Our bodies are storytellers, yet we have a choice whether or not to let ourselves tell its story or to let what the world perceives about us be our narrative. Whether young or old, healthy or sick, our bodies deserve life, dignity, and care. Here, Allender Center Fellow Heather Stringer, LMHC, tells anew the story of the bleeding woman found in Luke 8:43-48. For a moment today, allow your mind and your spirit to fill with this healing truth: your body matters.
She crawls and often she drags her ragged, red body.
The slug leaves a glistening residue, spotted by only those who pay close
attention to their surroundings. She is like a slug whereby her residue is
constant, however it requires not the careful observer, but the repulsed
aches, not glistens.
Underneath her torn garments, her legs undulate with muscle as she seeks
healing. She has already walked mile upon mile seeking it. She will look for
healing till it at once happens. Her culture is dismissive of what vulnerably
courses through every human body: blood, bones, skin, wounds, smells, the
grotesque, illness, needs. In a world fixed on taxonomy and appearance, she
was ignored to the bottom of society.
A bleeding woman, not to mention 12 years of bleeding, was labeled as
ceremonially unclean in ancient Jewish culture. She was forbidden to touch
and be touched. Her identity became, as any identity would after 12 years of
suffering and exile,
The God of Israel gave the Hebrew people unusual regulations about
cleanliness (to men and women) and these regulations placed in the hands
of imperfect people turned them into ugly tools to puff up those who
appeared to be clean (and wanted power) rather than using them as
reverent, communal acts applicable to everyone.
There were rumors spoken by these clean people about “this man, this
Rabbi who touches and heals.” These words must have lingered and
lowered, like cool air, falling onto the loose dirt long enough for her low
bearing body to shuffle itself into them. A spectacle of syllables whooshing
around her, slowly whispering to her about this healing man 30 miles away.
A man who touches.
A touch that affirms all life.
A touch that is medicine.
(“from the first day to the last day, touching is experienced as assurance,
confirmation of the self and healing. Skin mediates between the material
and spiritual worlds. To be known is to touch and be touched.”)
The words she heard careen around her, anxiously insisting,
“You must go!”
“You must go!”
“Touch this Rabbi when he’s not looking, touch him and be healed!”
She becomes dizzy by the possibility of healing, her breath shallow, her
body aching. She begins the journey.
Miles of hemorrhaging anointing the ground with her holy blood.
There she was dirty, broken, breathless, determined. Her risk is that of
someone who has sought healing from mainstream sources and returned
more ill and empty. One can become daring and open to other forms of
healing that aren’t widely accepted or rational.
I’ll offend him, she thinks.
I’ll be humiliated, she believes.
I’ll be quiet when I reach out to touch his hem, she decides.
She shuffles her body into the crowd and it slowly ricochets off of every
inattentive onlooker. She is the faceless nuisance, dismissed and
discounted. Twelve years of this and a persistent desire to be healed will
create a brave madwoman. Onward, I must find him, she gasps.
And there he was cloaked in the traditional rabbi clothes, but he was not
traditional: he touched the untouchable. The fringes at the bottom of his
robe undulated by the whooshing of people’s bodies inching closer to him.
They caught a sliver of light from the hot afternoon sun, beckoning her to
“Who touched me?” He asked.
Everyone denied it, and his friend said, “Rabbi, this whole crowd is pressing
up against you.”
But he said, “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go
out from me.” When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she
began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd
heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been
immediately healed. “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you
well. Go in peace.”
Your faith has made you well. Your maddening, persistent, long-suffering
desire has made you well. She drained the power from God Incarnate and
this God didn’t know it until he was emptied. The omniscient, omnipotent
Rabbi is caught off guard by an unclean woman, forbidden to touch anyone
and he unwittingly surrenders to her.
She trembled long after this incident, touching her body with deep relief.
Then, gratefully collapsing after 12 years of exhaustion and humiliation.
This daughter trespassed an ancient code for her body’s sake. Somehow she
knew her body mattered because,
she reached out to affirm her life,
to affirm her body.
She reached past societal, religious prescripts because her body was worth
risking everything for.
Now, the question remains for you,
*(Moltmann-Wendel, Elizabeth, I Am My Body: a theology of