There is an ancient story told of a widow whose only son died. With him went her last semblance of family, belonging, and even physical security – not to mention every last shred of hope and joy. On the day of his funeral, she moved in slow motion as the procession paraded through the streets of her village. Her head was down. Her heart was broken. Her sorrow was bottomless. Her tears were unstoppable. Until she heard a man’s voice speak directly to her: “Do not weep.” Grief was replaced by white-hot rage. Her red-rimmed eyes rose to meet his only in time to hear him speak again, this time directly to her dead son: “Young man, I say to you, rise!” And her fury was just as miraculously replaced by joy-beyond-belief as her son rose and began to speak for himself. The prophet/healer disappeared into the crowd, leaving everyone speaking of what they had just heard, seen, and experienced.
I have struggled with this story – with my writing of it. I have wrestled with crafting its telling in a way that enables the woman to be the central character instead of the prophet/healer. But I’ve struggled even more because I don’t like the words the prophet/healer speaks: “Do not weep.”
I know. I know. We can understand what he says because we know that the healing is yet to occur; that he speaks knowing what is yet to come. But she didn’t know this! She was broken and struggling to put one foot in front of the other. She had just lost everything that mattered to her, everything she held dear. And we do her a disservice by hurriedly moving from one verse to the next, slipping right past her known reality to the one on which we’d rather focus.
I do not want to move past her known reality. I do not want to move past her. So here it is:
To say, “Do not weep” is insensitive if not downright cruel. But this is not the half of it. For me to say such, to even whisper it, immediately causes a shame-based pressure to clamp itself around my throat and nearly stop my fingers from typing. To say that I disagree with what the prophet/healer said means that I am directly disagreeing with Jesus, the son-of-God, a voice of authority and then some. And that’s just not OK.
You may be liberated enough to skip right over this as no big deal with an “it’s-only-a story-after-all” perspective. Or, you may be brave enough to dismiss the whole thing completely.
Apparently, I’m neither.
As I have worked to write about this story, I have felt and experienced my dissonance and disagreement as NOT ALLOWED. As though I am obligated to remain silent. As though my opinion is too much, too dangerous, and just not worth voicing.
Which means I then become complicit in letting someone else’s voice carry more authority than my own; that I also become complicit in allowing the same to happen to someone else, another women; that in this case, this man’s voice trumps that of this woman’s.
I’m not making this up. The story itself perpetuates this. This woman’s voice isn’t heard. And it’s a story about her! Which is, of course, the point.
Her story puts me face-to-face with patriarchal power/authority and a woman’s lack thereof.
Her story puts me face-to-face with words spoken that are painful but ignored, because of who he is; because the rest of the story somehow redeems the earlier harshness.
Her story puts me face-to-face with my own resistance to speaking out in response to these very stories and the god within them (not in critique, but with allowed honesty, perspective, and hope).
Her story puts me face-to-face with the paradox of the divine – things understood and far more not.
Her story puts me face-to-face with me; with the heartache I know on behalf of the woman in this text and all those within the larger Text; the silence that too-often envelops them and the voice I long to give.
Her story puts me face-to-face with my\ fear: my visceral awareness that to speak – to weep – to express my perspective, my opinion, even my rage, carries with it the nearly-certain risk of profound loss.
Her story puts me face-to-face with my own known grief and hope, silence and voice, heartache and endless-longing for miracles.
When it comes right down to it, her story is about me. I am not confused at all about this – ever.
But maybe, just maybe, her story is about you, too. It’s possible that what happened to her has happened to you – in both literal and figurative ways. It’s more-than possible that you’ve witnessed the same. And it’s highly probable that you know exactly what I’m talking about:
Wanting to speak out, but daring not to – the sudden and overwhelming rush of emotions-and-voices-and-censors that tell you to just. keep. quiet. The clamp that immediately restricts your throat. The invisible “slap” that hovers over your fingers as you try to type-write-speak. And the less-than-subtle lesson-learned: do. not. weep.
And this is exactly why this woman’s story matters.
This is exactly the subterfuge and fabulously stealth-like way in which she does speak.
This is exactly the way in which her legacy endures, strengthens, and transforms.
She calls us to weep. She calls us to speak. She calls us to voice. She calls us to express emotion that is accurate and right and allowed in any and all circumstances in which we find ourselves, no matter what. And she subtly-though-powerfully calls us to sit/stand/stay with the palpable dissonance that occurs when we come face-to-face with the divine (or at least the stories we’ve learned and incorporated of
such) – even and maybe especially when we disagree.
Does her story continue? Is her son restored to her? Does her weeping turn to joy? And does this prophet/healer’s compassion on her behalf make all of this possible? Miraculously and graciously, yes. But more, she makes this possible. It is her profound grief and fierce love that turns the eye of god in the first place. It is her profound grief and fierce love that impacts Jesus’ heart. It is her profound grief and fierce love that invites miracles, changes everything, and turns the world on its axis.
The Widow of Nain calls us to any and every expression of profound grief and fierce love we can muster on behalf of what we desire and deserve.
It is true: not every story ends with such a happy ending. Death steals. Disappointment rocks us to our core. And weeping continues, as it should.
In the meantime and in the midst, may we be women (and men) who allow for tears – our own and others’. May we be women (and men) who bravely say what we think and feel, no matter what or to whom. May we be women (and men) who step bravely into conversations in which angels fear to tread. And may we be women (and men) who stand alongside those without voice – past, present, and future – and give them our own. That kind of profound grief and fierce love is what turns the world on its axis.
When that kind of profound grief and fierce love is expressed, the Widow of Nain smiles and says “Yes, of course. For you are my daughters (and my sons), my lineage, my kin.”
May it be so.
Conversations of this kind are sacred ground. They matter so very much. And they’re all-too rare. Gratefully, they are what I facilitate, offer, engage in, and love via my 1:1 work with clients. Learn more about working with me.