There is a song about Eden coming out of my laptop speakers in that tinny way that it does, and I can hear the ever-buzz of morning insects outside the window singing their own song. Perhaps they sing of Eden too, designed to remind us in a language we can’t understand of the state of our days. There have been moments where I’ve felt I can understand that sort of music, but I’m not entirely sure if those days exist in reality or my dreams.
There is a tin full of my late grandmother’s recipes on the table next to me. She was a pastor. She told me once she couldn’t baptize because she was a woman, not even her church members, so a man would come and do it. I imagine my grandma standing in a baptismal with a small, white hankie in hand. This isn’t difficult for me; when I sat beside her in my church decades later, she always had one, worrying it with her porcelain thumbs. I remember often how smooth her hands were. I imagine her at the age she was when she moved in with us, slightly hunched, grinning, standing in the swimming pool of my childhood home taking measured steps around the edges in a skirted, navy bathing suit as if she were on the ledge of some very tall building and not cushioned by chest-deep water. She had the giddy nervousness that one usually attributes to youth, similar to the emotion that accompanies the emergence from baptism waters, that accompanies being born again. I imagine her in the baptismal like that, and I can’t help but think what a shame it is she wasn’t allowed in with her congregants.
My vulnerability leads me to write about women and their role in the church. It leads me to write that some days the verses flit over me–I do not permit a woman to exercise authority over a man…she is to remain quiet…the woman was deceived…she will be saved through childbearing–and my breath stops in my chest, just before exhalation. My vulnerability leads me to confess that I don’t understand how the God to whom I confess could feel this way, how the Spirit that guides me to the most beautiful and magnificent truths could guide another to write these words.
I suppose every believer has passages of Scripture that cause them more grief than others. This passage, though I’ve seen it trod on for a while now and have been convinced by narratives on both sides, is it for me. Despite how trite some may feel it has become, it circulates through my mind often. It’s the one I keep coming back to. The one I keep not deciding about.
There are Biblical issues that necessitate a response. One must make a decision on matters such as the personhood of God, the relationship between the Father, Spirit, and Son. They must decide because that decision means, to those in the Faith, the difference between salvation and damnation. Perhaps the acceptance or denial of women as elders cannot be categorized as such. But then I think of her– my grandma. I think of her preaching, of the song about Heaven I found in the recipe box next to me. I think of sitting next to her inside the checkered walls of the kitchen at my parents’ home talking about about saving faith, Spiritual gifts, addiction. All the souls who came to know Christ because of her. I imagine her homecoming, how she might’ve cried or smiled when she heard well done, my good and faithful servant. I suppose I could handle thinking she was misled, that she misinterpreted God’s plan and oriented her life in a direction opposite of His intention. But I find it extremely difficult to think that God, whom she adored, would have been displeased with her for finding way after way to scream His name to her world, one much darker than the Eden before it. The thought of that reality, while it isn’t damnation, feels almost as bitter.
I don’t find that this issue causes me to question my decision to be a Christian, but I do worry about what it will mean in regards to my relationship with God. If I decide that Paul’s message is as much for now as it was for then, can I honestly believe God is good? I think of St. Francis’ prayer: Who are you Lord, and who am I? This is the thought that plagues me more than any other.
So, my prayer becomes simple:
Your goodness, Lord.
Help me to always see it.