In a recent newsletter, Jonathan Pageau says, “One of the difficulties in thinking symbolically, and one which will one day make you suffer, I promise you, is the capacity to perceive a story from the point of view of all the characters.
“Both my brother and I have on several occasions put people to task on this. And that task is to ask yourself: Can you see the story of, let’s say, Exodus from the point of view of Moses, of Aaron, or even of the Pharaoh? Can you see the Fairy Tales from the point of view of the prince and of the monsters? This is part of the basic training of symbolists, and it is worth it for the insight it will provide.”
What’s interesting is that he says that we can use this exercise to imagine and understand what it’s like to be people we fundamentally disagree with. We can learn the motivation of villains. We learn to hold two opposing views in our minds. But his final challenge is something I think about often, “We must pray for the wisdom to know what we can change and where we should act, what positions and pronouncements are truly fruitful, and what enemies both inside and outside of us are worth fighting, despite knowing the world even from their point of view.”
Now onto what I imagine what it might have been like to be Ezekiel’s wife.
I was washing with the other women by the Chebar canal, singing “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentor’s mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land: If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!” (Psalm 137: 1 – 5). Tears streamed down our faces.
When Zeke came to walk us back to our houses, his face paled, and his eyes grew distant. Next thing I knew he was thrown to the ground like a demon owned him. He turned white. My heart leapt in my throat, for fear of his life, but I felt nothing of what he said he saw.
Zeke sounded crazy when he spoke, in a whisper, barely loud enough to hear. Wheels within wheels. Were they horizontal or rolling along the ground like wagon wheels? He didn’t say. Strange creatures with four faces-the face of a human and a lion and an ox and an eagle. It was as if the creatures held the spirit of four kinds of animals. But their feet were cloven like a calf’s and they flew like birds with eight wings, darting across the sky like lightning.
He saw a man shining like burnished bronzed on a sapphire throne. And so much fire. Fire like coals. Legs glowing like burnished bronze. Light all around the throne like a rainbow, that promise God would not flood the earth in his wrath. I will not look at my cooking fires without remembering Zeke’s terror. “I was so terrified my legs gave out. I saw God himself,” my Zeke whispered with tears in his eyes. How could that be? No man could see God and live. Even Moses, blessed be he, couldn’t see God’s face, just his backside. And Zeke didn’t shine like the sun like Moses either. So how could we know he saw God?
He turned white, my Zeke, even though the sun had turned his skin bronze. He said God picked his face off the ground. He felt his fingers on the scruff of his neck. God told him to give people what for. He said their faces would be set against him. But He would make Zeke brave and hard like the bronze legs he saw in the vision. How can a man speak to a people who won’t even thank him for his trouble? How can he speak the words of one so terrifying?
Aren’t we sore enough, here in a foreign land without God’s turning his eyes away, without his rebuke?
I’ll miss washing with my friends in the canal because they’ll stop speaking to me, their stares will cut here and cut there, until I can’t stand the pain and walk to the canal when I know they won’t be there. God didn’t make my forehead hard as rock like Zeke’s.
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! I hummed as I remember how the temple dazzled us when the sun neared the horizon. The bronze sea. The bronze pillars with pomegranates in the capitals, so high you had crane your neck so your head touched your shoulders. How small we felt worshipping, like looking at the night sky, a wide ribbon of stars so bright, we blinked to clear our tears. Those days Ezekiel sat down to eat the sacrifices with the same hushed voice I heard at the canal.
We heard Baruch, Jeremiah’s secretary read Jeremiah’s words, “Turn now everyone of you from your evil way and amend your deeds and do not go after other gods to serve them, and then you shall dwell in the land, that I gave to you and your fathers. But you did not incline your ear to listen to me. Behold I am bringing upon Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, because I have spoken and they have not listened. I have called to them and they have not answered.” We fasted. But it wasn’t enough.
“The king has burned Jeremiah’s words and thrown them in the fire,” Zeke wailed. We are lost. We’d felt a wave of hope when the Chaldeans withdrew from the city, but Zeke said, “They will be back.” I wrapped by cloak around me, and sat close to the fire but I could not get warm. My soup burned my tongue and my fear burned my heart. We could do nothing to change what the king decided for us, even though we fasted, repented. Though I kept my goddess doll, holding her to my belly, hoping she’d help me get pregnant.
I cried over my beautiful home with rugs my mother wove, my spinning wheel and loom, left to become dust as we walked away from Jerusalem. I looked back at the temple, with the presence of God hidden in the center, and wondered what would happen to Him. Never again would I go to the market for spices and oranges and leeks. Never again would I eat the lamb that was our portion from the sacrifices. Never again would my fingers spin a fine clump of the finest wool into yarn and weave it into our garments.
