Wednesday, June 01, 2005


During our trip to Israel last year, we went twice to visit the Western Wall. Sometimes, I'm there still--standing among a sea of faithful Jewish women, watching them read and mouth noiseless verses from the small books in their hands and bow to the wall and search for crevices between the stones in which to tuck their secret prayers. I can feel the still-potent heat of the dwindling sun and hear the chants of the men on the other side of the dividing wall. Where the women whisper, the men exclaim. I feel the swing of my body as I step on an empty chair and raise myself to peek over that divider; can feel again the weight of devotion as those kippah-wearing men pray and bob and dance in exuberant, hand-on-shoulder circles.

I love Israel. I left part of myself there.

The heat, at times, was overwhelming to this Pacific Northwest girl. Though I obeyed the strict dress code and draped a shawl over my tank top (no bare arms in the holy places), on one occasion I let the edges slip about two inches to allow the heat from my shoulders to dissipate. In less than a minute, an Israeli policewoman approached me and, in a tone that was polite but unwavering, instructed that I raise my shawl again. I complied ... and baked.

Though we were permitted to wear dresses or capris past our knees, the men were forbidden to show even an inch of their legs. No shorts for them.

That trip broadened my understanding of the Scriptures like nothing else could. Now, when I read, I can see Jesus resting and talking with His disciples in Caesarea Phillipi. I can taste the water Gideon scooped from the stream. I can feel the stones beneath the feet of the onlookers as they wait on the Via Delarosa for a glimpse of the condemned Man and His cross.

But this thing about the Jewish aversion to the bare male leg captured my attention and opened my eyes to the story of the Prodigal son in a vivid, powerful way.

I'm sure you know the story. A son, growing impatient with the crawl of time, tried to hurry the inevitable. "Give me my inheritance now," he insisted to his father. I've actually read that to the Jewish mind, the unmistakeable meaning behind this request was, "I wish you were already dead, Father." The pain began here. Or perhaps it began much earlier, as the father watched his son's growing restlessness and realized he'd soon lose him.

Though he could have denied the request, he didn't. Instead, he gave his child the asked-for portion and then watched as his son disappeared over the hill. He didn't know of the wild living that happened around that blind corner. He didn't know of the speed with which his son spent his inheritance. But his thoughts were never far from his boy, and his eyes kept a vigil on the spot where he last saw his prodigal.

When the boy hit rock bottom and found himself hungry, broke, and salivating over pig slop, he woke from his self-focused trance. "What am I doing here?" he asked himself. His thoughts drifted home. He longed for the security he'd once known and he realized, in a moment of clarity, that his father was a good and loving man. "Even my father's servants live better than I'm living. Maybe ... maybe he'll let me come home and be his servant."

He turned and took that first step. There must always be a first step, but that's the hardest. The next comes easier, and the next, and like the tumbling of a rock down a mountainside, momentum soon takes over. I don't believe the Prodigal stopped running until he mounted that final hill before home. I think he hesitated for a moment there, practicing one last time the plea he'd make to his father: "I know I've lost the right to be your son. Let me serve you instead."

But something happened as he stood on that hill: he was seen. He was seen by the eyes that had watched for him every day since his departure. And when his father saw the one his heart ached for, he did something no decent Jewish man would ever do. He hiked up his robe, tossed dignity to the side, and ran. He ran bare-legged, not caring that the neighbors could see. Not caring that his passion was on display. Not caring that the whole of his world--who all knew the injury he'd suffered at the hands of his uncaring son--could now see forgiveness in motion. He didn't care about anything at all except getting his arms around his lost child. And when he reached his son, and grabbed him and wept on his neck, he ignored the boy's practiced plea. Instead, he raised his head and he raised a cry, "My son, who was dead, is home!" And the feasting began.

I always knew that a big part of the humiliation of crucifixion was that the condemned were naked, or nearly so. But after understanding the story of the Prodigal, I think of those bare legs of Jesus differently. To me, now, those are the legs of my Brother-Savior-Father, who willingly hiked his robe and ran to embrace me. And He runs still. Still today, when I've wandered from home and gone my own way, He watches the hill called repentence, and at the first sign of my head, He hikes those robes again.

My friend just disappeared over that hill. He left everything he'd built with a girl who loves him desperately; left his children, his home, his church family--all for a quest to go out and "be happy."

I can't stop watching the hill. I have no idea what darkness he'll find on the other side. I can't imagine how battle-scarred and soul-weary he'll be when I next see his face, but I do know one thing for certain. When I see him coming, I'm going to run.

Painting, The Prodigal, by Ron DiCianni

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14 Comment:

At 6/01/2005 7:28 AM, Blogger CJ had this to say ...

