From a “scrap of paper.” An entry in one of my journals.
I lay in bed with this horrible pain in my upper back. Pain radiated into my neck, my jaw, my head, my entire body writhing. I felt nauseous. I was pretty sure it was not a migraine, but I thought it must be a similar genre of pain. The pain was crippling. I lay in bed hoping the Ibuprofen would kick in. My doctor said the headaches I get are tension headaches, and as I lay there I thought I might not have been describing them to her correctly.
Tension headache conjures up images from the Excedrin commercials of my childhood. Well-groomed adults wincing, a manicured finger and thumb press gently to a temple.
This headache that I have radiates from my upper back. From years of bad posture at my computer, likely. Does the tension radiate up into my jaw causing grinding at night, or does the clenched jaw work the tension down into how I carry my drooping shoulders. These thoughts float in and out as I writhe. I try to breath slowly and will each muscle to relax.
I know my husband is somewhere in the house and I begin to fixate on the hope that he will come into the room so I can mumble, without moving my jaw, or opening my eyes, “Can you please just put your hand on my back?”
I’m too tired to call for him so as I wait I try to imagine his hand resting between my shoulder blades. I imagine the slight weight of it. The safety, the gentleness, the calm presence of him sitting next to me, with one hand on my back and the other scrolling through news or emails on his phone, untroubled. That touch would be an anchor from which I could begin to unravel one muscle strand at a time.
As I wait, I ponder the small miracle that welcome, safe touch is. I marvel that his hand, flat between my shoulder blades, not even kneading a tense muscle, not stroking affectionately, just simply there, the touch is enough to tell the muscles to do what I cannot seem to convince them to do: relax!
I breath and ponder the ever growing science of the positive power of a welcome long hug. I ponder weighted blankets and how safe it feels to crawl in bed in the winter under loads of quilts. I ponder the healing magic of a baby sleeping on your chest.
I strain to remember the details, but I think the word healer or the word doctor is related to the word touch in some way, what is it now? I reach for a bit in my memory, but give it up quickly and decide to just look it up later. I am frustrated with myself in these moments because the pain is crippling, and probably due to a lifestyle choice I cannot seem to change when I’m feeling fine.
As I lay there I think about Jesus laying his hands on people to heal them or to bless them.
I wonder if those people later remembered his touch the way I’m trying to recall Wes’s hand on my back.
I thought about the times the gospels describe Jesus being enveloped in a crowd. On a road he would on occasion be surrounded by so many people he could barely keep moving. How in the world did he pull that off without sinning? How did he not, at the forty minute mark, yell, “STOP TOUCHING ME! STOP IT! GET IN A LINE! Peter! John! I thought you loved me! DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS!” Or he could have worked a little miracle magic to make himself invisible.
But instead, he walked down these roads, being touched, grasped, pleaded with, yelled at, and questioned. And time and again he makes time for the crowd of people who are literally, in the way. The very ones preventing him from getting to where he needed to go.
I thought about the old woman in one of those crowds who reached out to touch the hem of his garment. I wondered about her in that crowd. She had somehow pushed through to get close enough to touch him. She had been bleeding for years, I recalled. This made her many things… unable to be a mother. No healing baby to rest on her chest. Unable to be with a man, possibly without a husband. No safe hand to rest gently on her back. Sick, weak, ill.
What could have caused a bleeding like this to go on for years? I knew a woman once who miscarried, and declined to have the D&C that was recommended to her by her doctors. Many miscarriages pass without incident, or need for any further medical attention, but she continued to bleed for weeks and months. I remember thinking at the time, “well, I wouldn’t want to have one either, but….. I mean… you’re still bleeding?!… that doesn’t worry you?”
Did the old woman in the story miscarry long ago? Did loss of a child turn into loss of a husband turn into loss of a life as she knew it?
The bleeding made her ceremonially unclean, if I remember correctly. Unable to go to worship, I think even to touch anyone who wanted to go worship with the community. So, where did she live? Was she able to hide her condition in most circumstances? Did she live with this deep secret among strangers? Was she among people but invisible? Or did she live an isolated life of public shame and constant humiliation?
How did she feel in the crowd around Jesus? Did they know that as they were pressing in to get closer to the holy man, they were also pressing closer to this unclean woman? Was it nice for her to be smushed between people after so many years of being untouchable? Or was it disconcerting? Did she have to swallow fear and brave unintentional elbow jabs and stomped feet every step closer to Jesus.
What had she heard about him?
And what did she believe?
He stopped the crowd to say, “Who touched my clothes?” He was on his way to heal a dying little girl. He was already being slowed by this massive crowd and now, he willingly stops and willfully stands stationary until he has his answer.
“Who touched my clothes?”
“Jesus,” the disciples try to talk him down, “Come on, man. Everyone is touching you. Look around you.”
Maybe “Look around you,” was accompanied by a little subtle head-nod in the direction of Jairus. There standing with them was the dying girl’s father, blanching as each moment passed, heart racing.
“No,” Jesus said, “I felt power go out from me. Who touched me?” Jesus said.
Eventually the old woman says, “It was I.” She falls at his feet, trembling and tells him everything.
“Daughter, “ Jesus addresses this old lady in this kind and intimate way, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
What must it have been like to stand there as one of the other people grasping at Jesus in that moment?
They must also have had some kind of faith, or at least a curiosity to be there in that crowd at that moment. I guess, faith and curiosity are very different.
It is specifically recorded that she intended to touch his clothes, and he asks, who touched my clothes. Was she trying to keep her ceremonial uncleanness away from him? Well, he would never touch me because of my disease, or perhaps, these prayers aren’t important enough to even take any of his time…. but I know he can fix it.
