Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Creepy or comforting, or something else entirely...

The posted pic has been variously popping on the occasional facebook wall of this or that friend.  Invariably, the friend posting the pic tends to be an avid book lover - indeed, as am I.  The picture, apparently, is meant to convey the message that reading is one of life's comforting pastimes - and indeed, it can be.  But, try as I might, it is not the message that comes across to me.  Instead, I find the picture oddly discomforting and have been wondering just why I find this imagery, well...frankly incredibly creepy.

Earlier today, a conversation about said pic occurred over on facebook.  One friend wondered if the picture might be more 'comfortable' if the woman had her eyes closed, or if the book figure had a more recognisable face - an eye to eye, face to face kind of hug.  It was a good point and I said as much.  Another friend noted that he saw the pic as was - books are comfortable friends.
Various suggestions, and interpretations were made on the one image.
As to me, I offered that perhaps my discomfort was sparked off by reading and watching just a little too much in the sci-fi/fantasy genres. 
Dr Who came to mind: the book on the bookshelf looking harmless and inviting...the unsuspecting reader perusing the shelves, until, stumbling upon this particular title, chooses it, opens it, and the book - which is really some kind of alien creature - literally, draws the reader in.  Here, getting lost in a book, taking on more menacing overtones.

It's always an interesting thing to see how one particular person, thing, theory, can be viewed in different ways by different people. 
So many perspectives.  And all in their own way entirely valid. 
I remember being in a congregation many years back now [and many of the folk still much-loved friends] where the ongoing joke was 'where two or three [name of church] are gathered together, there shall be at least five or six opinions in their midst.'  It was true enough: trying to actually organise anything was a tad like attempting to herd cats - although incredibly lovely, bright and articulate ones. :) 

The way we see a thing, our different perspectives, was on my mind this last week as I grappled with the gospel text - Luke 13:10-17 - where Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath.  I began to feel rather sorry for the poor old synagogue official, who was, after all, only doing his job, and who, I felt, was possibly terrified of the repercussions that might occur due to the healing: would this breach of the Law, as the official was interpreting it, result in a display of God's displeasure?  The fear of God literally prompting the official to rebuke Jesus?  It would be too easy to label the man as a 'jobsworth'.  In the context of both a covenantal relationship with God which entailed both privileges and duties, and from the perspective of holding to a providential view of God, the fear would be entirely well-founded. Beyond the mere 'jobsworth' label, what else might have been going on here and what was it that he was seeing; what was his perspective?  That's not to discount the possibility that he could indeed have been simply a 'jobsworth' but that also raises the question:what is it that makes someone so focused upon rules and regulations that humanity somehow gets lost in the equation?

And then, there's the woman herself; unnamed, as is the official.  She is defined by her illness, an illness that causes her to be severely bent over.  Her physical perspective is where her feet are - and the paths her feet take her.  Interactions with others are not eye to eye, or face to face [echoes here of the conversation about our picture above].  She can neither look ahead or up, only down.  And through her healing, her perspective changes, as too, her neighbours: she stands straight and tall, she sees others and others now see her differently as well.  The healing goes beyond a physical change of perspective. 
There's an identity perspective - she can now look up at those same stars that Abraham once saw: she is a child of a promise made long before.  In seeing the stars, her identity as a daughter of Abraham is reaffirmed.
And there's a wider change of perspective being offered to the community in the story concerning the meaning of Sabbath: reaffirming the celebration of liberation from Egypt through the freeing up of the woman from her bondage to whatever this illness was as seen to be entirely in keeping with the meaning and purpose of Sabbath.

Coming back to the starting point of the post, is that picture one of comfort?  For some, it is.  That's great, and I'm delighted it is so.  I still find it creepy, but it would make a cracking episode of Dr Who.  Stephen Moffat, all I ask is a 10% fee....

In the meantime, copied below is a reflection from the point of view of the healed woman - I chose to divide the sermon into three distinct compartments, in different styles, placed at different points in the service.  The first reflection was 'him' and was taking the point of view of the synagogue official, the second, 'her' copied below and in an attempt to get the feel of spoken word poetry format, and the third, 'us', hopefully brought the whole thing together, pondering on what the call to be God's faithful people might look like.

A transformed woman tells her story:


you are free’

That’s what he said to me

that young rabbi:


And called to me

in the middle of the synagogue –

in the middle of the sermon,

in front of everyone.

I strained to look up

from the floor

Saw them all

Looking at me
And looking at him.
Saw him, seeing me.

Eighteen years;
Long and lonely
a life spent looking at my feet
not able to meet
anyone eye to eye
but always

eyes cast down

back bent
burdened by illness
and distress.
I was the invisible one
the neighbours shunned.
uietly I shuffled through the village,
through my life,
not knowing what it was
to be

That Sabbath day
I shuffled in to synagogue
listened to his words
and heard
the sermon stop
and words addressed to me:

‘Woman you are free.’
And compelled,
I crept across to where he was
and felt the kindness
as he placed his hands on me.
And I,
Stood up,
stood tall
and blinked in shock,
eye to eye with him
and called
on God in praise.

And now when nights are clear
I walk outside
look upwards
to the sky
and count the stars
that Father Abraham once saw
...and ponder freedom,
and the law.


Rebecca said...

A beautiful post, especially the poem which I found powerful. I seek freedom from the things that keep me emotionally bent over and I know in my walk with Christ I will find it!

Nik said...

Thanks for your comments Rebecca, and thanks for stopping by :)