Comforting Words: The Levite's Concubine

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Levite's Concubine

Have you noticed that often times the ‘big story’ in the newspapers is the one in small print, hidden somewhere in the middle of the paper? I find this true, as the big stories are not headline grabbers. They do not report about wars, financial losses or even government or private sector corruption.

The big stories are the real stories of personal struggles and triumph of ordinary people. The small print stories grab my attention and stir emotions in me that I sometimes forget exists. The Edmonton Journal carried such a story this week, buried in a column of “briefs” from around the world somewhere on the fourth or fifth page.

After reading it, I checked the Internet for more details and found information from the Associated Press at Yahoo News and at the Houston Chronicle. This was a death and life story of Afsaneh Nowrouzi, an Iranian woman, the victim of rape. As I read the various on-line papers, it dawned on me that this was the story of the women in Iran and women all around the world. Sadly, it is a story we all know exists since biblical times.

I invite you to let the Words from Scripture; Words of Comfort and Words from the Heart guide us, open our hearts and make us courageous as we speak our truths to stop the violence against "The Levite’s Concubine."


WORDS FROM SCRIPTURES

From Taoism:

“It is true that you commit no actual crimes; but when you meet a beautiful woman in another’s home and cannot banish her from your thoughts, you have committed adultery with her in your heart. Consider for a moment! Would you have sufficient control over yourself to imitate the sage Lu Nan-tze if you were placed in a similar position? When he once found himself obliged to pass the night in a house whose only other occupant was a woman, he lighted a lamp and read aloud until morning to avoid exposing her to unjust suspicions.”

From the Judeo-Christian Tradition:

Matthew 11: 28

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

(Excerpt from Taoism traditional text taken from World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1995) 661


WORDS OF COMFORT

Afsaneh Nowrouzi was approximately 26 years old when she stabbed the police chief of the island of Kish in the Persian Gulf. Reports are that she cut off his penis and placed it on his chest as she defended herself against rape. The police chief died because of her actions, but I contend that he was not the only one who died that eventful day. Nowrouzi, I would imagine died also, not a physical death but a death of her sense of person, as the humiliation and violation a woman experiences at the hands of a rapist is tantamount to death.

Unlike what many would want us to believe, violence against women and specifically the incidents of rape is not decreasing. Some statistics offer that one out of three women will be raped in her lifetime. Men are victims of rape and I do not mean to discount this fact by emphasizing the statistics of sexual assault against women. However, rape is a weapon used against women and sadly children in far greater numbers by men wishing to exert their sense of powerfulness.

As we can see in Nowrouzi’s case, rape is not isolated to any one or few geographical areas – it is a worldwide dilemma. Inevitably, in any news account of war for example, we hear reports of women and children being sexually assaulted by the ‘conquerors.’

After reading this story, to quench the anger and pain it stirred in me, I turned to the Christian bible for some guidance, knowing that it holds a number of accounts of rape. For example, the book of Judges, chapter 19 verses 1-30 tells the tale of “The Levite’s Concubine,” who was offered to “men of the city, a depraved lot” to be ravished. This story is often quoted in other contexts, namely against homosexuals, however that is not my purpose. What this story says to me is the view held then about the value of the personhood of women. It is sadly a view that holds true to this day across the world.

Nowrouzi’s claim of self-defense was ignored and she was sentenced to death for the murder of the police chief who wanted to ravish her. Women around the world are sentenced to death after being sexually violated or for sexual acts deemed unlawful by religious courts. Remember the case of the Nigerian woman who was to be stoned to death? This week, Nowrouzi was released from the death sentence because the family of the deceased accepted monetary compensation rather than her execution.

The Levite’s Concubine was not so ‘lucky’ as she died as the men enjoyed themselves. However, for many women who have survived rape and Nowrouzi may be one of them, the imposition of a death sentence may very well be spiritually irrelevant. The core of your personhood dies when you have been raped and violated and this cannot be replaced even when you ‘escape’ the hangman’s noose.

Thirdspace has an interesting article on the issue titled Teaching Rape and Incest, by Elizabeth Breau. In this article, Breau describes the feeling I have often experienced when people, usually men or women who have never experienced the trauma of rape, starts theorizing about the real life experiences of women. One of the things I have learnt about sharing your experience in the academic setting, particularly ones about sexual abuse, you are regarded and derided as delusional feminists. Breau relates her own experience in the article as a student and teacher.

We cannot loose sight of the fact that rape and sexual violence though issues of power are learnt behaviours and therefore are rightly addressed in all settings, particularly in educational institutions. I would however expand that to include churches, synagogues, temples and anywhere people attend for learning of any kind.

