I was in New York having tea with a colleague whose prominence in our field has risen significantly over the last several years. I confessed half-jokingly that had we not known each other before this happened, we probably would not have been sitting there catching up in a coffee shop because I would’ve turned down the invitation. For as long as I can remember I’ve had an aversion to being in close proximity with even moderately well-known people, even if they are known only within our shared professional circles.
There are times when I resist the urge to flee, but they usually don’t go well. Example: this spring I attended a writing conference and literally crossed paths with an author who’d visited my church a few months earlier. She and I never connected because I was too bashful, and ever since I’d regretted not having been bold enough to speak to her when we were sitting at the same lunch table. So when I saw her walking past me at the conference, I stopped to introduce myself. Much to my relief, she was incredibly kind and gracious, and we had a lovely, albeit short exchange about writing and parenting. But mere moments after we parted ways, I ran into a friend of mine and in the midst of telling her all about my conversation with this author, she looked at my intensely, touched my arm and said as politely as she could, “Katey, your sweater is inside out.”
My discomfort with other people’s notoriety serves a couple of purposes. First, it protects me from embarrassing myself in front of someone I admire (see above). And second, it protects my image of who I imagine–and wish–that person to be. But really they are both functions of pride, just manifested differently. A pedestal is merely a way to keep someone at arm’s length.
When I started exploring stories of women in the Jewish and Christian scriptures to write about in my book Women Rising, I was immediately taken by the Gospel story of the woman with the hemorrhage who finds relief from her ailment when she touches the hem of Jesus’s garment. She is bold, strategic, and risky in getting what she needs to heal her body and her life. Her actions made me question my own inclination to run away from opportunities: if what I needed was right in front of me, would I be assertive enough to reach out for it?
The most profound element of this story is that the woman initiates her own healing. She does not ask permission. She does not wait for Jesus to grant her a miracle. She finds what she needs and takes it. Throughout my work on women in scripture, I see many examples like this of women finding ways to resist and break free from structures of oppression in order to survive. And I believe they have much to teach us today as we continue to strive for a world in which women and girls are treated with dignity and respect.
This story is a powerful testament to the enormous power we hold within ourselves to create change. Our faith in the divine and in ourselves can give us the strength to be bold and courageous in seeking healing and justice for our lives and for the lives of others. Like the woman healed after twelve years of suffering, we can resist against the forces that try to convince us that there is no hope for a different world. We can find a way to reach out for our healing.
Katey Zeh, M.Div is a strategist, writer, and educator who inspires intentional communities to create a more just, compassionate world through building connection, sacred truth telling, and striving for the common good. She has written for outlets including Huffington Post, Sojourners, Religion Dispatches, Response magazine, the Good Mother Project, the Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion, and the United Methodist News Service. Her book Women Rising will be published by the FAR Press in 2017. Find her on Twitter at @kateyzeh or on her website www.kateyzeh