Thursday, April 5, 2012

Broken & Poured Out

Sadness seemed to seep into the outer edges of my body.  I felt it in my fingers and in the skin on my arms, in the muscles of my legs and in the edges of my eyelids.  I wondered at its insipidness.

I was slumped in a simple wooden pew listening to a pastor tell the story of Mary, the woman who broke open the alabaster jar of expensive perfume and anointed Jesus before his betrayal and crucifixion.  Hers was the offering of a lover who knows the beloved has only days to live.  It was a lavish, extravagant gift, an expression of adoration made by a woman whose life had been touched by Christ.  It was a surrender of that which was most precious to her, a surrender of her security, her livelihood, her future - for love.

It is a heartbreaking and beautiful image.

And those who witnessed it ridiculed her.

Many things floated through my mind as the familiar story unfolded.  I could relate to Mary.  My life, too, has been touched by Christ.  I have known those moments of being so broken and poured out - of longing to be so broken and poured out because of love.  I want to surrender my life, my security, my livelihood, my future for such brokenness.

And I, too, have been ridiculed for it.

Most recently, I experienced that ridicule in the words of a friend, a pastor, no less. He scoffed those who subscribe to the notion of sexual "purity."

"When people wear rings to indicate that they are saving themselves for marriage," he said in disgust, "it makes me sick."

I looked down at the gold I wear on the ring finger of my right hand.  It is a simple band with the word אהובה (ahuva) which means "beloved" written along its edge.  It had been an extravagant purchase made in Jerusalem - not terribly expensive, as jewelry goes, but extravagant for me, a poor graduate student who doesn't know from whence her next meal might come.  I risked going hungry for it as an act of love, not a desire for adornment.  It had been a response to God's lavish invitation to pilgrimage when he whisked me away, quite suddenly, to Israel.  I felt like the very betrothed of Christ, invited to return with my Lover to his home town to meet his family, his people.  There, I had the ring made as a symbol of my utter devotion to and longing for the one who called me Beloved and who poured out upon me such lavish gifts.

It's not a "promise" or "purity" ring in any simplistic sense.  I didn't purchase it as an emblem of my desire for a husband and my intentions around the sacredness of sex.  It does symbolize promise, however.  It is evidence of God's promise to me.  It is symbolic of the promise, the covenant of and for life, which I have made with him.  It is an ebenezer, a remember-stone originating from and reminding me of something even greater, a land of promise, a land that God and I are taking and creating together.  I am that land.  Love is that land.  Life is my promise - but not just any life, a life wholly surrendered to God, laid on the altar, because it is only in and with God that it is life at all.  So it is not a "purity" ring indicating a puritanical paradigm for sex.  My value as a woman does not hinge on my sexual experience or lack thereof.  No, it is a ring of betrothal first and always to Christ. It is a ring of dedication and covenant to the God of Israel, the God who delivered me from my slavery and who leads me through the desert, preparing and teaching me to take the land.  And, yes, that does actually mean it is an indication that my sexuality, along with all else that God has interwoven into the fabric of me, is also laid on that altar - for God to shape and form in order that I may be brought into greater intimacy with him.  It does, therefore, symbolize my faithfulness to the covenant of marriage and to the abstinence of sex outside of that faithful expression, an expression that I want to reflect, inasmuch as possible, the very faithfulness of God.  God has given me his instructions for taking the land, and this ring is a symbol of my desire to submit myself to him and live in that place of his provision.

I don't know why such a ring, such a promise, such a gift as obedience, life, love and sexuality poured out in an offering to Christ would be ridiculed - except that, like the disciples who chastised Mary, my friend just did not understand.  Perhaps he has never been so in love with Christ that he would want to be broken and poured out, the giving of his body and the offering of his faithfulness the only natural, if extravagant, response.  Whatever the case, he certainly thought he knew better.  His superior education told him that giving to the poor is more important than such ridiculous acts of "purity" in expression of faithfulness, love, and devotion.  And to his credit, his behavior followed suit.  I watched as he gave money to a man on the street who asked for it, not knowing that in the same manner he also gave his body first to pornography and then to a woman who was not his wife.  I cannot help but think now that, as he gave away his pennies, he was unaware that he kept his alabaster jar for himself, to anoint the desires of his flesh instead of anointing Christ, because he was tired of waiting.

Yet I do not judge him.  If I desire to anoint my Christ with an alabaster jar of rich perfume (which, please hear me, is not about sex but about life) it wasn't long ago that all I had to offer were tears - gut-wrenching, abandoned, repentant tears.  Christ accepts them both when we desire to be broken and poured out for him.  One washes his feet and the other anoints his head.  Both are acts of humble love when they are offered.

So my sadness is only partially over the ridicule and lack of understanding offered by a friend and brother.  It is also over an unanswered question in my own heart: Am I still ready and waiting, willing to be broken and poured out in love for Christ as I was then?

The honest answer: I don't know. But I want to be...

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