He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.
But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” Luke 13:10-16
* * *
The dream came again that night, the night she now thinks of
as the night before. It was the same
dream that had plagued her off and on for fifteen years or more, arriving
sometimes nightly or leaving for a month or
more before returning when she least expected it.
It started with a familiar scene as most dreams do. She was shuffling along, leaning on her
walking stick, her back grotesquely bent so that her silhouette resembled a
question mark, her posture posing an endless unanswered prayer. She moved slowly down the dusty path that led
to her house on the outskirts of the small village. The streets were unusually quiet, the air was
still and she watched her feet as each step stirred up small puffs of fine, dry
Slowly, she becomes aware of the sun bearing
down on her twisted back, her bowed head.
It’s a welcome warmth, but as it grows in intensity it begins to feel
like a searing heat burning through her thin clothing. As the sun beats down she begins to feel a
straightening, a strengthening in her back and she is lifted, her face turned
upward toward the blue sky filled with bright sunlight. In a move that feels both natural and miraculous her body unfurls in flight as she soars up into the sky. The sky around her is filled with the faces
of those she loves; the face of her husband, dead now these ten years, her
children, and others long gone to all but memory.
As she continues to soar, her body fills with the warmth of
the light, the warmth of the faces she passes. Moving higher, she glides directly toward the sun which she
stares at, curious and unflinching in its glare. She can’t turn her eyes away from the sun for
there, in the brightest spot, is a face she knows, a face she remembers but
cannot name. She soars in the hope that getting closer would allow her the satisfaction of recalling
Then a burst of cool wind
chills her body and stops her mid-flight, causing her to curl in upon herself
in the old familiar position, like a fist clenched shut. Darkness fills the sky and she begins to fall, spiraling through the night.
She passes the same faces again only they too are twisted now as if
mirroring her bent body; hard and unfamiliar they leer at her fall through the darkness.
This, always, is when she wakes. In mid-fall she plummets down, down, until
the only escape is waking. She bursts
into wakefulness like a swimmer emerging from a deep-water dive, gasping for
air as she comes up dripping sweat and pulsing with fear. She lies shaking, her legs twined through the
This is how that day started.
She knew no cure for the dream other than fleeing as quickly
as she could from her bed and house seeking the warmth of a sunny day. The sun was just beginning to rise as she wrapped
her outer garment around her, tying the knot tight. She prepared a hasty drink and took small
sips with shaking hands. She ate without
tasting, still under the fearful spell of the dream.
She left her house in a hurry, not thinking what day it was
as she followed the small winding path toward town. It was a strangely quiet morning, the roads
were nearly empty, the market-stalls boarded up, and only a few people could be
heard rushing through the streets. To
the woman it felt as if the world itself was paused, waiting, the whole world
poised on the edge of some great and decisive turn as if it too were waking,
though from darkness or light she could not tell. Even now in the daylight she couldn’t shake
the terror of the dream; it followed her like the shadow of a hawk follows its
She heard a family pass, dragging sleepy footed children,
heard the mother’s exasperated cry, “Hurry, now, or we’ll be late.” Only then did it dawn on her that it was
Sabbath, that the whole village was gathered in the synagogue. Still not thinking she too turned toward the
synagogue. How long had it been since
she’d last shuffled through the door?
The words of the ancient prayers were written on her heart and the
crooked path drew her toward the door of the meeting place that stood open and
dark like the mouth of a tomb before her.
She was through the door before she realized what she’d
done. The reading stopped. The room filled with a murmuring stillness as
her eyes adjusted to the cool gray of the stone floor. She stood frozen in place, staring at the
ground beneath her, the same feeling of falling rising again within her. She felt as though the darkness would swallow
her, she almost hoped it would.
Then a voice rose and cut through the darkness, “Woman, come
here.” It drew her like the sun and sky
had drawn her in the dream. She made her way toward the place where the voice had come from, the space that was now filled with a waiting silence that spoke louder then the crowds around her.Later she would be unable to say whether it was the silence or the voice that drew her or whether they were one and the same.She was helpless to resist the pull.
shocked gasps and murmurs as she made her shuffling way forward. Stooped, she noticed the feet of those around her, how those on the outer edges of the room were broken and blistered, the hems of
their garments dirty and torn as hers.
