Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

August 14, 2022: “The Bent Over Woman”

“The Bent Over Woman” Rev. Judith Bagley-Bonner
Luke 13: 10-13a
10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for
eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up
straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman,
you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her,
immediately she stood up straight.

It’s a joy to be with you this morning, and to be back in one of my favorite pulpits in all the world. We had a wonderful two years together ten years ago. That was a time I still look back on with great joy. And UUists have had a special place in my heart ever since.

So. The bent over woman from the Christian Scriptures. Let me first of all say that I know the use of the Christian Scriptures may make some of you nervous or uncomfortable. But I’d encourage you to receive it as I do- as but one piece of metaphorical, wisdom literature from one of many faiths which all have wise literature to offer. I’m not reading it to suggest that it has any unique authority, but just as a story which offers some wisdom.

Let me begin by saying that I am going to go way out on a limb, and be really honest with you this morning. So if you brought your saws to shear off limbs, maybe put them down now. Because here’s the honest truth: i am the bent over woman. Maybe you are too, no matter your gender. We bent over ones struggle to stand up straight every. single. day. There are reasons, good reasons, in my personal history that cause me to struggle to stand up straight. Those reasons have to do with an alcoholic father, a frequently angry step-father and a couple of cruel nuns to name a few. But no matter, we all have truly good reasons. Some are bent over by the cares of the world and the weight of worry. Always having to be on alert to defend against the next potential catastrophe. The psychologists call this hyper-vigilance. Constant attentiveness to all of the many things that could go wrong on any given day- and fighting all the theoretical dragons in one’s mind beforehand, rehearsing so you’ll be ready.’

Or you might be bent over because you have a beautiful and finely-tuned nervous system and you are what Elaine Aron calls, in her definitive book by the same name, a highly sensitive person. And maybe you’ve been told there is something wrong with this, that it makes you neurotic or weak. Far from the truth, these are magnificent folks whose beautiful and tautly strung nervous systems mean they genuinely feel things more deeply than most. Perhaps you are one of these, someone for whom every pain goes straight to your heart. And the enormity of the world’s hurt weighs on you and some days you are just felled by it all and it is hard to stand up straight when you
feel all the world’s pain so personally. The good news for you today is that there is nothing wrong with you! In fact, your pain means you are paying attention in ways that many of us stay in denial about. Your sensitivity is beautiful, vulnerability not withstanding. And there are strategies you can learn to help you bear this mixed blessing and stand up straight. If you haven’t read Aron’s book, I strongly recommend it to learn some of those. In any case, the ability to stand up straight, (and I mean all of this metaphorically, lest you think me “ableist,”) the ability to step into our personal power, for most of us rarely comes instantaneously. My own belief about the healing stories is that Jesus, like other great teachers, was a person of such spiritual evolution, a person whose wholeness was so advanced, and who was himself so in touch with the power of the source, the force or whatever you want to call it, that simply to be in his presence was to wake up to that same power that is innately within all of us. Jesus heals not by doing magic or parlor tricks, but by waking us up to the natural healing power, the spiritual immune system, if you will, within each of us, and we are changed by that kind of energy whenever we encounter it. It’s true of people who are very spiritually evolved now, too. Just being with them somehow lifts us up a level, raises our own consciousness a bit. For me and I suspect for most of us, healing and empowerment, finding our own voice, are ever so gradual. It took years and in some ways is still going on for me and probably for most of us. But I’m happy to say that through long processes of growth and healing and counseling and prayer I have mostly found my empowerment, and can now, more times than not, stand up straight emotionally and spiritually, and claim my God-given power and speak for the the Beloved Community, which is to say, speak for love and justice, proclaiming the higher way of shalom, deep-seated peace at both structural, societal levels where we believe justice should hold sway, and at the level of individual hearts, where we are meant to find inner peace. I believe that is the purpose of life, for each of us to embody and bring that peace, that shalom, to every facet of life. We all have a hundred reasons why we sometimes do not stand up straight, why we do not speak our truth, why we do not live from our power to call one another to step up to it.

Here’s the deal: we must stop being intimidated by our pain, by our sometimes painful histories, by our fatigue or apathy or lethargy. We must stand up straight, in honesty, eschewing fear of what others will think; eschewing the need to play it safe; eschewing the addiction to the status quo, and we must speak the truth… The still bent over ones implore us. They say, “will you speak for me?” And they exhort us to be the strong, empowered beings that we are evolving to be. To work for justice for those whom societal structures oppress, those who lack privilege and are structurally boxed out of hidden goodies like good education and taken-for granted loans and generational wealth, or even more basic things like the ability to walk down the street safely showing affection to whomever they love. Or more pointedly this summer, those whom the Supreme Court has disenfranchised and called incapable moral agents without bodily autonomy… We are all to be the glorious beings that life intended when when we evolved from the sludge. In many ways, it is that simple. Because the Beloved Community counts simply on this: that we are each to be, and to offer to the wider world, our unique, empowered part. As one of my favorite songs says, It’s like a symphony and every one of us has a part to play. If we do not pick up our instrument and play it confidently, the entire concert will be the lesser for it. And yet, we tend to play small and demure our own talents.

In a now widely known passage, Marianne Williamson said this: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? …Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of life that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others” Jesus’ power woke the bent over woman up to her own power, and we, as the Beloved Community need to be healing forces with one another: loving one another unconditionally and reaching out a hand to invite one another to step up to the higher way, lest we remain bent over for years. I learned recently that there is a word for that: “alschmertz”: weariness with the same old issues that we’ve always had; the same boring flaws and anxieties that we’ve been gnawing on for years. And isn’t it time to put that gnawed bone down? Now I know it takes time, and great effort, and power comes in its own time. But at some point we have to say, “here, in this moment at least, I am going to stand up straight.”…There is a caution, though: when we are honest and empowered in a healthy way, some of our old compatriots might not like it. Glennon Doyle said this:

‘You will be too much for some people. Those aren’t your people. Because Sweetie, maybe it’s not you, maybe it’s them. There are people for whom your too much will be exactly enough. Don’t become less. Find those who want more.”

This is really all I have to say this morning: That as much as we are able, It’s time to stand up straight and claim our healthy empowerment. And I can say it no better than David Archeletta in his song, “Glorious” which I referred to earlier. I will speak the lyrics now.

There are times when you might feel aimless,
you can’t see the places you belong.
But you will find that there is a purpose,
It’s been there within you, all along.
And when you’re near it, you can almost hear it.
It’s like a symphony, just keep listening!
And pretty soon you’ll start to figure out your part.
Everyone plays a piece, and there are melodies,
in each one of us.
Oh, it’s Glorious!
You will know how to let it ring out,
as you discover who you are.
Others around you, will start to wake up,
to the sounds that are in their hearts.
It’s so amazing, what we’re all creating!
It’s like a symphony, just keep listening!
And pretty soon you will start to figure out your part.
Everyone plays a piece, and there are melodies,
in each one of us.
Oh, it’s Glorious!
and as you feel the notes build higher,
you will see!
It’s like a symphony, just keep listening!
And pretty soon you’ll start to figure out your part.
Everyone plays a piece, and there are melodies,
in each one of us.
Oh, it’s Glorious!
Could there be a better metaphor for the Church? The Beloved
Community waits for us to bring justice and liberation, wholeness and love. What in the world are we waiting for?