Thursday, June 22, 2017

Judith Davidson Has Something To Say

Reflection on Matthew 10:26-33
By Judith Davidson

This Sunday during Mass, as Matthew 10:26-33 sinks in, look to your right. Quietly count four women who share your pew. Now turn to your left. Again count four women who are sitting nearby. They could be family members, close friends, passing acquaintances, or complete strangers. One in four women.[1] One in four women in the United States has been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in her lifetime. There is a good chance that this Sunday you are sitting shoulder to shoulder with a woman who has been slapped, choked, kicked in the stomach, punched, pushed down stairs, thrown against walls and furniture, and dragged across the floor from room to room, like a defenseless sparrow—with wings too broken to fight back or fly away to safety.

Before leaving my abusive marriage, I was one of those four. Now I am one of you. Many of you recognize my face and voice, and some of you know my name. Some of you have even become my good friends. In 2015, after seven years of hopelessness, blooming bruises, and soul-strangling despair, I found safety, hope, and this community of faith.  I imagine it is shocking and upsetting to become aware of pain so tangible, so personal, so nearby, so taboo.  Yet in today’s Gospel, Jesus urges his disciples to “tell in the light,” to “proclaim from the housetops” what they have learned about His all-healing, all-embracing, all-restoring love.

So here I am, Jesus, writing, telling, proclaiming—finally a witness. In the past, I had been too terrified—and too ashamed of my own self-perceived weakness—to give witness in court, to call the police, or to even tell my own parents and friends how dire and dangerous my living situation had become. To this day I am somewhat scared—but no longer terrified—of my ex-husband’s retaliating for my uncovering truths he would rather cover up and for making known things he would rather keep secret. So I am sure, Jesus, that you would understand why I chose to publish this reflection under a pseudonym, even though You say to us, your disciples, to “have no fear of them.”

* * *
Jesus, do you remember? I got to know You intimately on a late night in February, after falling to the ground, even though You had known me my whole life, since the moment your Father—our Father—had begun knitting me together in my mother’s womb—gently, loving, with infinite tenderness.  In fact, it wasn’t the ground, Jesus, was it? It was a cold tiled bathroom floor. I was curled up in a fetal position; naked; shivering; crying so much that at times it felt like I would choke on the sheer amount of tears; covered in dark red bruises (which would turn dark purple the next morning and acquire yellow “halos” later in the week). I had turned off the light in the bathroom because I could not bear the sight of my own cruelly patterned shoulders, arms, and breasts.

You chose that horrific moment to turn on the Light. The wholeness of my body—destroyed. My sense of dignity—killed. The trust I had placed in this man, my husband—destroyed. My self-respect—killed. I had just enough strength to argue with You, “Most people wouldn't treat their cat or dog like this, Jesus. Am I worth less than a cat, a dog, two measly sparrows?” Lord, in your great love, You answered me without words.

You were right there with me and, for the first time in my life, I became aware of your tangible presence. Before I knew anything about imaginative prayer, I saw You sitting next to me on that wretched bathroom floor, and I placed my head in Your lap. We must have sat there for 10, 20, 40 minutes? For an eternity? I whimpering softly. You counting the hairs of my head, the bruises on my body; every single tear. And in between my why-me-s, it-hurts-s, how-come-s, I looked up and saw You crying over me, with me, about all of the pain, the violence and the cruelty, about all of the inhumanity, the degradation and the brutality in this hurting world. Broken though I was in that moment, I knew that You loved me (more than I could ever grasp), that I loved You (imperfectly but passionately), and that nothing—and no one—could terrify that Love out of my soul. Your touch said to me, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul …”

* * *

Falling in love with Jesus restored my freedom and my hope, and emboldened me to leave. I divorced this man. I moved on with my life. A few months later, on a July afternoon during a storm, I stumbled upon this church. Now I am one of you—not one of four. So I urge you: look to your right, look to your left. Become open to recognizing a woman, a man, or a child who might be surviving domestic violence on a daily basis. Become aware, tender, sensitive to the hidden pain and cruelty that might be lurking in your pew, on your block, at your office. Be shocked by the ugliness and brutality of domestic violence, but not so shocked that you become paralyzed and look the other way in disgust; not so scandalized that you become unable to support its victims with concrete acts of love and help. Instead of asking, "Why don't you leave?" ask, "What do you need in order to leave?" Abandon your stereotypes about what a victim or a perpetrator of domestic violence looks like: I was a successful young professional (so was my ex-husband); I had a college degree from a highly-ranked university (so did my ex-husband); I was comfortably middle-class (so was my ex-husband); I was a Christian (so was my ex-husband).

One in four. When a husband turns against his wife, a step-father against his step-son, a partner against his partner, help those in pain—the victims and the perpetrators—carry their crosses. Help Jesus pick up broken human beings off cold bathroom floors.

[1] Data provided by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence,

Matthew 10:26-33
26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.[a] 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

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