Sunday, February 23, 2014

2014.02.23 Spiritual Chivalry

In Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen, there is one tale titled “The Old Chevalier” (chivalrous type) in which a young man is thinking back on an old love affair that happened during the early days of the"emancipation of women."

"I have always thought it unfair to women that she has never been alone in the world. Adam had a time, whether long or short, when he could wander about on a fresh and peaceful earth, among the beasts, in full possession of his soul, and most men are born with a memory of that period. But poor Eve found him there, with all his claims upon her, the moment she looked into the world.  That is a grudge that women have always had against the Creator: she feels that she is entitled to have that epoch of paradise back for herself. "   Poor Eve. Poor women. Poor me.

When I first read this small clip from Isak Dineson, I laughed out loud and thought YES!  This is just the way we should approach holy scriptures—with curiosity, a sense of humor, and clear-hearted prayer. Some women have worked hard and prayed for women to be fully included in religion’s ministries, and recognized—even if between the lines and with a dose of provocation—in the Big Book Bible. We are meant to ask questions of the biblical texts, to make these words live and re-live, holy for every generation. 

Would I even want to have my “epoch of paradise?” Paradise could get boring and lonely. As an introvert I do love my space and admit that occasionally  it's nice to come home to an empty-house “eden” and be alone to relish the freedom of not even having to say a cheery hello or smile—to be free to eat Cheerios for supper or fry a disgustingly delicious hot dog.

Dinesen’s idea has merit. To be “in full possession of my soul” has been for me a state I’ve had to fight for, to assert over and over—in and through my own doubts and wounds, and also the arrangements of a patriarchal world and its sacred and secular institutions.

The Eden myth isn't factual, yet it is powerful. It is culture-bound, true, but notice how God wiggles around human mindsets in astonishing ways.

For example, God gives the exiled couple clothing when they leave Eden. Even more remarkably, in the other Creation story (Creation in seven miraculous days), God gives humanity equality: male and female God creates us. 

Oh yes, Eve does not quite get her "Olympic Gold." In Eden there are no awards. How odd!

Still, let's play with it. If Godde had placed a woman first in Eden, would there be any expectation that Adam could lay claim on her soul, not to mention her rib cage? No, but....... the goodness of God would immediately even out the playing field, giving Eve a helpmate named Adam. And where would Adam come from? Out of which of Eve’s body parts would Adam be fashioned?  Surely not the rib thing again. But I’d spare some belly flesh. If Eve had been created first, the sex life would probably have been different—no less intense but less violent, and rape not in the picture. Yet there might have been cat fights, the politics of besting, anyway. Women are not exempt from being human.

So I don't care who got created first, though I have lusted to be first and still do at times. I feel lucky and grateful to have someone to come home to, a companion who cares where I am, a lover who also cooks, a brother priest who understands the Church—sort of.

I bear no grudge against God. Pamela Greenberg's translation of Psalm 108:12 has a striking phrase. The psalmist goes on and on, begging for help in affliction, when suddenly into the litany of griping bursts this insight: humankind is useless when it comes to salvation. We pray; we hope; we do everything we can; we pray some more.  We till together.

In the beginning, according to the biblical vision, Godde gives us.......
    the protection of clothing
    the warmth of relationship
    the gift of equality

How much more chivalrous can you get?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

2014.02.16 THANK YOU



Unless you’re six and perfectionistic about your large misshapen letters, then it takes a minute to write a thank-you note to your grandparents for your Christmas gift.

It takes even less than a minute for your grandparents to read your missive, and the rest of a swiftly aging lifetime to re-read it and inscribe it on their hearts.

My mother hounded me as a kid about writing my thank-you notes to my grandparents after a birthday or Christmas. I thought it was stupid, since I had already thanked them on the phone when they called.

My note was especially hard for my paternal grandparents, because, from birth to about ten, they gave me government savings bonds. When I was old enough to pick a silver pattern at Tiffany's, they gave me one piece of silverware in my pattern with my initials on each piece every birthday and every Christmas. The forks and knives came first, followed by teaspoons, soup spoons, and butter knives. 

As soon as I learned basic math, I figured out that to accumulate a whole set of 12 place settings, each set with 5 pieces of the most basic silverware @ the rate of 2 pieces a year, one for a birthday and one for Christmas, it would take over 30 years to complete my set. By then I'd be an old woman of forty; plus, the completion would happen only if my grandparents didn’t die before my set was complete, which they did.

All my careful calculations aside, I still wrote my thank-you notes every year. I never figured out ways to make my notes creative, or even enthusiastic. Thank you, I thought, didn't seem enough.

I think my parents, or an aunt, completed my set eventually, save some soup spoons and two dessert forks. After I was married I did use my good silver at holidays and to entertain, an activity I do not do well and avoided if possible.

Today my set sits in a lined silver chest where it stays more or less free of tarnish. It is beautiful. I don’t use it much any more. I’m about the age my grandparents were when they died. I hope one of my grandchildren will love and use my set.

My maternal grandmother was widowed and gave gifts that she, a prize seamstress, had made. I loved the specialized clothes she made for my favorite doll, Lucille. Those notes were easy.

One year an aunt sent each member of our family a single place mat, one of a matching set. We each had to write a note for our single mat.

Thank-you notes today from our grandchildren, sometimes two on a note, some in pencil and some boldly in ink, are more precious than a phone call or an email. I have a couple of samples.

“Dear Grampy and Grammy, Thank you soooo much for the sleeping bag. I sleep with it every night  they are so comfy. Everyone has been asking me where I got it. and also thank you sooo much for friendly’s (where we took them for ice cream).  Love   Her name in cursive.  See you soon”  Bold flower illustration in purple and signed by her two brothers, six and three, who also got bags.

“Dear grammy and grampy, I love the gift cards that you got me. I am planning to use them wisely. thank you.  love, ” Big smiley face illustration.

As they get older the notes are the same with a little more formality and content, and usually a small open circle to dot the i’s (girls). Then they include some reference to our “thoughtfulness” and maybe a sentence hoping we too had a Merry Christmas. And one teen super-shopper described the outfit she had already bought: “Thank you for the card. I bought a really cute outfit at Forever 21 that I love. Love you guys!” Some say “I love you,” and some have xxx and ooo.

They write to both of us, but Dick’s biological grandchildren put “Grampy” or “Grampy Sim” first, followed by “Grammy” or "Grammy Lyn.” My biological grandchildren put my name first. This tiny sensitivity may be on parental advice, but I don’t think so. They are all naturally good-hearted—not so easy to remain so with second marriages. I remember one of them asked, when she was about seven and trying to make sense of the family flow chart, whether her grandmother’s second husband had first been married to me, her father’s second wife?  In other words was there a swap? 

We adore every single one and all of these small and growing souls and, if all goes well, by next summer we will have our twelfth, six girls and six boys. 

We keep our thank-you notes in a basket for a long time. The children have no idea what these love- notes mean to us.

Thank + you = two words. They are as essential to the work of Godde as are the famous “three little words.”