Jael Remembers

(This imaginary account is based on Judges 4 & 5.)

Ah, I have lived too long. Better that I would sleep the long sleep beside my Heber. Because now again comes war and rumors of worse. Now again these descendants of one ancestor, all children of earth’s first man, fight over their father’s earth. And my daughter, my gentle daughter, weeps and prepares her household for war. They gather their flocks, their children, their servants close. The men sharpen their swords.

They encourage each other with stories of past Israelite victories. Joshua at Jericho and Ai, the sun standing still, southern and northern kingdoms conquered. They chant the names of 31 defeated kings. They tell of taking Jerusalem, of putting the city to the sword and setting it on fire. They tell of Shamgar, son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad and saved Israel. And they tell of me, they call me most blessed among women.

My mother called me headstrong. My father worried that no dowry would be large enough to entice a man to put up with my outspoken opinions, my brash ways. But my Heber wanted me, just as I was. He laughed and told me that he loved my strength, my intelligence, my courage and energy. How I loved him, my strong and gentle Heber. Our youngest daughter takes after him.

We lived for a time among my husband’s kin, descendants of Cain, whom the Israelites call a murderer. Among my husband’s kin Cain is not known as a murderer but as a wanderer, one who could not settle to raise crops or tend flocks. My Heber, he was the gentlest of men, but a true descendant of Cain. We laughed a lot, we worked a lot, we made a lot of children – and we moved a lot. Sometimes for better pasture for our flock, sometimes for cooler air, sometimes for better water sources.

Once, once we moved just to spend some time near a beautiful tree – a terebinth, grown tall and wide over time. There was a good stream nearby, flowing into the Kishon River, there were pastures for grazing, shade from the sun, and lots of room for our tents and our children.

But the land was restless again, with talk of a new war between Jaban, who called himself king of Canaan, and the Israelites, who wanted Canaan all for their own. These Israelites worship a strange god, a jealous god who wants only his own people in Canaan. So the Israelites don’t just conquer others, they slaughter them and drive them out. Still, they are not bad people, they can be generous, sharing what they have with widows, orphans, beggars and strangers. But their god is a jealous god, easily angered.

One strange thing I remember from that strange time: the Israelites had no king. They had a strong general named Barak but their real leader was a woman named Deborah. She settled all their disputes and their god talked to her. My Heber would laugh and tell me that I would make a good Deborah.

I remember Sisera’s nine hundred chariots fitted with iron. Sisera was Jaban’s general, as Barak was Deborah’s. Sisera was a proud, cruel man, used to taking what he wanted, used to fighting, used to winning. Barak and Deborah came with 10,000 men to challenge him. Heber said they were crazy, driven on by their crazy god. They had 10,000 men but Sisera had Jaban’s army and those nine hundred chariots fitted with iron. That is what everyone talked of, those chariots. Who can win, they asked, against nine hundred chariots fitted with iron.

Ha! Nine hundred chariots fitted with iron became nine hundred deathtraps when the Kishon overflowed its banks and flooded the battleground. Forty years later, the Israelites still sing of that day: the day that Barak and Deborah’s army killed every one of Sisera’s men. (I’m not sure that part is true, but it makes a good song.)

But we knew nothing of that at the time, although the battle was not far off. We were watchful. We kept the children and livestock close to the camp. We readied everything in case we had to flee quickly. But all we saw was one man, one filthy man, running, stumbling into our camp. He named himself Sisera, proud general still, and demanded that we care for him and hide him until his men rallied and came for him.

You don’t refuse a general who has nine hundred chariots fitted with iron. Our servants bathed him and cleaned his clothes. We prepared a meal for him and Heber and our sons. My daughters and I served the men, of course.

I watched Sisera watching our Hurriya. She was only 8 years old but his eyes were hungry as he watched her. He asked her name, he told her how pretty she was, he told her what a fine life she could have in Jaban’s court. Then he asked Heber about her dowry. I could see my Heber, I knew my Heber, he was ready to explode.

We were not poor but we were not rich either. We came from fine, respectable people, but we were not a noble family. If Hurriya went to Jaban’s court, it would be as a concubine, not as a wife. She would soon become little better than a slave. Maybe offered to favored soldiers. This is not what we wanted for any of our daughters, but especially not for Hurriya, our youngest.

But what of Sisera’s men? What of those nine hundred chariots fitted with iron? I imagined those chariots storming up just as my husband and sons challenged Sisera. My men would all be slaughtered and then my daughters and I would be worse than concubines.

I caught Heber’s eye and slowly, with just the smallest movement, shook my head. And I smiled. And Heber knew. He knew he could leave it to me.