Breau suggests that teachers (and I include preachers, rabbis and ministers) therefore have certain choices. “We can ignore all aspects of students' lives outside the classroom or go back to victim-blaming ideologies. We can assume that all men are evil and implicitly guilty from birth and only teach from a gynocentric perspective in an all-female environment. We can assume that at least some perpetrators act without awareness of the harm they cause or as a result of their own victimization. We can explore sexual violence as a self-perpetuating oppressive structure and debate what that implies about individual responsibility.”

If we are to experience real, deep and everlasting change, the choice of approach is obvious. People and specifically women around the world desire to live in societies where they and their children are safe and are able to realize their full potential as human beings. It is therefore unacceptable that children and women are not protected from the misdirected desires of men.

Using Canada as an example, on its web site the Canadian Centre for Missing Children indicates that a 1984 study “revealed horrifying statistics about how prevalent these crimes are in Canada. One in two girls, and one in three boys are the victims of unwanted sexual advances before they reach the age of eighteen.” That was over twenty years ago – imagine what the statistics are today! As for women, they are not safe even in their homes or marriage. According to a 1993 Statistics Canada Report, more than one in four women have experienced violence in a current or past marriage.

What does Nowrouzi’s story hold for us? Firstly, it witnesses to that fact that the work is far from done. There are still large numbers of men, including supposedly educated men in high office, who cannot follow the example of Lu Nan-tze and choose to “read aloud until morning” to maintain a woman’s personhood intact.

Secondly, it says that each of us, men and women alike, must continue to do what we can to actively educate and help effect behaviourial change and changing the understanding of power. This has to take place in homes, schools, and places of worship and in our governments. More importantly, it also has to take place in the heart.

In the meanwhile, I take great comfort and support in the words of Matthew 11: 28 - “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”


WORDS FROM THE HEART

Today I give myself permission to live.
For too long, I have been sleep walking,
Dead to the unlimited possibilities that
Life has planned for me.

Today, I open my eyes and look straight ahead
At the glory of God’s creation, which is me.
I affirm “I am amazing, wonderful and
Beautiful just as I am. I am full of potential!”

I give myself permission to love unconditionally,
Letting go of all hurt and regret.
Letting go of all self-doubt and self-depreciation.
I am a child of God and in this moment, right now
I will live truly believing that.

Today, I give myself permission to have hope,
To be comforted and to be loved.
I refuse to harbour thoughts of despair.
I refuse to hide and refuse to grieve about my differences.
I refuse to feel less that who I know I am - God’s beloved child.

Today, I give myself permission to live!”



Blessings, until next week.



2 Comments:

Blogger Betty said...

You make mention of the abuse women have continued to experience, even within the sanctity of marriage. In the 1970s the Canadian law permitted husbands to rape their wives without punishment.

Seldom a week goes by I read once again women being raped and murdered at the hands of the opposing forces. Whether it is Bosnia, the Congo, Iran or the other theatres of war, this device of suppression goes unpunished.

If there is a loving and caring God, as I choose to believe there is, She is holding these women as they are tortured and abused, crying along with them. I struggle to understand how God deals with the perpetrators.

Sun Jan 16, 12:03:00 AM MST  
Blogger Claudette said...

Betty,

For a long time I struggled with the idea of retribution for the perpetators of rape in a very personal way. The fact that many of them seemingly get away with their crime pained me as much as the actual crime committed.

After years of feeding on my hate for "these people," by what some would call chance I came across teachings and a loving group of people who taught me a new way of dealing with my grief.

One of the most valuable lessons that I learnt in the process was forgiveness. The idea that forgiveness was more important for me than for anyone else just didn't occur to me. I felt that if I forgave a rapist or any other kind of abuser, I would be letting them off the hook. But you know what I found as I actively worked (read as prayed, meditated, talked about, journalled) with the idea of forgiving those who hurt me and others? I was freed.

Don't get me wrong -- the struggle is not over neither is the process easy! However, it's in that state of active forgiveness that I met and felt the presence of God. Though I am sure God is with all of us as we experience the various forms of suffering, as you have described, very often I just was not aware of Her presence.

By forgiving, I have not only freed myself but I am stronger, much more able to help others who are still suffering and to "make a noise" about these crimes as part of my ministry of change.

As to how God is dealing with the perpetrators, I don't know. The bigger question for me is how are they dealing with themselves? Deep inside each of us there is what I refer to as a moral compass, which guides us. I know for sure that when I am on the wrong path, the "noise" that I hear from it is deafening. That noise manifests as confusion, loneliness, tension, anxiety, etc in my life. The only way to turn off that noise is to make things right - this I believe is true for me and for all.

Maybe that "noise" is God?

Sun Jan 16, 11:54:00 AM MST  

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