Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The woman with the alabaster jar

There's a striking poem in a recent issue of Eureka Street, by Brisbane writer Davina Allison. It's a gorgeous, erotic, rather heterodox reflection on the Gospel story of the woman with the jar of expensive ointment. I liked it very much – and its heterodoxy made me wonder whether there could ever really be an orthodox interpretation of this extravagantly sensuous story. I mean, any reading that overlooks the eroticism of the story is kind of missing the point, right?

Then again, as Kim said, maybe you need a bit of eroticism as a prophylactic against the docetic heresy...

The woman with the alabaster jar

She knew the lines of a man's back
as well as she knew the taste
of decanted fig-wine, or the way the spine
girdered the back under her hand;
an uneven scaffolding of flesh under fingers.
It was a gentle gift, this. Acquired slowly
in the stones arranged on her mother's grave,
in the deep vault of her hip against his.
Dipping like water, she learnt to press libations
into her hair — lavender, dill, coriander;
to twist strands against the frame.
There was salvation in this. And Art too;
that fingers still wet from mulberry
could etch a form of truth on the skin,
like the rim of flung-coin, or the
consolation of Spring oranges and their spurting.

But the truth of them has been forgotten.
His dirty feet and tired eyes, her hennaed-thighs
in sandalwood and linen, how she swung her hips,
how his loneliness was an atrium arching from his chest
to the lip of the buttress; aching for her to unfurl her hair.

—Davina Allison

7 Comments:

Anonymous said...

beautiful - thanks!

Pamela said...

I don't always think you're spot-on but I agree that this poem is a ripper (in the informal meaning of the word).

Phillip Mutchell said...

Usually Richard poetry of a Christian nature just depresses me with its crapness, but this is flaming gorgeous, 'how his loneliness was an atrium aching' truly knowledge and truth separate the possessor which is why I suppose the scripture commends humility so much otherwise we sink into arrogance and the defensive hostility that seems to always accompany it. Thank you.

Phillip Mutchell said...

I'm having a bad hair day so once again sorry Ben thought I was on another blog.

John Hartley said...

Dear Ben,

Here's my take on the incident. Music at:
http://www27.brinkster.com/johnhartley/music/song-52.html

Yours in Christ - JOHN HARTLEY.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THE LAST STRAW

Why this waste?
What a disgrace!
The perfume in that jar,
sold for cash,
instead of splashed
on Jesus, would go far!

What a stink!
Stop, woman, think!
The poor we could have fed,
if you'd sold
that nard for gold
instead of wetting his head!

"Let her alone," said Jesus,
"She's done a beautiful thing.
I'll not be here always,
I tell you, the world will sing
of her great love and sorrow
wherever the gospel's proclaimed.
You can feed the poor tomorrow,
when death my soul has claimed,
when death my soul has claimed."

One year's pay
gone in a day:
it's poured into his hair.
How's it right
to_ignore the plight
of thousands in despair?

What a smell!
Sniff it, and tell!
Rebuke her for this deed!
Such a sign
of love divine
will not feed those in need.

"Let her alone," said Jesus,
"She's done a beautiful thing.
I'll not be here always,
I tell you, the world will sing
of her great love and sorrow
wherever the gospel's proclaimed.
You can feed the poor tomorrow,
when death my soul has claimed,
when death my soul has claimed."

That's the end!
If he'll pretend
that he is so much higher,
I'll betray!
What will you pay
if I will sell the Messiah?

Words and tune copyright © John Hartley 2006.

Pamela said...

Thanks for this John.

WF said...

It's a beautiful poem. Still I think John H's is closer to the way I've always pictured the scene in the Bible when I've read it. She was crying til the tears ran down her face enough to wash Jesus' feet with; she seems in too much genuine anguish to be seductive. From the reaction that Jesus might not know what kind of woman she was, it sounds like her actions at the moment weren't visibly erotic.

I know, I know, these days you could get called a prude for not thinking a particular scene was erotic. That scene in the Bible is beautiful -- in a sad and bittersweet way. I love the way it vindicates sorrow and humility over pride. Still it seems poignant, not erotic.

If you're looking for an antidote to the docetic tendency, the other "alabaster jar" scenes about anointing for burial are helpful.

If you are looking for erotic literature, the Song of Solomon will fill the bill. :)

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Post a Comment

New book

Archive

Contact

Although I'm not always able to reply to all emails, please feel free to contact me.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.

TOPO