Wednesday, September 14, 2011

a retelling of the story of the woman called a dog


(an assignment for my preaching class)

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon." But he did not answer her at all.

Why do you ignore me?
Why do you not heed my cry?
I know you have an answer.
I know you hear me; I can see you flinch when I speak.
Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!
Do you know how long I have watched her suffer?
How many animals we have slaughtered to our own gods, begging them for mercy?
Do you see how this demon has beggared us?
I know you know.
I have heard of you.
Oh, I know who you are, Lord, Son of David.
You have cast out demons,
not by the power of demons but by the spirit of your god.
I have heard of you.
Why then will you not hear me?

And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us."
He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

Do you think I do not know who you are sent to?
Do you think I do not know who you are, Son of David?
You are a son of Israel.
You are a child of the people who slaughtered my people and took the land of Canaan for themselves.
Your people hate my people.
Your god hates my gods.
But were not your people blessed to be a blessing,
to be set apart as a city on a hill and a light to the nations?
Yes, I know your stories, Lord, Son of David.
I know who you are.
Do you know me?

But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
He answered, "It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs."

What then shall I say to these things?
Are you blind, you who gives sight?
Are you deaf, you who opens ears?
Are you as worthless and lifeless as the idols of my household, unable to think, to move, to save?
No, I am not a daughter of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob -- no, she is not a child of the Covenant --
but neither are we dogs.
Look back further in your family,
back beyond Moses and Joshua,
beyond Abram and Sarai gazing at the stars.
Go back to the root of the family tree from which no one can be divided.
Yes, I know your stories, Lord, Son of David.
There is one ancestor from which we were all descended.
A mother knows her family.
A mother knows her daughter.
She is not a child of dogs.
She is a child of God.
Are you testing me, Lord, Son of David?
Do you question the strength of my convictions that you might be able to do what I ask?
If you were who you claimed to be, you would not do so.
If you are who you claim to be, you can see my heart.
I come to you out of the strangeness of a mother's love,
worthless in the measure of riches,
beyond measure in power and strength.
I did not come to be tested -- I did not come to be cast aside --
I will not let you go until you bless me.

She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table."
Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."
And her daughter was healed instantly.


(Matthew 15:21-28)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Found this in my Drafts folder. A poem from a long night at the hospital this summer.

All day long the office has been harassing me to visit her.

I do not want to go.

I saw her yesterday,
her skin beyond jaundiced,
her eyes yellow like a Yield sign,
her face uncomprehending.
She could not carry on a conversation.

Her room was empty but for a few flowers
from a friend's garden, and the angel statue
she requested from a nurse.

This is not new territory,
not for me.

I do not want to visit her again.

She is too much like my father.

I sit in the chaplain's office,
stand at the windows,
stare into nothing.
I allow myself to shake.

I allow myself to be seventeen,
standing in the ER hallway
as my father was intubated.

I allow myself to be nineteen,
watching as my incapacitated father
struggles against his bonds,
his almost-useless hands tied
to keep him from tearing out the tube
that is keeping him alive.

I allow myself to be twenty-one,
singing in the Saint Olaf Choir,
watching my mother's face break as she explains
that she will not be able to attend the Christmas concert,
that someone will have to stay 
with my cancer-struck father.

I allow myself to be angry,
at him, at her, at everything.

I have been told that explaining all this
will do nothing to help me survive it.
Remembering what happened,
understanding what happened,
and releasing what happened
are three very, very different things.

I wonder if I ever can release
all that is built up inside me,
if the fortress 'round my heart
can ever fall completely.

Jesus, you have brought me this far.
Are you with me now?

I take some papers and go.

The room is full today.
Mother, brother, sisters, daughters,
grandchild, niece, nephew.
My heart swells and hurts 
for those gathered,
and for the woman who they surround
as she barely wakes to see 
the grandchildren she's never met before.

Sisters shift to make room for daughters,
brothers and in-laws waver at the back of the room.
Each breaks from their watch
and tells me a piece of the story:
alcoholism,
treatment,
relapse,
divorce,
rejection,
isolation.

A broken story, a broken family.
Now they are trying to make sense of the pieces,
re-constructing ten shattered years.

The pain of it stings.
I am outside it and yet within it.
It does not touch my past
but my heart,
and I love them without reservation.

I bring them water and coffee, 
take a niece to the cafeteria,
take the estranged son for a soda.

He tells me they called 911 on their mother ten years ago
and were taken from the home
and never looked back.

When we return 
the family is murmuring:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee...

I pray silently with them.

Is it me that is praying,
or someone else that moves my lips?