This is one of my favorite stories and was even while I was growing up. Now that I am older, I think about how many times I have "left" my Father and how many times He has run to me and taken me back in. It's a wrenching story really but I love it.

My pastor recently did a sermon on the Prodigal Son and talked about how taboo it was for the Dad to have hiked up his robes and ran bare-legged. It changed my perspective on the story quite a bit. For the dad to do that showed he was anticipating and so overwhelmed with love and grace and compassion and forgiveness for his child that he didn't even think about it. He just did it. Or maybe he knew what he was doing and didn't care because he wanted the world to see that he LOVED this boy, truly loved him with the sacrificial kind of love. It painted a whole new picture for me. Beautiful!

At 6/01/2005 7:39 AM, Anonymous Joe cool cowboy poet had this to say ...

Thank you for the reminder that it is never to late to seek the forgiveness of the One who loves us. I also went throught this personally with my own parents just last September after being away for 18 years. It was exactly like that father running up the hill. There were no recriminations only tears of joy, love and forgiveness. So too with my visit to His house a couple weeks ago. Only Love.

At 6/01/2005 9:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous had this to say ...

Forgiveness is a powerful and awesome thing. When you see our friend coming over that hill, grab my hand and I will run with you!

At 6/01/2005 1:05 PM, Blogger thequeen had this to say ...

Sometimes it takes a while to forgive..To let go of the pain that has been caused, especially when who ever it is keeps hurting you, or trying to hurt you. Run to your friend when you see him again, He will be needing you.......

At 6/01/2005 7:05 PM, Blogger Teresa had this to say ...

That was truly wonderful!

At 6/02/2005 6:07 AM, Blogger pam had this to say ...

I will run with you, he will need all those who love him to welcome him back.

At 6/02/2005 9:27 AM, Blogger Lori Seaborg had this to say ...

Well, there you have it -- I learned something new again! I never knew that about the bare legs. Thanks for blogging!

At 6/02/2005 10:50 AM, Blogger Bill and Glory had this to say ...

Thank you, Shannon. It certainly gives more depth to my understanding of what Jesus did for me. That's always a great thing to be appreciative of.


At 6/02/2005 5:23 PM, Blogger Nan had this to say ...

I'm so glad I found your blog for the first time this evening. The story of the Prodigal has a very special meaning for me. I was away from my church for 30 years. I was raised in a very devout Catholic family. After 12 yeaars in Catholic schools I even entered the convent. I stayed there three wonderful years, but decided that life was more than I was willing to give. then shortly after I came home I met and fell in love with a wonderful man who happened to be divorced. By marrying him I went against everything I had been taught.

We have been married now for 34 years. We've had a good life. But, a few years ago I started thinking about the faith I grew up in an all that it meant to me. I realized that I hadn't had a rosary in my hand for all those years. I could almost feel the beads in my hand. I became obsessed with finding the perfect set of beads. I sent off for them and was thrilled when they arrived in the mail. The very next day was 9/11.

The Sunday following that week of tremendous national mourning I decided to go to church. The gospel was that of the Prodigal Son. I sat there and cried and cried. I finally had come home.

At 6/02/2005 5:33 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Oh, Nan ... I don't know what to say. You gave me chills. What a beautiful story! I hope you post that on your blog. It's a wonderful example of what Joe said above--that it's never too late for forgiveness. Thank you so much for sharing that with us.

Thanks, everyone. :) And those of you who know the situation I referred to, please keep praying.

At 6/02/2005 6:09 PM, Blogger *~Tey~* had this to say ...

I am a Grandchild of a very well know pastor and so that makes my Mum a pastors daughter. So she’s seen a lot too and I hear a lot more things about churches and ministries and people than other people do. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know the things that some churches and people get up to, because it makes me so sad. In general it’s hard not to worry about your friends and people you know. And I am a natural worrier. Sometimes I wish I could just shake them by the shoulders to open their eyes. By them walking away, they’re basically saying that Jesus sacrifice isn’t worth it. It’s sad. What denomination are you? I will pray for you, because Pastors and wives have to deal with so much more.

At 6/05/2005 3:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous had this to say ...

thank you for this one. I will be running the fastest, and pulling all of you along with me. please keep praying. love you diana

At 6/07/2005 1:41 PM, Blogger Akiva had this to say ...

Powerful words. Not my path, but a strong message.

An interesting perspective on Israel, unfortunately not many relate or understand the profound dedication to G-d found there among the Jewish people.

At 6/20/2005 8:01 AM, Blogger Kim had this to say ...

Wow. That was an incredible post, Shanny. I still have goosebumps.


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