Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A Stain on the Skirt

Can I make you a little uncomfortable today? Just a little? 

Lamentations is written for dramatic effect, to put strong words to the heartache that Israel is causing by her sinfulness. To grieve, out loud, for what she is losing and doesn't even seem to be aware of. It's meant to shake a few shoulders and say, hey, pay attention - this is serious. So it's no wonder, then, that right in the opening chapter, the book states outright that Jerusalem's "uncleanness stains her skirts" (Lamentations 1). 

In other words, her uncleanness is menstrual blood. 

It doesn't take a giant leap to understand that; it just takes a willingness to see it for what the author wants you to see it as. What else is going to stain the skirt? Oh, sure, we could clean it up and say it's flour from baking, the way all of us have dropped a little powder down the front of us in the kitchen. Or we could say maybe it's dirt, from the way that women may have turned up their skirts to make a basket for carrying items. Maybe it's playful, the way children might run up and smear something all over the skirt of a mother. 

But if we're being honest and not bashful about such things, we know that it's menstrual blood the author is talking about. 

And he should be. 

The whole topic makes us a little squeamish, even today. Those are private things, don't you know. Women's kinds of things that only women should talk about in women's kinds of places. We should tuck our hygiene products neatly away where no one has to see them, dispose of them quietly, and mark our calendars in secret so that we can prepare for such unfortunate things and, well, not stain our skirts. 

We get some of this idea, wrongly, from the Scriptures, where we see the Old Testament take a hard line on menstruation. A woman cannot have sex during her period. Anything she touches becomes unclean. She herself is cut off from the community during her active bleeding and then for a period (no pun intended) thereafter, until it's sure she is "clean" again...and we read this in our modern minds and figure she must be cleansed because, well, it's dirty. That's why she has to be cut off. That's why things become tainted. It's dirty

But the menstrual period was never, in Old Testament times, dirty; it was simply unclean. And it's unclean not because of what is gross about it, but because of what is actually going on here:

The very potential for life is flowing out of the woman, unused. The egg, which holds so much promise, is being passed into the dirt...to die, before it ever even fully lived. Our God, who is Life, grieves over the loss, and how could He not?

It's a stretch, of course, to say that every woman should become pregnant and bear a child every time she is able to do so. We don't see an example of that anywhere, even in Scripture, so that's not the plan. The uncleanness is built into the rhythm of life so that we remember how precious it is; it's part of what God wants us to know, without a doubt. He wants us to take seriously the potential for life and recognize every time it passes us by without notice. Being cut off from her community? It's not punishment, for the man or the woman; it's prayerfulness. 

Never forget, He says, life. The value of life, the meaning of life, the wonder of life, the promise of life, the hope of life, the gift of life.

And that's what's happening in Jerusalem when the author of Lamentations writes these words. They have failed to embrace the opportunity for life by their sinfulness, by their fallenness, by their uncleanness. And yet, it doesn't simply pass by unnoticed; it can't. It stains their skirts, like menstrual blood, for all the world to see the missed opportunity, for all the world to pause to remember, for the people to pray and to repent, for they have forgotten the very thing that He told them never to forget: life. They've lost hold of it because they are unclean...and they are unclean because they have lost hold of it.

So it has become for them a stain that they can no longer ignore, so bold, so glaring, so patently obvious that there's nothing to do but to cut themselves off, to mourn, to pray, and to cleanse their souls so that one day...one coming day after a period of time...they may come back and be a community again. Be His community again. Be His people. 

Washed clean, every stain gone. Cleansed, purified, and full of life once more.

No comments:

Post a Comment