Nebuchadnezzar took the best and the brightest. People I never would have spoken to back home walked beside us. I listened to their stories, their indignation that God would fail to protect us. But Zeke said he didn’t think we deserved God’s protection. He used to complain about the people who tried to rope God like a wild ass, snugging him tight to pole to tame him to do their bidding with their Asherah poles. We sacrificed our babies because we thought God wanted the best, most beloved we had to offer. Jeremiah warned that God never, ever asked us to do this. The thought never entered his mind. He told us not to believe the false prophets who said we’d be safe. We weren’t safe.
The glowing man gave Zeke a scroll and he ate those words, words he’d have to speak. He said he’d never tasted something so sweet. He said God called him Son of Man which sounds like a big name, like Zeke wasn’t just my beloved but everyone’s beloved. And I am a jealous woman. I don’t share my husband. But God doesn’t seem to care.
God himself pleaded how he knows how I feel because he took our people like an abandoned baby, just birthed and bloody and he raised us up, clothed us in fine raiment. The years of David and Solomon and the building of the temple were grand, golden years. But we whored after other gods. And God wept. I heard his weeping in Zeke’s words.
I broke God’s heart by holding the woman with fat thighs against my belly, hoping she’d bring me a baby. I tried to smash the stone goddess on a rock, but she would not break, so I threw her in the honey pit, when I bled that month, cursing and crying. “O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock.” (Psalm 137: 8 – 9, ESV)
Zeke wrapped me up in his arms, kissing my neck, holding my head, patting my back. “Shhh,” he whispered. “Shhhh, my beloved, shhhh.”
Just like Moses, blessed be he, Zeke told God, “How can I speak to people suffering already? You’ve kicked us out of our country. You’ve left the temple.”
God didn’t take kindly to Zeke’s protests.
It wasn’t enough that God said he’d give him a forehead of iron. He said if you warn them and they don’t follow your warning their deaths are on their heads. But if Zeke didn’t warn them their guilt would fall on him. How could God blame my beloved when he was a good priest. He was careful to follow God’s law. But I heard him argue with God, how could he say these things to people who hadn’t listened before, won’t listen now, who bite like scorpions.
My Zeke was so furious, God lifted him up, and set him down by the exiles at Tel-Abib. He said he heard the wings of the creatures and a great earthquake. He sat silent with the exiles. Then God told him to go to the valley. And that terrible glory of God appeared again. When we were betrothed Zeke would tell me he wanted to see God just like Moses, blessed be he. Don’t ever make such a request. If the desire whispers, shush it up. My Zeke got his answer. In that valley he saw the rainbow and the sapphire throne and the noisy creatures with wheels and four faces.
There he told him to take a brick and engrave a picture of Jerusalem on it. He had to make siege works. My husband became a child again, playing with his model. But then God bound Zeke for 390 days. He was to lie on his right side all that time. Then he was to switch sides, roll over and like 40 for Judah. He said this was how long we would be in exile, a day for each year. For us 390 years. For Judah it would be forty. Zeke said God told him what he could eat. Wheat and barley, millet and emmer.
But I had to measure the grain. Twenty shekels weight a day. And a half a hin of water. God wanted him to cook it over human excrement, but Zeke complained so God relented, let him use cow dung. Zeke’s limbs stiffened. He could not move. How do I know this? I was the one doing the cooking. I was the one who pointed to our neighbors saying, “We, the people, did this. God is showing us how long he’s sending us to exile. I did this. But no more.”
I sang, while I squeezed and slapped our clothes, pools of light flickering off the canal. “Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved. O Lord God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people? Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink in great measure. Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies laugh among themselves.Turn us again, O God of hosts, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved” (Psalm 80: 3 – 7)
I prayed for God to give him back to me, my healthy young husband, who saw visions, but who loved me truly, who said I am his delight. He sang, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of his heart.” God gave me my desires Zeke said when he cradled me in his arms, veil off, that first night.
And God gave him back to me. I lifted him off the ground, grateful he leaned on me, his body warm, his stiff legs, stepping carefully. He whispered, “That you might know that I am the Lord.” I saw God’s relentless sorrow pour down my Ezekiel’s face.
He said, “I saw the great glowing cloud lift from the Holy of Holies. Those wheels and creatures and glowing likeness of a man and throne. He’s here. With us,” Zeke said, looking into my eyes with such love I dropped my eyes.
Then a letter from Jeremiah arrived, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
“When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29: 5 – 7, 10 – 14, NIV).
I’m telling you these things because my beloved Zeke told me I am going to die tonight. And that he would not be able to sit Shiva because God wanted to show our people, that the children left behind die by the sword and he would profane the temple. Our beautiful temple that Solomon built. It was like going to heaven when we worshiped there. But Zeke told me heaven was more fabulous from the visions he saw.
What kind of God is this? Our God. Who delivered us from the hand of the Egyptians, who just wanted us to love him. Whose glory lifted from the temple before it was burned up, whose glory settled right by us. Who just wanted us to love him. But we couldn’t do it. We needed to control God by killing our babies. I saw God’s tears in Zeke’s. We cried together because God didn’t say he couldn’t cry now.
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