Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
LOOK: Bleeding Woman by Kimberly Stephens
Bleeding Woman is part of a series of eighteen biblical paintings originally exhibited in October 2010 at the L&P Hutheesing Visual Arts Centre in Ahmedabad, India, a country where Stephens lived for two years. Mehndi is a powder taken from the leaves of the henna plant and made into a paste. It’s traditionally applied to the skin as a form of temporary body art for weddings, religious festivals, and other celebrations, but Stephens has fixed it in more permanent form on canvas, and she uses it to tell the story of Jesus.
The episode depicted here is found in Mark 5:25–34 (cf. Matt. 9:20–22; Luke 8:43–47). A woman had been hemorrhaging for twelve years, which made her ceremonially unclean, and thus a social pariah, in the ancient Jewish culture in which she lived. Yet Stephens shows her confidently pressing her way through the crowd so that she can touch the hem of Jesus’s garment and be healed.
There is definitely a sense of claustrophobia in the painting, of tightness and crowding, achieved by the many overlapping waves. But something intimate, something private, is happening amid this very public throng: the woman reaches out to Jesus and immediately blossoms upon contact. Jesus restores her not only physically but also socially, emotionally, and spiritually—a holistic salvation.
Jesus and the woman are represented symbolically using the curled lines that are characteristic of mehndi designs, with Jesus’s form evoking the cross he will later die on. The thick, silvery outline around these two figures serves as an aura of sorts that sacramentalizes the encounter and draws the viewer’s attention to it but that also creates some breathing room and suggests the space of clarity and relief into which the woman has entered.
Reach out, reach out, the hem of his cloak
One touch will heal the bleeding
Press in, press in, the crowd draws near
Your faith the pow’r is heeding
Written by Elizabeth Duffy and arranged by Kaitlyn Ferry of the group Sister Sinjin, “Talitha Koum” is a trilogy of short songs about three females from the New Testament: Jairus’s twelve-year-old daughter, whom Jesus raises from the dead (Matt. 9:18–26; Mark 5:21–43; Luke 8:40–56); the hemorrhaging woman discussed above; and the widow who puts her two small coins into the offering plate (Mark 12:41–44; Luke 21:1–4). The title is Aramaic, translating to “Little girl, arise!”—the words spoken by Jesus to Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:41).
The song featured here is the second in the set. The woman with the issue of blood experienced a sort of resurrection herself, as Jesus raised her out of the pain, disruptiveness, and isolation of her condition, making possible a new life for her.
Imagine how freeing it must have felt to receive that jolt, I’ll call it, from the tzitzit (tassels) of Rabbi Jesus’s robe, and to know instantly that you have been healed! For over a decade the woman had suffered from continual bleeding, and no doctor was able to help. She lived on the margins of society. Until Jesus came along and she reached out in faith to claim the blessing of healing.
“Talitha Koum, Part 2” is sung in three-part harmony in G minor, but on the final syllable the key shifts up a half-step to G Major. This harmonic device (ending a minor song on a major chord) is known as a Picardy third [previously], and it’s used to lift what can be heard as sad, dark, or heavy into a lightness and brightness, into joy. I hear it as the woman’s sigh of relief. She had been holding her breath for so long, anxious for resolution, and now she can finally let it out.