Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gentle Washing for the Bruised and Broken: A Cinematic Meditation on Hosea 1-2 and Rachel Getting Married

The opening chapters of the book of Hosea, the first of the "minor" twelve prophets, tell of Yahweh telling Hosea to marry a promiscuous woman (possibly a prostitute) and to have children with her (1:2-3). Israel's prophets often acted in such ways as symbolic sign-acts, embodying in their life (and not just in their speech) the word they received from Yahweh for the people. Here the symbolization is found in the unfaithfulness of Hosea's wife, Gomer, who functions as unfaithful Israel to Hosea's faithful Yahweh.

Their children are named Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah ("not pitied"), and Lo-ammi ("not my people") -- in turn, because of the injustice of the massacre in the valley of Jezreel; because Yahweh "will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them"; and because "you are not my people and I am not your God" (1:4-9). Harsh words for a rebellious people.

Verses 10-11 seem to break the rhythm with words of hope, perhaps previewing the next chapter in miniature, but 2:2-13 detail Israel's infidelity and punishment. However, verses 14-23 proclaim triumphant hope:

"Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.

"There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

"In that day," declares the Lord,
"you will call me 'my husband';
you will no longer call me 'my master.'
I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
no longer will their names be invoked.

"In that day I will make a covenant for them
with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
I will abolish from the land,
so that all may lie down in safety.

"I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord.

"In that day I will respond,"
declares the Lord—
"I will respond to the skies,
and they will respond to the earth;
and the earth will respond to the grain,
the new wine and the olive oil,
and they will respond to Jezreel.

"I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called 'Not my loved one.'
I will say to those called 'Not my people,' 'You are my people';
and they will say, 'You are my God.' "

Preaching on this passage, Barbara Brown Taylor says:
The moment the rains failed or the cows ran low on milk, [Gomer] was gone, leaving nothing but a note on the kitchen table: "Gone to see if I can't do better than this."

Where did she go? To other lovers, who promised everything her heart desired. ... With Ba'al, there was no dreary talk of commitment or honor, no Where-were-you-last-night? and Have-you-thought-what-this-is-doing-to-the-children? Everything was spontaneous. You did what you felt like doing when you felt like doing it, and the only rule was to do what felt best at the time. No one knew your name and you did not know anyone else's, but it did not matter. All that mattered was giving in to the sweet, hot pulse of life.

Israel always came home again, once she had taken the edge off her appetite, once she had been reminded for the umpteenth time that the grass of the other side was never as green as it looked. One morning Yahweh would hear the screen door slam and he would smell her before he saw her: cigarette butts, musty sheets, stale beer. Then she would come into the room and lean against the door jamb looking at him, a cut on her upper lip and the fading bruise of someone's strong grip on her arm, home to the husband who took her by the hand and drew her bath and tugged her torn clothes over her head while she held her skinny arms up for him like a child. (Gospel Medicine, p. 51)
This profound image recalls a similarly moving scene from Jonathan Demme's film, Rachel Getting Married. Kym, out of rehab for the wedding of her older sister Rachel and weighed down by baggage -- of addiction and, worse, of the responsibility for her younger brother's death -- commits one social faux paus after another, embarrassing herself, her sister, and her family. Events worsen after she confronts her distant, detached mother (divorced from her supportive, but still grieving father), which descends into a screaming argument and a violent strike to her mother's face. Stumbling away in horror and weeping uncontrollably, Kym attempts to drive home, but, in her disturbed state, drives straight into the woods off the road and slams into a tree. She wakes up early the next morning -- the morning of the wedding day -- the police having arrived, her eye bruised black, everything gone to hell.
She finds a ride home, walks past her father into the house, strides up to the door of Rachel's room -- having earlier not only embarrassed her sister but also gotten into a screaming argument about being her maid-of-honor -- and knocks. The door opens upon this heart-wrenching, gutted-out shell of a woman, and her sister takes in the sight slowly, up and down, a knowing look of grace already beginning to etch its way down her face, and she opens the door for Kym to enter.

The next scene is silent, except for the soft spray of the showerhead as Rachel gently bathes her sister Kym. The two exchange glances, and as Kym sits in the bathtub, her nakedness is not only literal but emotional, spiritual, familial: this is all she is, and all she has. And this washing is enacted forgiveness, the unearned grace of a sister who does not care what has happened before, but only that she might be clean again. And so they purify their animosity in an embodied reconciliation that, while it changes nothing of what has been or will be done, makes possible the space for Rachel to be married happily in mere hours, and for both to celebrate together in the free release of subsequent music and dance. That space, made possible by return and forgiveness, is love.

We are Gomer; we are Kym; we are Israel. Broken and dirty, undeserving and conscious of our sin, we return to the one who stands at the door, leaning against the door jamb, uncertain of the response. And by his two hands, Word and Spirit, he takes our own hands in silence and draws the bath, tugging our torn clothes over our head as we hold up our skinny arms for him like a child, and washes us clean.

1 comment:

  1. Here is the real love story:

    "I will betroth you to me forever;
    I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
    in love and compassion.
    I will betroth you in faithfulness,
    and you will acknowledge the Lord."

    So amazing and generous beyond belief - Mark and I wrote our wedding vows based on the passage above. Thank Brad