Thursday, June 16, 2011

Daughters of Jerusalem

Last month, while traveling in Israel, I was wandering around the Old City. I didn’t have my bearings yet, but I happened to notice one of the stations of the cross: Station Eight, Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

I paused, and prayed.

Then I decided to try to find the next few stations of the cross. On the way, I saw an open building with Russian writing on the door – the Church of St. Alexander, overseen by the Russian Orthodox Palestine Society. My guidebook said it was worth a look, so I went in.
After paying my donation (5 or 10 shekels - $2-3), I was told that in order to go any farther, I would need to put on a wrap skirt for the sake of modesty. I was wearing jeans. They were neither tight jeans nor skinny jeans. I tied a wrap skirt over them. What else could I do?
The church preserves some incredible ruins, including a massive city gate and the tiny Eye of the Needle next to it. A Russian Orthodox nun ceaselessly muttered prayers at the altar, standing in her stocking feet with a water bottle by her side.

I took some pictures, but I couldn’t focus. I was too angry. Angry at a world where women’s bodies -- my body -- are seen as problems to be covered up and controlled. Angry that my denim-clad legs are assumed to be an affront to the God who made them. Angry on behalf of the women whose cultures demand that they dress in long sleeves and full-length skirts and head scarves in the middle of the summer. Angry at the growing realization that my pilgrimage to Jerusalem would be marked, every single day, by men (always men) examining my clothing to decide whether I would be permitted to enter the places where Jesus ate and preached and was tried and tortured and crucified.

Jesus was crucified naked.
I wept for the daughters of Jerusalem.

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