For the past few years her life had been preparing for this moment, the time of entering into womanhood.
From a distance she had often witnessed older sisters, cousins and friends going through their time of celebration and rituals. Now it was her time. She could step into being welcomed and acknowledged as a woman and she did so with a sense of excitement as she held her head high, she would no longer be considered a mere child, she could step into the hidden world of womanhood. Men folk were not welcomed in this hidden world. Women only! She hid her apprehensions well, for she would not let this moment be tinged with her nervousness of embracing the necessary rituals.
She knew that in this hidden world certain rituals and requirements were to be honoured; in the Jewish custom women were considered unclean during menstruation. Anyone who touched such a woman, or touched the bed she lay upon or a chair she sat upon would also become unclean until the evening when they would be required to bathe and wash their clothes. Therefore the women were restricted in where they could go and what they could do, they retreated to certain parts of their home. Others would not enter these rooms. Their only companionship were other women who were also menstruating or bleeding due to childbirth, or who were waiting out their period of uncleanness.
After menstruation a woman’s uncleanness ended only after seven “clean” days. On her eighth “clean” day she could bathe and then visit the temple to make her final act of ritual purity by sacrificing either two doves or two young pigeons.
She had the other women to guide her along the way in these Jewish customs, they were a close family. At this moment they surrounded her, her mother and sisters, all of them chattering at the same time welcoming her, embracing her, reassuring her. The happiness and excitement was infectious. Now ready and able to bear children a husband would soon be her pride and babies her joy. Through her upbringing this is what she had been prepared for.
For the next few days her duties would be light: no going to fetch the water from the well, no shopping in the market, no cooking, no serving the men in her family, no big brothers teasing her, no little brothers to chase after keeping them entertained or out of mischief. She could enjoy time with her mother and sisters. She could hide away not as a child up a tree stealing time but as a grown woman entering into her prime. Her father and mother were proud of her.
She lay on her mat. Her mother had shown her how to use the rags to catch her blood. She hadn’t quite anticipated the cramps would be so bad; she curled up on her side hugging her tummy. Her mother gave her herbs to help ease the discomfort. She held in her mind that this was the privilege of being a woman; that this would be for a few days only and for a few times a year and that was if she wasn’t joyfully bearing a child within her or nursing him at her breast.
Of course her first child would be a boy, she would want to make her husband happy carrying on his family name,
just as she would want her father and mother to be proud of her.
A week passed and she was still lying on her mat, the cramps were unbearable, the bleeding still persistent. The other women started to bathe and make plans to go to the temple to make their offerings. Purified and clean they were welcomed back into the household, their normal duties and lives resumed. Why was she still bleeding when the others were not? A few more days and surely this would be over. She would return to her normal life.
But the cramps didn’t cease, the bleeding didn’t stop. The women gathered again entering into their hidden world of womanhood. They greeted her; some with concern, some with suspicion. What was wrong with her they asked?
As the weeks turned into months the worry, the frustration and the tears came. It wasn’t meant to be like this.
Why was this happening to her? What had she done to bring this upon herself? She felt so unclean and so ashamed. Her mother at first was tender and loving but as time passed she became impatient and worried. Her father had instructed for a physician to be fetched. What use was a daughter to him if he couldn’t marry her off, if she couldn’t bear children?
Her father’s temper was short; his disappointment was loud, his empathy was frail. She was frail and fragile.
The first physician prescribed a remedy which he reassured would be successful within days. Her hopes strengthened. The days passed but so did the weeks. The next physician came, and the next, and the next, all with their diagnoses and suggestions. But did the bleeding stop? No.
Her hopes were dashed. Her shame was overwhelming. She hid. She hid in the house not able to step out of it. She hid restricted to her room only. She hid from others in fear of making them unclean. She hid in herself not having the courage to talk with anyone. She hid in humiliation and anguish. She cried. She cried over the life that was robbed of her. She cried over the loss of the husband and children she would never have. She cried over being gossiped about as women met in the market or at the well; the same women who had once welcomed her into womanhood and yet now pitied her. She became so isolated, so alone, so hidden in her own world.
Years passed, twelve to be precise. Her years of being a woman in her prime passed away like water gushing down a river never to be seen again. She wandered if she would forever be like this or if her prayers for healing and freedom would ever come.
The gossip among the women changed; they had better things to chatter about: they talked of a man who had been possessed by demons being healed; they talked of a widow’s son being brought back to life whilst in his coffin; they talked of the Roman Officer’s son being healed from sickness; of a man with leprosy being healed and made clean again; of a paralysed man being lowered through the roof by his friends and walking out of the door with his mat! What was happening out there? Why were people being healed, who was behind all of this?
Her mother talked of a man named Jesus who was travelling with other men teaching and healing people. Her curiosity grew. She eavesdropped on conversations around her home; she paused by the windows and doors to listen to people in the street. Everyone seemed to be talking about these miraculous healings. Everyone seemed to be talking about this man named Jesus.
Her heart began to quicken, what if Jesus could heal her?
In the village crowds began to gather. She could see them from her window; she could hear the noise intensify as more people joined the crowd and enquired as to what was going on. She heard one man saying “Jesus has come”. Oh this was who her mother had been talking about. Dare she go out? Dare she cover herself from head to toe, wrap a scarf around her head so no-one would know it was her and step through the door? Dare she venture beyond this hidden place of hers into the crowd to find Jesus?
She knew in her heart that this was her moment even though her stomach was churning with fear. She found her scarf and wrapped it carefully around her head hiding herself as best she could. With all the bravery and courage she could muster she stepped out of the door.
Within moments she found herself being swept along caught in the current of people trying to get closer to Jesus. People were shoving and pushing. They were excited and noisy. She found herself moving through the crowd with eagerness. No-one seemed to be looking at her.
Then she spied him. She saw Jesus in the distance and persisted in moving nearer to him. The crowd unknowingly seemed to part and let her through. Then there he was before her. He had his back to her and was talking intensely to the crowd in front of him. Should she call out to him? But that would draw attention to herself and she wanted to remain hidden. What if she just reached out her arm and touched his robe? Would that be enough? Trembling she lifted her arm, it felt so heavy. She took one more step forward, reached out her hand and just managed to brush the edge of his robe. It felt soft but so powerful, something happened within her, a power passed through her, something she had never felt before and in that instant her stomach relaxed its grip and her bleeding stopped.
She was trembling with fear and amazement. Had anyone seen her, had anyone seen what had happened? She quickly glanced around; everyone seemed entranced with this man. No, no-one had seen her, she could slip quietly away.
She turned to go but as she did she sensed Jesus turning towards her. Her heart skipped a beat.
Jesus spoke “Who touched me?”
With so many people surrounding him any number of people could have touched him. She felt relief wash over her; he wouldn’t know it was her. But Jesus was looking straight at her and said “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt the power go out from me.” He spoke with such authority that she knew she could not deny what she had done, she could not stay hidden.
Trembling she fell to her knees and spoke in a faint whisper “It was I Sir, please forgive me. I have been sick for so long, I have bled for so many years, I have brought such shame on my family and I thought if I could just touch your robe that you, Lord, could heal me and you have!” Looking intensely into her eyes, he then said the most wonderful words “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”
She got up a different woman, a woman who was no long hidden in her own world but one who was freed. She was free to live and love, marry, have children, all the things long denied were open to her again. She walked away with lightness in her heart and a hope for her future.
(Written by Alison Green. Inspired by Mark 4:24-34 and Luke 8:43-48 NLT. Posted April 2016)