -
he's one of them."

Why do you deny it
so vehemently?
I only want to hear
of the things you've seen;
I only want to know
whether the stories are true,
whether he deserves to die,
and what he means to you.
Why run away
when all of us know:
"Certainly you're one of them;
a Galilean like the rest."

As you deny him
you deny me
the chance to find
the answers I seek.
Why are you afraid,
why do you lie,
when all I want
is the Truth?


[8. November 2013 - improvements 15. April 2014]

Peter's denial is a story I keep returning to. This time, from the servant girl's point of view.

After Jesus' arrest, Peter followed the guards. During Jesus' hearing, he warmed himself in the courtyard - and then a servant girl went up to him and declared that he was one of Jesus' followers - which Peter denied, again and again.

Usually we focus on what Peter is going through. To write about the servant girl, I had to consider her point of view. Why did she (and the other servants) keep insisting Peter was one of Jesus' disciples? What was her motive? We often assume Peter was afraid of being arrested too (probably he was) - but the servants don't seem to have been interested in arresting him. They knew who he was (they don't actually ask him, they make a statement about who he is, and he tells them they're wrong). They could easily have gotten him arrested if they wanted to. So why the prodding?

I had to think of how we, as followers of Jesus, are meant to be witnesses. Not just in our words, but also by our lives, and through the way we explain to others how Jesus has changed us, and answer their questions. "Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you." (1 Pet 3:15) We should live in a way that people ask questions - and then answer honestly and point to Jesus, giving Him glory. Seems Peter realised that in his later years, after this experience...

I grew up in a non-Christian country, with non-Christian classmates, and often they asked me questions! It's silly really, how easily we can feel embarrassed about telling others about our faith, or afraid that we might seem intolerant, etc. But by denying or hiding what Jesus has done in our lives, we are actually denying the asking friend a chance to hear about Jesus, and maybe get the answers they've been waiting for or are curious about.

So I was thinking: maybe this servant girl just wanted to use this chance of having an eyewitness around, to question him about Jesus. Instead of giving her the answers she was waiting for, Peter immediately expected the worst and got defensive.

Let's not immediately think the worst of people who speak to us. Let's not straight-away think they want to bash our beliefs. Instead, let's be open and honest about what we believe, and give account of the hope that is in us. If our lives exude hope and joy, then people who are waiting and longing for hope and joy will come to us to find out how we found it. Let's not deny them the chance.

03 November 2013

Rachel: Hand-me-down

Genesis 29-30

My first doll
was a hand-me-down doll,
with marks from where Leah
once dropped it in the mud.
My clothes were hand-me-downs,
some a bit ripped
from when she climbed up the tree
or got caught in the fence.
Some were too big,
loose in places -
but that's the fate
of the little sister.

But then I met Jacob
and he was not hand-me-down,
he was my own,
had never gone through her hands.
His kisses were mine
and not second-hand,
his love was for me -
and for the first time
something was mine alone.

But it's the fate
of the little sister
to always come second
and take what is left.
Once again I am living
a hand-me-down life,
with a hand-me-down husband
always second in line.

It's not the same anymore
tasting hand-me-down kisses,
for they taste like her.
And when he's holding my hand
I can feel her fingerprints.
Just like my clothes
carry marks of her wearing,
so now my husband
feels second-hand.

Can nothing be mine,
my very own?
Must I always share
and take what she's owned?
You say that I'm jealous
but don't I have a right
for once in my life
to have something for me?


I'll admit that when I read about Rachel and Leah's spats, Rachel always comes across to me as the jealous spoiled brat. I do like Leah more and I'm happy for her that even though Jacob didn't love her, she could find comfort in her children.

But when I decided to write about Rachel suddenly the word "hand-me-down" came into my mind and I noticed: being the little sister must have meant that she often got things which used to be her sister's. And when it came to Jacob's wedding, wasn't the reason Laban gave for the switch that it's the older one's turn first? I'm a big sister so I can't pretend to know what it's like being the little one in her sister's shadow. Rachel can't really have been in much of a shadow since she is said to be the prettier one, but still - it must have been annoying to always come second. And don't we hope that at least in marriage things will change a bit? Imagine having to live with your sister forever... and sharing a husband. Yeurgh.

I can understand why Rachel was jealous. But still, I don't think jealousy is the best option. Rachel was not satisfied with the way things were. Life sometimes is a lot less than satisfactory. But we can find all we need in God and he can be our satisfaction.