Saturday, October 18, 2008

Anne Lamott Translates Joshua 2

before you read Anne Lamott's translation, get the full disclaimers, and save yourself:
  • by reading you're complicit in my violating copyright laws (unless you buy her book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, and read it too, or check it out from your local library, or listen to her reading it. or get an account and just peek in for yourself to pages 19,20,21,22).
  • you may disagree that hers is really a "translation" of "Joshua 2" (it's not because Lamott herself is writing an original book in which she's telling here of her preaching a sermon of which this little snippet on Rahab is just a part), but why do we have to be so precise and mono-definitional about the prostituting process, the spy-like method, the treasonous betrayal we make "translation"?
  • Lamott says things that cause readers to translate, the text, themselves--all unintended hell breaks loose is what I'm trying to say.
  • (oh, and she had a hard time forgiving President George W. Bush because she hates war, especially the undeclared one on Iraq, long before the rest of most of America and the world did even though she's a Christian even though he is one too.)
  • you've already read enough at this blog on Rahab.
Then I moved on to the story of Rahab, from Joshua 2 in the Hebrew Bible, whose life was saved by a red cord. She was one of the bad girls of the Old Testament, a prostitute in Jericho, at the end of the Israelites’ wilderness journey. Joshua was their leader, Moses’ anointed successor. When Rahab’s story begins, Joshua and his army are camped on the River Jordan across from Jericho, which they are about to invade. He sends two spies into Jericho to find out how strong the opposing army is.

The spies want to blend in, so they go to stay with Rahab, the most infamous prostitute of her time, figuring that if they go to the local Travelodge, they’ll stick out, but that at Rahab’s, half the men in town will be there, and no one will notice them or say anything. It is like, “If I see you in New Orleans, I won’t see you in New Orleans.”

Rahab lives in an apartment built just inside the walls of Jericho, like a Pueblo or Anasazi dwelling; her windows are built into the outside wall.

The king’s spies visit Rahab’s—on official business, no doubt—and report to him that Joshua’s spies are staying with her. The king sends his soldiers to Rahab’s to demand that she turn over Joshua’s spies.

But word has it that the Israelites are under the protection of a loving God: everyone has heard about the Red Sea’s parting, and that God has cared for the Israelites in the harsh desert for forty years. In that dark and scary time, with war about to break out, and no standing in her own community, Rahab feels something in her heart that tells her to align herself with the people of God. So she lies to the king’s soldiers, and says that by the time the gate to the city was closed at dark the night before, the spies had already gotten away. Actually, she hid them on her roof, in stalks of flax.

Why did she hide them, since, by the calculus of the world, that act endangered her?

She did it because she was desperate, and so she listened to her heart. In my experience, there is a lot to be said for desperation—not exactly a bright side, but something expressed in words for which “God” could be considered an acronym: gifts of desperation. The main gift is a willingness to give up the conviction that you are right, and that God thinks so, too, and hates the people who are driving you crazy. Something spoke to Rahab through her heart, or through what Mel Brooks, in “The 2,000 Year Old Man” refers to as the broccoli. “Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.” Something told Rahab that if she aligned herself with the people who had been brought so far by faith, she would be safe as well. This gave her the radical conviction that she should be cared for. Rahab believed that God was trying to get her attention, and she listened.

I try to listen for God’s voice inside me, but my sense of discernment tends to be ever so slightly muddled. When God wants to get my attention, She clears Her throat a number of times, trying to get me to look up, or inward—and then if I don’t pay attention, She rolls Her eyes, makes a low growling sound, and starts kicking me under the table with Her foot.

Rahab got the spies of the Israelites to swear that if she didn’t rat them out, they would spare her and her family.

She let the spies out the window and down the wall by rope. And they gave her a red cord to tie in the window. They returned to tell Joshua their news; and Joshua moved his great army across the Jordan and, in the words of the old spiritual, fit the battle of Jericho. And the walls came a-tumblin’ down.

But Joshua’s soldiers saw the scarlet cord in Rahab’s window, and spared those she had gathered inside, and all because she turned to the spirit within her, the secret place that, as Robert Frost wrote, “sits in the middle and knows.” She went on to live a life of great honor, marrying an Israelite and becoming one of the four women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy from Abraham to David to Jesus.

You’ve got to love this in a God––consistently assembling the motleyest to bring into this lonely and frightening world, a commitment to caring and community. It’s a centuries-long reality show––Moses the stutterer, Rahab the hooker, David the adulterer, Mary the homeless teenager. Not to mention all the mealy-mouthed disciples. Not to mention a raging insecure narcissist like me.


bethany said...

I think this is fair use, actually. If you reproduced an entire chapter, then you'd be into copyright violation.

J. K. Gayle said...

Hi Bethany. Thanks for clarifying fair use. (Now, if all the other readers get past all the other disclaimers, then maybe we'll make something of Anne Lamott's writing together). Thanks, as always, for stopping by!