Moving forward the feet she saw grew softer, cleaner, the garments bore
rich colors and fine cloth.
stopped in front of two dirty, calloused feet in worn-thin sandals. Her back seized up throwing her forward
to her knees, drawing her tighter than she’d thought was possible, so that she knelt now in front of those feet.
He laid his rough carpenter’s hands on her shoulders,
feeling there the texture of her muscles tight and gnarled like the
twisted roots of an old tree. His hands
lay still, taking it in, the sum of her life written there across the lines of
her back. He was used to reading the
grain of a piece of wood, in one touch he could tell which pieces would give
under the gentle pressure of his hands and which pieces would break and snap, fighting
him every step of the way.
In his touch she felt every loving touch she’d ever received come pouring over her like flashes of
light. The touch of her courting
husband, gentle and questioning, then full of need and desire on their wedding
night and the touch of his hand clinging to comfort as they waited through the
illness they knew would lead to death.
The touch of her son’s plump little hand patting her
breast as he waited for milk, the final squeeze of her father’s hand as he lay
dying. All of these and more rose up from her
memory and the touch of his hand strengthened those memories of love and
without moving massaged them deep into her aching back.
At the same time she also felt every harsh touch she’d ever
received – the cold slap of her angry mother-in-law, the pushing of the
neighborhood children who laughed at her stooped gait – all of these and more
she felt being drawn up and out of her body through those same hands until
there was nothing left but the memory and experience of love.
Then came the warmth, almost too much to bear, that spread
outward from his hands and seemed to make her swell as her muscles
softened and her joints released their terrified, choking grasp. She felt her body being drawn up and out in
what felt like a split second and all of eternity at the same time. Finally her head lifted and his was the first
face she saw, full of warmth and radiance.
She recognized it immediately as the face in the sun in her dream. She looked into his eyes and chose him even
as he chose her and the last echoes of darkness faded from the corners of her
vision as she stood fully upright, her body unfurled as though from a cocoon or
a flower’s bud.
Some who were there that day, watching, would say that even
as the woman was being healed the sun itself dimmed for just a moment and a
cool breeze swept through the room. It
was as though the chill from the woman’s bent body circled the room looking for
somewhere to settle. To some, this
coolness felt like a reprieve from the terrifying brightness and light of the
young man who spoke and they, almost without thinking, opened themselves to the
darkness that crept in looking for a place to claim for its own. As they did so their hearts hardened just a
little, twisted even, like the woman’s back and something like the shadow of a
sneer settled on their lips, subtle enough to go unnoticed by all but the
The woman stood before Jesus unaware of anything but his
light and her whole body shook with a chorus of praise that swept through her
veins, her joints, her marrow. She
didn’t hear the questions that were posed, all she heard was the voice that
rose in response. The three words struck
her like a gong, “Daughter of Abraham,” and at that moment her transformation,
her redemption, was complete.
She knew then the truth that had been there all along,
always somehow just beyond her grasp.
She wasn’t a child of darkness, but a child of light and knowing this
she no longer needed to fear the darkness for it held no claim in her. At this moment the song that had been
building in her body burst forth and filled the room like the voice of a
thousand angels, like the voice of Mary great with child, the voice of Miriam
dancing beside the Red Sea.
To others in the room Jesus’ words and the woman’s song were
like the sharp lance that pierces a boil causing their anger and rage to rise
up out of the darkness within them. They
felt themselves suddenly full of darkness and fear; felt as though they were
falling and could not stop themselves, caught as they were in the claim of the
darkness. They lashed out in fear, like
the woman in her dream, they sweated and fought as the anxiety grew and settled
deeper into their crooked little hearts.
Later, when the memory of the dream would return creeping into the corners of her thoughts while she stood kneading bread
or washing, she would stop where she was, most often outside, and turn
toward the sun, straightening to her full height and lifting her face to its
warmth. Or if, in the evening, shadows
began to press in around her and she felt her heart start to bend she would
wrap her prayer shawl tight around her shoulders and, against intuition, walk
out into the deep darkness of the night.
There she would stand, sometimes the whole night through, watching the
stars, those tiny points of light until finally the darkness faded to gray and
the lights gave way to the one great Light that shines on us all.