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Reflections in the Silver Cup


Image courtesy Morguefile

This entry was first published in the Gallup Independent's "Spiritual Perspectives"

on September 22/2018


When I was a child I was attracted to stories about God speaking to humans. There was Moses at the burning bush, Mary visited by an angel, the boy Samuel hearing God in the middle of the night. There were the prophets whose tales begin, "The word of the Lord came to me" at such and such a time, in such and such a place. I wanted God to speak to me, and I asked my father about it. He said God didn't need to speak to us today, because the Bible told us everything God wanted us to know. I thought because the Bible says God never changes, God should still want to talk to us directly.

I do think the Holy One still speaks to us, but maybe it's not as dramatic as from a burning bush or through an angel. Since the days when my father and I talked about it, I've wondered if sometimes when "the word of the Lord" came to those prophets, maybe it wasn't that different from how God speaks to us today.

Take, for example, this story about the prophet Jeremiah. He wrote, "The Lord told me, 'Jeremiah, go to the pottery shop, and when you get there, I will tell you what to say to the people.' I went there and saw the potter making clay pots on his pottery wheel. And whenever the clay would not take the shape he wanted, he would change his mind and form it into some other shape.Then theLord told me to say:'People of Israel, I, the Lord, have power over you, just as a potter has power over clay. If I threaten to uproot and shatter an evil nation, and that nation turns from its evil, I will change my mind.If I promise to make a nation strong, but its people start disobeying me and doing evil, then I will change my mind and not help them at all.'"


As a child, I must have thought God said all this to Jeremiah in a big, booming voice. But what if it happened like this instead:

Jeremiah was about to wash his face before breakfast. He picked up his water jug and dropped it on the flagstones in his kitchen. It smashed to smithereens, and he said a few choice words. Then he thought, "Now I have to go down to the pottery shop and buy a new jug when I was planning to sit at my desk and write this morning." So he headed off, all grumpy. To top it off, the potter was busy throwing pots and didn't get up right away to help him. Jeremiah had to sit and wait, and while he waited, he watched—but not very patiently. The potter wasn't having the best day either. She [I know, the text says the potter was a guy, but just bear with me] kept finding fault with the pot she was making, so she broke it back down into a lump of clay.


Suddenly a light went on in Jeremiah's mind. "The potter is like God," he thought, "and the clay is like us, like the people of Israel. God's mind is changeable, depending on how we people respond." Hopefully, after having that insight, it didn't take too much longer for the potter to get up and help Jeremiah with his order, so the prophet could get back to his desk, where he wrote, "The Lord told me, Jeremiah, go to the pottery shop…"

The important thing is, in whatever way God spoke to him, Jeremiah was conscious of God in the details of his life. He was waiting, ready to hear God's voice, even when it came to him in the form of a broken water jug and a dissatisfied potter. I think God still talks to us in the details of our everyday lives when we listen, when we maintain conscious contact with the Holy One.


Once when I went for a drive over the mountain near my home, a small hawk had just picked up a mouse and started to fly across the road in front of me. The mouse was weighing the hawk down, and it couldn't rise fast enough to avoid my car. It dropped the mouse and got away just in time. The mouse would have made a good meal for the hawk, but dropping it saved the bird's life. I was having trouble letting go of something big at the time, and I realized when the hawk flew to safety that there was a cost in letting go, but that it was a matter of spiritual life and death for me. I think the Holy One spoke to me through the hawk that day.

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Image from Huffington Post (no copyright infringement intended)

I was thirty-three and living in Copenhagen with my then partner. It was a warm, peaceful summer evening, and we were out for a walk. We came upone three men. Two lounged on the steps of an apartment building. One sat on the sidewalk. All three were drinking beers. As we passed the guy on the sidewalk, he casually reached up and grabbed my breast and squeezed it. As if I were there for his taking. 


I was stunned, and I did nothing. My partner, however, did not hesitate. She was wearing wooden clogs. She got behind him and kicked him at the base of his spine. Hard. He may have had back problems for the rest of his life because of it. I will never know.


This week, in the furor over Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's accusations of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh, I told a friend what had happened on that street in Copenhagen, nearly forty years ago. Afterwards I realized that I had never told anyone about it. That wasn't because I was devastated, ashamed, or embarrassed. I think it was because rape culture, sexual assault culture, is so pervasive and so normalized in our world that I didn't give it a lot of thought afterwards. And in the context of actual rape and attempted rape, although this was a violation, a momentary unlawful possession of my body, it was a relatively minor assault.


Or so I have thought. The friend I was telling and I were walking home from the Corner Market. A man was walking toward us on the sidewalk. It was his approach and the accusations against Kavenaugh that made clear to me that my body has not normalized what happened nearly forty years ago. I told the friend, "When I'm walking alone, and a man is coming toward me, I feel a wave of fear. An image passes through me of him grabbing my breast. I'm on alert. I let out my breath when he's passed, and nothing has happened."


As a woman, I experience this kind of fear many times a day when I'm out and about in the most normal, everyday situations, situations in which I should be safe from predation. I feel that I have to always be alert, on guard. My generalized fear doesn't even have anything to do, or very little, with that incident in Copenhagen. And yet, a relatively minor assault has affected me so deeply that nearly forty years later the body memory brings it forth when I face an approaching man, and I'm alone on the sidewalk. Nearly forty years later. It's not surprising, then, that I am incensed by all the comments, the doubts, the questions that assail Dr. Ford and other women and men who have experienced so much more. The "Why are you telling it now?" questions. The "If you've waited this long, it must not have been that bad." Or, "If you've waited this long, it must not have really happened." I believe Christine Blasey Ford. Completely. I understand why she feels she cannot live in the US, if Kavanaugh sits on the Supreme Court. Completely.

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