I sigh, and park my car between an instructional parking sign and the bumper of an Audi. Breathing the psalmist’s holy plea, “Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent. Do not be far from me, Lord.” I exhale. God returns silence and presses me into service with little to offer. My friend and I have decided to meet on the steep hill of Pike Street in Downtown Seattle. Pike’s Place market bright red lights shine through the drizzle. I see her waiting, and walk toward me. We silently acknowledge each other. I want to interrupt the shame between us, but why can’t I find something to say?I answer her unspoken pleas for help with silence, aware that I cannot help but reenact my own angst with God.
Over an hour before we met, I had stepped out of my office to quickly check my text messages. She had messaged me again. Terror, Can I call you? and she responded: It’s okay if you are busy.I knew the possibilities. Rape. Self-mutilation. Beating. Plain clothes men, uniformed men and the pillars of home men that paid her for sexual services they couldn’t find in their committed relationships flash in my mind. Her life had left tracks of black, streaks of blue, and razor reds to correct her. And, now, I had watched the scars come and go. Was she safe? Furious beats pulsed in my fingertips, and sudden dull aches crunched in the age lines of my forehead. Anxiety was ripping me apart.
It’s going to be too late, again. My anxiety boiled.
But now, at least we are together, standing side by side in the alley where the swanky restaurant was. I try to locate her eyes, as we approach the open, wooden door. A steep staircase, leads down to a downstairs. Italian operatic voices swirl up to the pink door we stand pressed against. Round tables seat people on friend dates, intimate tables give others a taste of fantasies. Women unwrap coats, revealing dresses hidden from the rain. The hostess motions to the bar, “If you can find seating, it is full service.”
There are two spots at the bar which we take. No drinks for us. No questions. No conversation. But she wants a salad, and so I order one for each of us. Both of us are carefully balancing anxiety, despair and the lack of words to talk about it.
God, I am waiting. Don’t let this space be a void of hopelessness.
As our silence continues, a male voice swells. The full tenor narrates and invites us to belong in his song, and it makes me feel like I’m in Italy. We both know. Her freedom has cost her more than random beatings. The mad hat she draws her harm out of stretches my heart, stops it beating and throws me into fits of rage, powerlessness.
She stares at my salad. Thump. Thump. Bang. The music changes, and flashing lights shine red and blue rays. I crane my neck back to see the empty hula hoop ring suspended from the bar’s ceiling, now occupied by a woman in a black leotard, swaying upside down, men’s eyes riveted. Women’s eyes captivated. I’m staring now, too. Swaying, swinging in and out, the dancer’s gaze welcomes lust. She twists the hoop upright and back down again.
My friend doesn’t turn for a while, but when she does, I feel her left hand on my knee. We remember the late-night calls, her worn body and visits to the hospital to get that rape kit done. We share a knowing look and turn to face our empty salad plates and half-empty glasses of iced water. Does it ever end?
The rays stop dancing, disco thumps subside, fading into strings. I brush her shoulder, “There’s nothing you need to say. Just breathe. God is here.” I believe He is. He provided the salads, dancer and these hours to be together.
In the holy moments of my life, I am rarely the reverent servant but a doubting, ordinary woman, shouting at the Creator, “You have the wrong human!” But at the bar with my friend, I lean in again, silenced and present with the Creator. I lean in past the debris of razors, blacks and blues – I hear the fiery bush tell Moses, “Do not come any closer, take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
God doesn’t give me words, but He gives presence, entering my despair and powerlessness to push back the darkness so my friend and I can be together. Jesus cues the music, strings tangled with harmonies made for the pair of us at the bar,
“Holy, Holy, Holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man, Thy glory may not see:
Only Thou art holy, there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power in love, and purity.”
I grab her hand, wordless. Grieved, humbled, giving in to hope, one more time and one more day, I stand on holy ground, breaking bread and drinking water. The pink door above opens and shuts, customers come and go. I see her eyes, hold their despair and say nothing. You aren’t alone, He says to me, and I squeeze her hand. This is our church tonight, and I will take off my shoes.
Mother of four and wife of one awesome Mexican Danielle Castillejo is a 2nd year student at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, studying to get her MA in Counseling and Psychology. She works and volunteers part time in an organization in Seattle that advocates for the agency and freedom of commercial sex workers. A survivor of abuse herself she continues to fight for sanity and love every day.
“God doesn’t give me words, but He gives presence, entering my despair and powerlessness to push back the darkness so my friend and I can be together”… such a powerful reminder… our presence… His presence can be much more powerful than our words!!! Thank you for this…
Thank you. And, I thank God he is present with each of us.
Yes. Holy ground.
Danielle, thank you for being available. Thank you for the countless times you have stopped to sit, be, talk, pray with those who need care of a Savior. Thank you.
I believe that these women make the world more beautiful.
What captures me is the place in which you sat… I know that restaurant and the juxtaposition of your storied friend and that place is beautiful in its own right. Thank you.
Thank you – I know we are in this work together, the work of being present with one another.
Your writing is fierce and beautiful. Your presence is healing and joyful. Your call to life and compassion is holy. You bring me to tears and to hope. Thank you