Twenty years ago, my sister created a piece of artwork she called “Blue Jesus.” Dinah has Prader-Willi Syndrome and at that time was a part of the ArtWorks program in Tucson. The artist in residence was teaching them how to do linocuts. On a 12x18 canvass, Dinah etched out an elementary blue figure that was stretched out on a cross surrounded with what looks like red tear drops. When I first saw the picture, I was awestruck that Dinah could be so creative. She gave the piece to me and over the years, Blue Jesus has taken on a life of its own. Dinah’s artwork continues to draw me deeper into the earthy, yet mystical, life of Jesus the Cosmic Christ. When I look at Blue Jesus, it’s like reading and meditating on a story from the Bible.
What I have learned from Dinah and her has been very helpful in understanding opaque stories in the bible, like the story of Deborah and Jael (Judges 4 and 5). The story of Deborah and Jael is mythopoetic theology. It’s a novel about a feminine protagonist and her complex mystical relationship with YWHW.
The story is meant to teach us about God and how we can access the Divine within this messy, murky, ugly world we live in. Judges chapter 4 is the narrative version of the story. But chapter 5 is the “Blue Jesus” version. The Bible gives us two ways to read the story. The writer knew that people might try to read the story as a historical event, so she wrote a beautiful epic poem to teach us the various ways to understand this story.
To read this story through the eyes of Blue Jesus is to read it like the Jewish mystics. They read the scripture using a four-step method; 1) literal 2) allegorical 3) metaphorical, and 4) mystical.
We start by reading Judges 4 looking for the literal components; We ask ourselves, who are the characters and what are they doing?
• The people of Israel were in Canaan in captivity under King Jabin and his commander, Sisera. Because of the oppression the people of Israel cried out to God for help.
• Deborah was a prophetess and the people of Israel would come to her with their problems and she would help them sort out their troubles. Deborah prophesized that the people of Israel would have victory over their oppressors.
• As Sisera’s army was being overcome, he escaped and went into the desert.
• There, he met Jael, who hid him in her tent and when he had fallen asleep, she kills him, assuring Israel’s victory.
In step two, we shift to chapter 5 where the story is written as a poem. Here we read the story allegorically. We ask ourselves, what are the symbols and what are their meanings?
• The first allegorical lesson is that the people of Israel were in captivity, like we find ourselves at times in life. In the NRSV it says the people had done “evil” and in the Hebrew bible it says, “the Israelites had done what was offensive to the Lord.” For whatever reason, the people of Israel found themselves under the thumb of an oppressive government. So, they cried out to YHWH for help. What’s the allegorical meaning? Sometimes we find ourselves in oppressive situations. The oppressor might be the government, the culture, our family, our job, our circumstance in life. Whatever the situation, this story is telling us that when we cry out to YHWH, the divine will hear us.
• The second allegorical lesson is that Deborah and Jael represent two of the many feminine aspects of God. Deborah represents the Divine Mother and Jael represents the feminine warrior of the Divine. In one of the traditions of Jewish mysticism there are 70 faces of the Divine. We get glimpses of those faces though the story in Genesis that teaches us that we are created in the imagine of the Divine. From that statement, then we can conclude that YWHW contains every facet of the total human experience.
Step three, we read the story metaphorically. In other words, what does this story mean for us today?
The story about Israel, Deborah, and Jael is about spiritual growth. It’s not a literal story about a battle against some evil oppressive enemy. This is story about how we can become one with God; it’s a story about our struggles with those things that distract us from the One Holy Living God.
Metaphorically speaking, this story teaches us that as a community, we are Israel. Israel represents the human heart. Our heart is the object of God’s love. We are the beloved. We are the bride. But, as in any love affair, mistakes happen. The moral of this story is that even in the midst of our failures, when we cry out to our beloved Divine Mother, God will hear us and respond. The words of the Divine Mother are comforting. She tells us that, though we have failed, we are still loved. And the Divine Mother gives us words of reassurance. She tells that us, though we have failed, we can still achieve spiritual oneness in our lives. Because in those moments when we think we cannot hear God, or that God is not speaking to us, it’s in those moments that the Divine Warrior is there to protect us, and at times, help us find victory whatever distracts us from our potential spiritual growth.
Step four, we read the story looking for the mystical meaning. There are countless mystical meanings hidden in every biblical story. That’s why we read and re-read the stories. To be mystical, is to have the desire to be one with God. Oneness is our spiritual goal, our deepest desire.
As I read the story of Deborah and Jael this week, I came away with some pointed questions and a few conclusions. Questions about things that might be keeping me and us from being at One with YHWH.
Deborah and Jael represent the Divine Mother and Divine Feminine-Warrior. They represent the presence of God in all women. I must see the many faces of the Divine in every woman. If I can’t the faces of the Divine in every woman, then maybe I am the oppressor is this story?
In light of the flood of revelations about sexual harassment in our country, I had to ask myself the tough questions. Have I said something inappropriate? Have I unknowingly done anything inappropriate? Have I not spoke up to support women when I should have? As a man, I must question myself constantly and be ever vigilant, not tolerating any kind of words or actions that are offensive to women. I must support women who have been abused and who speak out. The recent revelations about the pervasive nature of sexual harassment in our country is the very reason The Episcopal Church is requiring every clergy, staff, and volunteer to take Safeguarding God’s people. We must strive to see the Divine face of God in every human being and act accordingly.
The second question that arose for me from this reading is, “If this text is teaching me that when we worship YHWH, we are worshipping not only Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but also Mother, Daughter, Sophia Spirit, then why am I still using the male only version of the Trinity?” I can no longer assume that anyone who walks through the church doors, or anyone I am talking to, or anyone who reads my writing, will know that I don’t think that God is a male, or that God can only be described in male terms.
I have to wonder if the church’s use of patriarchal language has contributed to men feeling they have power over women. And that men might misuse this power by speaking or acting toward women in an ungodly manner. If, in any way, exclusively using patriarchal language in the church has contributed to this kind of unacceptable behavior, then I believe the church must change the words used in the liturgy.
This morning we prayed that we might be able hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the scriptures. Over the years, my mystical sister and Blue Jesus have been teaching me the true meaning of this prayer. Reading the bible, truly reading and studying the bible, is hard work. And the end result of that work leaves me constantly being challenged to make significant changes in the way I live and worship. To not make those changes leaves me feeling complicit to things I know in my heart offend the One Holy Living God. I pray God will hear me when I cry out in my prayers, so that transformation can take place in my life.
I encourage you to consider reading Rob Bell’s book, “What is the Bible?” His work is an excellent place to start in seeing the Bible through a different lens.
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