The rest you know, the rest they still sing of. The invitation for Sisera to hide in my tent while I stood guard. The spiced – and drugged – drink. The hammer. The tent peg I pounded into his temple as he slept his drugged sleep in my bed.

I was ready, the next morning, ready to take the blame. To be the only one to take the blame. Better leave my family without a mother than without a father.

But those fabled iron-clad chariots never came. Mud, it turns out, defeats iron-clad chariots rather easily. Sisera’s men never came. Barak came. And Deborah. When they saw what I had done, they honored me. And Barak said with wonder, “It is as you foretold, Deborah. Sisera met his fate at the hands of a woman.”

We have lived among them for forty years now. My daughters married their sons. My grandchildren worship their jealous god. I myself am still honored, though I was just a mother, protecting her child.

And now I will face this new war with that child and her family. When they ask I will tell my story, or at least I will tell the only part that they want to hear: the drugged spice drink, the hammer, the tent peg, the blood. I will listen to their songs. I will listen to the song that tells of my part; the song that ends, “So may all your enemies perish, YAHWEH! But may all who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.” I am Jael, and I remember.

 

Based on Mark 12: 28b-34

I imagine myself, a poor woman who likes to write, asking Jesus,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
And Jesus replying, “The first is this:
Hear, O daughters of Israel!
YHWH, our God, the sovereign Lady Wisdom, is the only God.
You shall love the Lady Wisdom, our God, with all your heart,
With all your soul,
With all your mind,
And with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor,
Of whatever sex, race, color, creed, origin or lifestyle,
You shall love your neighbor,
Even though your neighbor hate you and harm you,
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment, no Canon Law, no hierarchy, no Pope
Greater than these.”

And what do I say to Jesus?
Can I echo the scribe of old,
“Well said, teacher. You are right in saying,
‘She is One and there is no other than She.’
And ‘to love Her with all my heart,
With all my understanding,
With all my strength,
And to love my neighbor as myself’
Is worth more than all offices and honors,
Worth more than all priests and deacons,
Worth more than all churches and liturgies.”

Would Jesus think my understanding true?
Would Jesus think my imaginings not far from the kingdom of God?

Could I then rest from questioning, from doubting, from anger?

Re-Membering

To re-member
within my own selfness
requires first dismemberment
of those members of others
that are dangerous to my own-ness.

Not to dismember from others
risks my own dismemberment.

(Sometimes our electronics
are smarter than we know:
When I type “own-ness”
Autocorrect changes it to
man-made.)

I don’t want to re-member
unless, like Proust, I can find
my lost own-ness
(not man-made)
that was me before membering
in family, church, school,
work, couple, culture…

Who was am will be I?

Can I member my own-ness?
Can I unmember enough
to remember my divinity?

Based on Luke 14: 7-11

To Roman Catholic priests:

You choose the places of honor everywhere
As if honor is always your due
But you will discover that it is the rejected, the outcast
And those you abused in body and soul
Who have the place of honor
At the banquet of the Lamb.
At that banquet, the Hostess will say to you,
“You must yield your place to these more distinguished guests. You were not invited to My banquet to be honored but to serve.”
And then you will proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place of service.

For God will humble your priestly hierarchy,
But the ones you humbled, abused, excluded,
She will exalt.

Adaptation of Wisdom 3: 1-9

The souls of the abused, the outcast, the denied are in the hand of God,
and no more abuse shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the arrogant, to be worthless;
and their abuse was thought an insignificant thing
and their leaving the church, their utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if by priests, men all, they were abused,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
though greatly abused, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God, Lady Wisdom, loves them
and finds them worthy of Herself.
As gold in the furnace, they suffered and She knew of it,
and as sacrificial offerings She took them to herself.
Now and in eternity they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks
burning through the stubble of deceitful clericalism;
they shall judge priests and rule over the hierarchy,
and Lady Wisdom shall be their God forever.
Those who trust in Her shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with Her in love:
because grace and mercy are with Her holy ones,
and Her care is with the abused, the outcasts, the denied.

Adaptation of the Beatitudes

Blessed are those the church treats poorly,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the abused who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are those who spurn clericalism,
for they will inherit the faith.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are those who refused to protect abusers,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
who neither abused nor turned a blind eye to abuse,
for they will see God.
Blessed are those who work and pray
for healing and peace for the abused and outcast,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are excluded and persecuted
because of their sexual orientation,
because they are women,
because they accused their abusers,
because they speak out to restore righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are we when they insult us, persecute us, ignore us,
close their ears to our cries for justice,
and utter every kind of evil against us falsely
because we claim our rightful place with Jesus.
Let us persevere and support each other,
Though we see no reward in our lifetime.
Let us rejoice and be glad,
for our reward will be great in heaven.