She is not the young girl in this story, but her faith seems so wide-eyed to me. Even to the point of being misguided – theologically incorrect – was the touch of clothing even necessary? Nay! Biblical scholars and wordsmiths can huff and puff, “Jesus healed many with just words – once he did it while he was not even in the same city!” We can look down our noses as this woman sprawls at Jesus feet, explaining herself.
Jesus said her faith healed her, but she was terrified – or at least, there was some reason she did not answer when he asked who touched my clothes. So what timid yet sure faith did she have?
The gospel records she had been subject to bleeding. “We don’t know what it was exactly” most notes on the text unhelpfully explain. But the text itself does say it was something that ruled her. She was subject to bleeding.
In addition, “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors.” I currently know more than few people who are spending all they have only to have Doctors tell them, “We don’t know exactly what it is.” She had spent all she had.
I wonder if, I am willing to stand behind Jesus, not even to ask for a word, for eye contact, for a touch, no moment of glory in the public eye. Do I have the faith that Jesus has the power to do what all my money, and all the best intelligence available at this time cannot? Would I have that faith after twelve years of being disappointed?
This story came to my mind while I lay in bed the other day because I was thinking about the healing power of touch, but upon further reflection, this story is not about human touch at all, really.
He said to her, “Daughter your faith has healed you.”
Now, headacheless, I have the capacity for a thorough reading of the verses in Mark and I see in the notes that the Greek word for healed means saved.
“Daughter, your faith has healed you.” Your faith has saved you.
Our salvation is healing? I blink, weakly, hopeful, curious. To be saved is to be healed? It’s not the headaches and the teeth grinding and the back aches, really that concern me, deeply. It’s the thoughts inside the head, the words that come through the teeth, the things I’ve turned this back on. These are the things that need saving, I know that already. Could they be, not just saved, but restored? Even after so long?
As the very words, “Daughter…” were coming out of Jesus mouth that day, some men from Jairus’ house arrived.
Jairus was a leader in the house of worship. Did Jairus know, possible, this woman on the ground, before Jesus? Did he know her as someone who could not approach God because of her uncleanness? Or did he perhaps not even recognize her because she had never set foot anywhere near his realm? Was she invisible to him? Her approach to Jesus had been an approach of one who ought to remain invisible.
As Jesus was calling this invisible woman, “Daughter,” the men came to Jairus, and said, “Your daughter is dead.” “Why bother the teacher anymore?” they told him. Were there looks of distain toward “the teacher”?
Jesus ignored them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”
Jesus went through the crowd, and with only the girl’s mother and father, and his three disciples, Peter, James and John, he went into the room where the girl lay and they closed the door. He took her by the hand and it’s recorded in Mark in the Aramaic, this was likely the day-to-day language Jesus spoke with his family and friends (which is beautiful to remember today in our fragmented, heated world).
In this very casual form, he said, “Talitha Koum.”
Or, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.”
And Mark records that they were COMPLETELY ASTONISHED to see her get up and walk around.
No one’s faith was commended here, but this time salvation/healing was giving in this gentle, private way.
Earlier Jesus had stopped the crowd long enough for everyone to become uncomfortable, even to the point of scolding him. He did this in order to make an invisible woman known.
Here he carried out this salvation/healing of a very public child in the most private way he could. Even announcing casually but loudly to the large crowd outside her house, “Oh, she’s not dead, she’s just asleep.” Perhaps to prevent her from becoming a public spectacle after-the-fact.
He stopped everything until a healed woman from 12 years of bleeding came forward from a crowd to publically own her faith, but the next moment as he faced Jairus (who at that moment found out his 12-year-old daughter was dead), mercifully Jesus did not ask anything of him.
He did not ask, “And now do you still believe? ….Hmmmm?”
He spoke only a word of courage to Jairus, and then allowed only a small party to proceed to the house.
Faith, mysteriously precedes and follows salvation/healing.
Faith is a gift we are given, and yet is also worthless unless its conviction drives us to be willing even to stand anonymously to reach toward even the hem of Jesus clothes. (It might be the wrong object, but it’s the right direction.)
Healing/salvation can be received by those too afraid to be known, too afraid to hope, and even received by those who are dead.
I wonder if Jairus in his work at the house of worship would have ever run into the now-visible woman after that fateful day. What look would be exchanged between them?
“I’m so sorry that your daughter died.” She might sob, the weight of a girl’s death pressing in on her, even as it was mixed with the joy of being healed. Was she haunted by the thought of this dead girl only as old as the 12 years of suffering she had experienced.
Jairus might shake his head, wide-eyed now, and say weakly, “Tailtha koum. Little girl I say to you, get up.”
His twelve year old, sitting with other children near them would stand up quizzically, “Yes, Father?”
“Daughter,” Jairus would begin kindly, quietly, this is the woman Jesus healed on the same day you – “ He’d stop short there because Jesus had told them not to tell anyone. He would finish -- “On the same day Jesus visited you.”
The young girl would look at the old woman and she would see her.
The woman, who had feared that the God who fixed her bleeding could not fix the fact that she took too long to answer Jesus question that day. She feared that her own healing had come too late, her own slow reaction had caused irreversible damage to another.
She looked at the girl, on the edge of becoming a young woman and she saw how much life this young girl had stretching out before her. And she wondered if that life stretching out is what Jesus saw when he looked at her and said, “Go in peace, and be freed from your suffering.”
Jesus thought it was not too late for that old woman.
Maybe it’s not too late for me.