When God Sits Shiva
When I was in the eleventh grade, I was elected by the history department to represent Lawrence high school at Dirigo Girls State. A week-long event where all the female delegates across the state of Maine gathered at the University of Maine in Orono, to reenact town, county, and state government—we lobbied, made posters, rallied, and campaigned. I can’t recall which political party I was, whether it was Courage or Honesty, but I do recall wearing a bed sheet for a toga.
One night, after a toga-wearing rally, I noticed a group of girls huddled to my right, so I made my way over to see what was going on, and that’s when I saw…
Her brown hair covered her hands that covered her face. We all wore togas, but even through the toga, I could see poverty and pain. The girl next to me told me the girl had been raped and was talking about suicide.
It was as if I was looking in a mirror—She was me!
Feeling compelled, I pressed my way through the crowd to sit shiva with her and in solidarity whispered in her ear, “Me too! I was raped.”
She lifted her head and I watched as her tears watered the sandals on her feet.
“Really?” she sobbed.
“Really,” I said.
Did I say that for me or for her? Was I being selfish? Can it be both and I still be a Good Samaritan? I don’t know, but I do know this, we weren’t alone—somehow the suffering blurred the lines between heaven and earth and brought the Holy down. God sat Shiva with us.
Years later in Virginia, I was at FunQuest with my boys, and while they roller skated with their friends, I sat in a two-seater booth with my Bible. The place was packed.
As I read, I heard a voice and looked up to see an elderly African American woman with her hand on the empty seat across from me. “Is this seat taken? It’s the only one left,” she said.
I slid my Bible toward me and moved the boy’s stuff to make room for her.
“I’m eighty-seven years old. I can’t hardly stand to be on my feet like I used to,” she said as she sat down. She looked at the upside-down page I was on. “Is that the Gospel of John you’re reading from?”
I smiled wide. “Yes! It’s one of my favorite books in the Bible,” I said.
“Mine too,” she said, “I love the woman at the well story,” she said as she slid her legs under the table. Her knees bumped mine.
“Oh, yes, I love that story, too! I also love how John calls Jesus the Lamb of God and how Jesus tells His disciples, ‘When you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.’ Jesus was all God and all man at the same time. The God-Man!”
“I never thought of it like that,” she said as she leaned forward and peered over her thick frames at me. “Can I tell you something?”
“Of course—” I leaned in to hear her over the Hockey Pokey playing on the loudspeakers and watched her eyes dart from the neon green wall to the kids doing the Hokey Pokey to the long concession line and back to me, before they finally landed.
“I hate white people," she said with a loud whisper.
My neck jerked back. I could feel the skin between my eyes as it wrinkled. Did I hear that right? Did she just say, ‘I hate white people?’ All white people? Even me. I’m from Maine! What did I do?
Her eyes welled and she stared down at her hands that were cupped on the formica tabletop.
My eyes welled, too. I reached my hands across the table and held hers. They were soft and delicate.
“I’m sorry!” I said, which caused her to look up. “I’m sorry for all the horrible things we did to you—for all of the times we mistreated you, cursed at you, made you suffer, caused you to feel inferior or to be afraid. I can’t say, I know how you feel, but I can say, I’ve suffered to—I can say, I know what pain is—I can say, I know what it is to hold a grudge and to hate someone because they hurt me. I was raped. I know it’s not the same, but the hate is the same, the pain is the same!”
The woman and I, although poles apart in age and from very different backgrounds sat shiva in a little booth in the middle of a noisy roller rink, and at the same time, we sat shiva at foot of the cross, where the ground is even, where there is no racial divide, no white or black, no Jew or gentile, no male or female, where we are all one and the same, because of the Suffering One, who’s blood was applied to the doorpost of the universe.
Suffering unites humanity. It’s hard to be one without it. The word ‘ligament’ comes from the Latin word, ligare, which means, to link or to join. It’s what connects the bones in the body together and allows for movement between them. It’s also where we get the word religion from. Suffering connects the body of Christ and links the human with the Divine.
The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 3:10, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” It’s no wonder he writes two verses later that he is ‘apprehended of Jesus Christ.’ Suffering kept him connected.
Suffering has a way of blurring the lines and bringing the Holy down. God sat shiva with us then, just as He did on the front row at Dirigo Girl’s State, just as He does now in the middle of Me-Too movements and Black Lives Matter. God is love and the ultimate act of love is forgiveness.
I Am M.O.R.E., and so are you!