Song of Songs 5.2-7
I slept, but my heart was awake.
Listen! my beloved is knocking.
‘Open to me, my sister, my love,
my dove, my perfect one;
for my head is wet with dew,
my locks with the drops of the night.’
I had put off my garment;
how could I put it on again?
I had bathed my feet;
how could I soil them?
My beloved thrust his hand into the opening,
and my inmost being yearned for him.
I arose to open to my beloved,
and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with liquid myrrh,
upon the handles of the bolt.
I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and was gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but did not find him;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
Making their rounds in the city
the sentinels found me;
they beat me, they wounded me,
they took away my mantle,
those sentinels of the walls.
When a woman dies or is assaulted on the streets of the UK commentators immediately rake over the mistakes she must have made, the errors of judgement that have contributed to her becoming a victim. The Shulamite opened her door looking for her beloved friend, and ended up beaten by the police. Beware thinking that ignoring the door would have kept her safe. She should be safe in her bedroom and also in the street, in her bed clothes or her daywear, whether 10pm or 10am. She is unsafe because men choose to take power over her. The crime, shame, and scandal are all theirs. Away from the protection of the royal palace, the ‘black and beautiful’ Shulamite woman is at risk from those very ‘protectors’. Perhaps hold this reading in mind the next time you are thinking about #BlackLivesMatter.
Women are not uniquely vulnerable – the experience of being disabled/ LGBTQI/ black/ Asian/ Jewish in public spaces also requires risk assessments and safety plans just to go about daily life. More people than not are at risk of violence or harm for simply being themselves.
Who experiences most violence tells us something about who our community truly values, and who is othered, tolerated, stigmatised. Jesus invites the crowd to notice who their community considers outsiders, and declares that he always aligns with ‘the least of these’ (Matthew 8.20). Such solidarity is one way to resist stigmatisation and prejudice. We will need to resist it in even more ways.
The assault is a group action, not a lone man. And if one (or more) guard stood back to watch rather than participate, his culpability is not lessened. As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. The bystander has power to challenge, resist, and change the acts of harm they witness. And later, the commentator and community can refuse to blame victims for the harm they have experienced.
As you prepare to pray, reflect on this verse*:
You know how troubled I am;
you have kept a record of my tears.
Aren’t they listed in your book?
Jesus, you taught us to pray daily
to be delivered from evil
but still it arises on our streets, in our homes,
and in our hearts.
May the mercy you have shown us bring us healing
and restore compassion,
on our streets, in our homes,
and in our hearts.
*Psalm 56.8, Good News Translation