Saturday, February 5, 2011

Waiting on Troubled Waters: A Queer Midrash on John 5

Here you lie, with all the other walking wounded, in the portico of the pool called Bethesda, hoping for a wholeness that never arrives. You’ve given up on the miracle cure. The wounds your soul sustained that distant summer of your fourteenth year, when the longings of your heart found new voice in your flesh, have remained open too long.

Desire blossomed into shame that has gone on bearing strange and bitter fruit down all the years since. In broken relationships. In hopeless love for the wrong men. In the anger you’ve used to mask your pain. In the constant, compulsive attention to the needs of others that has so effectively obscured your own. In the loneliness that’s come of obscuring them so well.

The waters of Bethesda will cure you, if you reach them first among the crowd, just as the angel comes down to skim the pool with his outstretched foot, its surface troubled by the wind from huge wings rowing in place. You’ve come so close, sometimes moving forward timidly, sometimes dashing up in a panic before it’s too late. You wait for the next time, but you’ve given up thinking your turn will ever come. Now you want to be rid of the desire for healing as much as you want healing itself.

A man lies next to you in the portico, waiting as well. The joy and gentleness in his eyes drew you in as soon as he sank down against the wall beside you. In the quiet warmth of his smile glows a wistfulness that speaks of yearning as deep as your own. For better or worse this sadness also attracts you. To hear him speak of his own longings makes you feel more alive–and that’s part of your wound as well: that you see yourself reflected in him better than you see yourself; and yet don’t see him as clearly as you could if your own reflection didn’t get in the way. But it’s all the comfort you have, and you bless God for its consolation, even as you long to see face to face, not obscurely as through a smoky mirror.

You glimpse out of the corner of your eye before anyone else has looked up the flash of white moving above you, and suddenly you know what you have to do. You lean forward to plant a kiss on your companion’s forehead, and for a split second his eyes are deeper than the pool. Reaching your arm around him, you gather up all the strength you’ve got to hurl him into the water, before someone beats him to it.

But he’s too strong for you. The sinews erupting from his shoulder-blade defy your hold. Locked in his embrace, you both roll towards the pool amidst the sound of beating wings. Your erections collide momentarily before you fall into the water. When you come up sputtering, his face is turned down towards you from where he floats stationary, his foot grazing the surface as he churns the air.

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