By Uta Sievers
Special to Catholic News Service
Today, I sat down again with the Book of Judith and started reading Chapter 10. Following the method of “Ignatian contemplation” (a way for reading and praying with the Scriptures that has been used by Jesuits since the 16th century), I took a step back inside the story as Judith.
When the Assyrian soldiers grab my bare arms, I feel fire run through my body. I shrink back but see the necessity of going through this. I feel shame at the humiliating smiles, at their obvious enjoyment of having me in their hands. Disgust at their dirty hands on my skin. The eyes of men who are trained for war, not for love. Their smelly bodies rub against me as they push me forward to take me to Holofernes. Beauty can be such a trap.
I manage to tell the story of my treason convincingly, and there is a reason for it: I am still angry at the Elders in my town, who almost mistrusted God. Silly people, my Israelites! I feel I could almost do it, lead the enemy into the heartland of Israel. But that’s not God, that’s me, the Jonah in me. All I need to do now is get through to Holofernes, and any story will do.
As I am escorted through the gaping crowds of soldiers, I feel lightheaded. I know what God is doing here by way of me, Judith: crossing all the boundaries of what’s permitted for a woman, a stranger, an inferior human being. It’s so outrageous that they decide not to harm me … for now.
I have five days. Four and a half now. I feel my way through those days, doing things almost in a trance, following the master plan. I reconnect every night with the one who is in charge here. Oh, how I long for my nightly prayer sessions. To feel clean once again inside and out after washing myself in the fountain. To share my fears with the one who knows them already, and who even knows the outcome of our plan. To find strength and answers. To be safe from the inhabitants of the camp, one night at a time.
As I step out of the story, I pray for the men and women of all faiths who hang on to their traditions and customs in the midst of adverse conditions because that is where they find meaning.