It is Written
“It is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” (Voice of the accuser to Jesus, citing Psalm 91)
February 25, 2023, Words By: Scott Dewey, Image By: amitthakkar46
Scott Dewey is a spiritual director in Denver and Romania. His Lenten reflection is prompted by a recent visit with a longtime friend who has undergone extreme abuse and trauma throughout her life, compounded by the religious trauma of scripture misuse.
Before dawn, laptop in lap, I write. Comfy, sipping. I look out on a tree.
My computer glows pixels and fonts, syntax and sentences. I make meaning. I read: Jesus is hungry. The time is long. The time is now. The desert emptiness expands to horizon and sky; then collapses inward to belly and soul.
Jesus hears. The way of hearing, maybe, when someone nearby opens their mouth to speak aloud? That is, when sonic waves cross a divide, vibrate membranes in the ear, and strike a nerve?
Or possibly Jesus hears by another more direct way, as when prompted within the hearer’s brain itself? The way of imagination, of evocative memory, of visional dreams. That is, the way I see and hear every morning from this chair, wandering alone in contemplation among the tender and terrible. I don’t know exactly how Jesus hears in this story, but I can imagine. What he hears greatly tests his soul.
I imagine: An old man writes. Dipping a feather, he scrawls ink onto woven grass. From the depths of his own memories as a young man, and from shared memories of his longtime friends, the rememberings mingle and tangle. So the old man untangles, sorts, selects, and weaves narrative strands. Hmm, dabbing quill, now the one about the baptism, with the voice of belovedness. Next? The one in the desert, with an accuser wielding sacred words. Stones, bread, angels, temple—what details, and why? It matters so very much, he thinks, how it is told! Scripting scripture, his heart stirs.
I remember: A young woman speaks, as I listen. Her eyes glow molten red; her voice hisses like escaping steam. She speaks in first person from her genitalia. I’m mentally decoding her syntax in real time. She is self-naming, deploying a vulgar English epithet for a single part of her body, mangling two languages as she speaks, pushing the vulgarity like toxin from a syringe into her entire self.
I’m writing now, tapping keys, so I’m selecting what to say. I know that I cannot write the specific word she has spoken a hundred times in ten minutes—in a public Street Psalms scripture reflection going out over email. But her word has power. It is exactly the right word in its wrongness.
Her word is on the street. Her word is her, under a bridge, awakened, forced open. Her word is her terror. Her word is her power. Her word beckons. Her word consummates transactions, so she can eat. Her word bleeds.
Her word pushed two sons into the world. She speaks adoration. Her babies were taken, for which she spits hatred. She speaks longing and love.
“God hates,” men told her. Many men in fact, many times. Because they were religious, she believed them, because she wished to believe in God. The men held the sacred writings, copied from goat skins to gilded pages to church multimedia screens.
“God will take care of you. His angels will protect you. He will direct your paths.” She wanted to believe this also, so she did. She felt led by the Spirit to another city to escape horrors, only to find new. In this wilderness, beasts devoured her.
“God hates me,” she blurts. “God hates .”
I want to speak. I want to say, “God loves you—all of you.” I want to say, “I love you.” In fact I have loved her since she was a child. I want her, this young woman who now looks decades older, to hear and remember: “You are God’s child, the beloved.” I want her in mercy to forget: When she was a most vulnerable child, with sacred words of divine love and hatred and protection in her ears, she was spared nothing.
I wonder: Is the time wrong, for words in their rightness?
Wise women are with me, which is a mercy as our friend’s terrible stories tumble forth. Our time together is long, so the wise ones are unhurried. The time is now. The woman’s word is now present among a presence that welcomes everything and forces nothing at all. In time, as the day draws on, there are love-breathed words. I won’t write them here. Like the inspired old man with the quill, I can choose what to omit.
I heard our young friend sing once. Tomorrow, I will hear her sing again. I mean not someday, but literally the calendar day after this conversation, in dawn’s lightness. Not just within my imaginal brain, but she will actually sing from her diaphragm through her vocal cords through the air between us to the tissues of my eardrums. Pushing healing into the whole of me and us. And I imagine, into the world.
Dwelling Among Us
Discern in wisdom: What makes words in-spired? That is, “breathed” in Spirit and Love? What makes them life-sucking and soul-destroying? Are divinely-breathed words something that happened a long time ago, fixed in ink? Or something that continually happens with words—others’ words, yours?
Act in love: Listen. Refrain from speaking. Speak. Risk wrongness. Stumble into rightness. Share in the mercy.