Tuesday, January 31, 2017

talitha cumi

The would-be believers who sometimes ask me for help with prayer often say it seems hypocritical to turn to God only now during whatever crisis is forcing them toward it. But no one I know has ever turned to God any other way. ... Maybe saints turn to God to exalt him, from innate righteousness. The rest of us tend to show up holding a tin cup.
--Mary Karr, "Facing Altars"

On the rocky shore, the crowds crush in around Jesus, alighting from the boat. As he faces the sea of faces on the shoreline, the man of sorrows is already bearing the burdens of them all. He steps off the boat, into the throng of smelly, sweating humans, into their lives, into the hopes shining in their eyes, the curiosity lurking around the corners of their smiles, the suspicion, consternation, doubts, and fears creasing between their eyelids. The pains that wrack their limbs and weary their hearts. He senses the weight of all these lives, and bears them on his young shoulders, like so many lambs.

A man is elbowing his way frantically through the crowd. He is clearly a wealthy man, a fellow who ranks. Normally, perhaps, the crowd would part before him, but there are too many people, too unconcerned with others' problems to make room. The man bursts through a mother holding her son's hand, collides with a disciple, and falls to the ground. Is he injured? Is he mad? Jesus reaches towards the crumpled figure as the disciples lift him off the ground. Rabboni, he cries, catching his breath between words, as a man who is not accustomed to running does after a long sprint. My little daughter is at the point of death. Tears threaten to spill out of his eyes. One escapes. It trickles down a gully on his face, a route clearly blazed by many sister tears before her. Come and lay your hands on her, I beg you, he grabs Jesus' sandals, so he cannot walk away. Come and lay your hands on her, master, he looks right up into the face of God, Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.

Jesus considers Jairus, clinging to his feet, pleading with his panicked eyes. He is Jairus' last resort. That much is clear. This is a man who is grasping at a last chance, reaching for a miracle, even though he is a skeptic. He has no where else to turn. Jesus sees he is the last resort, and does not resent that status. The Alpha and Omega is accustomed to serving as the final recourse for those who prefer to stand on their own two feet, forgetting from whom those feet came. It is to be the final hope for the hopeless that he has come into the world. He lifts Jairus to his feet. Take me to your home, he says. Jairus crumbles at his feet again, to kiss them in a wordless thanks. Quickly, says the Master, as the disciples lift Jairus to his feet, kindly, with a reverential compassion. Jairus turns, and barks instructions to his servant, as he shares directions with Peter. Jesus follows, surrounded by a swarm of souls, swallowing him up in their crush of life, their interest now doubly piqued. 

A woman is in this crowd. This woman is unclean. She wraps her skin around her frame tightly, careful not to touch the righteous ones around her. She wraps her cloak around her, as blood leaks from her body underneath her dress. She has sought for healing everywhere, and has alway departed with empty hands. She has sought for something to fill this emptiness inside of her, for something to staunch this eternal flow of blood. She has held so many men on so many dark nights, feeling emptier than loneliness. Her empty arms are less lonely than their embraces. None of these doctors have remedied her ailing heart. Each walks away, carrying a bit of her away with them. She has been depleted. Each new love tearing new holes, leaving new cavities of emptiness crying for something--or one--to fill them. They have taken all that she has. There is nothing left.

And still the blood flows. 

She has darted and bobbed and ducked through the crowd. She is--her breath catches in her throat--she is right behind him. She should call out. This man can heal her. Right? Surely he must be able to. She should call to him Rabboni. Master. Sir. Make me well. She cannot dare. What will this crowd say, knowing such a putrid woman is in their midst? He will send her away. He is a righteous man; he cannot touch her.

He has stopped, stooped down to speak to an elderly cripple with a gammy leg. She is right behind him. She cannot speak. With a flicker as quick as serpent's tongue, her fingers dart forth and clutch the rough wool of his cloak. A flash of something runs through her body. What is this? Some lighting has charged her blood with life, has rinsed through her sore and broken body and touched the vital spirits of her heart. What is this new feeling?

Who touched me?

The question is gentle, curious. A power has left him. He did not will it to do so. Not, at least, consciously. Most of the crowd does not hear his question, as the man has simply addressed it to his disciples. They are peeved with the ubiquitous crowds. They did not sign up for this. You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say "Who touched me?" says the man who looks like the Master. This man has his hand on Jesus' shoulder. The Master removes his brother's hand. Who touched me? he says to the crowd around him. 

Does she dare to come forward?

Who touched me? 

She cannot hide now.

She steps forward, trembling. Trembling in fear. What will this man do? He is a righteous man. Her touch has made him unclean. 

mysterium tremendum et fascinans
Trembling in fear of this new life inside of her. What has happened inside her blood? What holy mystery has miracled inside her?

Sir, I touched you. 

The crowd parts around her.
She falls to the ground. He is opposite of her. Looking into her face.

She cannot meet his gaze. But she knows he already knows the story. He knows about the men. He knows about the emptiness. He knows about how cracked and dry her heart is, empty. No doctor can heal me. Nothing heals me. I am desert. Desert, irrigated by blood.
He demands the truth, although he knows it all already.
She tells him.

I am unclean.  I thought, 'If I touch his garments, even, I will be made clean.'

He kneels down. He is squatting in front of her, and lifts up her chin, looking into her face. He is, again, the last resort. And he is not bitter at being so, he does not begrudge her this one last recourse.

Daughter: your faith has made you well: go in peace, and be healed of your disease.

Now that she has seen his eyes she cannot look away. She takes his hands and kisses them, burying her face in them in gratitude. He rests his hand upon her hair in blessing. No doctor can heal as this man, no embrace has felt as sweet as the blessing that flows through her blood.

Here is what she has been seeking all her life.

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