I’ve been thinking today about silence: how much I dislike it. (Which may explain why this post is now over 700 words long. Work with me.) I understand the need for it in a meditative, still-my-racing-mind sort of way. I accept and even welcome it in regards to just needing space/time away from the din. It’s relational silence that makes me want to scream.
I could set up the scene, articulate all the details, give you an inside view into my world, but I’m choosing to remain silent on that. (Double-standard, I know.) Instead, for my own sake, I’m looking for other stories that make sense of my own.
A spoonful of my own medicine, I go to the texts I love; stories of women who remind me that my seeming-craziness isn’t isolated, that my feelings are universal, sane, and worth screaming about with vengeance. Two such narratives come to mind:
Not for the faint of heart, both of these stories are excruciating in their violence and harm. Left to themselves, it wouldn’t surprise me if women (and men, as well) stopped reading scripture entirely. How to understand and assimilate such injustice, pain, and yes, silence? I’ll let you read them if you dare, but for the sake of my ongoing point, I give you the plot overviews. 1) The unnamed concubine is the wife of a man who, in outrage over her continued raping (which he allows) cuts her body into twelve parts and then sends her, piece-by-piece to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. In silence, a literal breaking occurs. 2) Jepthah’s daughter is the chit in a bargain her father makes with God and is ultimately killed so his vow can be fulfilled. But not before she speaks; before she seeks community with other women. Silence is broken.
I could offer some pretty intense exegesis and interpretation on both these texts (and undoubtedly will at some point) but for now I want to stay with the phrases I bolded above. Even as I typed them, I knew they were saying what I most needed to hear.
In silence, a literal breaking occurs. I AM BROKEN. Acknowledge it. Name it. Ouch.
SILENCE IS BROKEN. My voice returns. I will roar.
In places of pain and silence – those I self-induce, but especially those inflicted by another – I AM BROKEN. At least at first, I cannot put the pieces together. I cannot immediately make sense of what is happening. And I feel disjointed by a silence that threatens to consume. Maybe it’s not actually quiet, but in confusion and just raw hurt, no answers make sense and no words feel right. In my whispering screams, I am pulled apart, dis-membered, un-done. I want justice where little-to-none is to be found.This woman, the unnamed concubine reminds me that I’m not alone, that I’m surrounded by a cloud of witnesses–many silenced women throughout time (and even in my midst) who have borne extreme, and unexplainable rendings. Their pain does not lessen mine, nor mine theirs; but we are not alone. We are companioned. We are (re)joined.
Alone with God
I dried my tears…
the hemorrhaging slowly stopped,
but the pain lasted for centuries.
(Julia Esquivel in Threatened with Resurrection)
In other places of pain, even though justice remains hidden (if not totally ignored), I speak. I yell. I rage. I scream. Because I know better. Because I recognize that not doing so is not OK. SILENCE IS BROKEN. (Consider slavery or the Suffrage movement.) Jepthah’s daughter invites me to the same. Though her ultimate end remained unchanged, I can still hear her voice, her siren song, her clarion call to be remembered.She reminds me that I though I feel the ache of silence, the pain of not being spoken to, or for, that my voice, my heart, my deepest soul is worth being heard. Again, I am not alone.
Wisdom cries aloud in the open air. She raises her voice in public places. She calls at the top of the busy streets, and proclaims at the open gates of the city.
The wisdom of sages from the past, from mythic and profound stories, from my text. I still ache, but am deeply grateful.
And just so you know: you’re not alone, either. Pull up a chair. Pour a glass of wine. And join me. Broken, maybe; but not silent.