|Only photo from that year I could find.|
Four generations of Valentine women.
The group I sit with at lunch has slipped a multi-colored, tightly folded note into my locker. "I really like you, but one of us thinks you laugh too loud, and wants me to tell you not to sit with us anymore."
... (breathe) ...
For the record, all the worst notes I ever received were multi-colored.
I was devastated. Couldn't breathe. Humiliated. And worst, I had no place to eat my lunch.
In the religious world I encountered most of my life, the Powerful conveyed this same message to me. You're invisible. You're too... whatever. Particularly, you're a woman. Lofty religious language excluded my experience, my talents, and any possible role other than mother or Sunday school teacher. I was relegated to the kiddie table.
It was a male-driven world. God the Father was a man's man. The preacher represented God. Women submitted to manly God, through God's men. I absorbed an anti-feminine message. I learned to cultivate my most masculine traits, trying to fit into a world that couldn't see past my sex. Let me add that I absorbed this message implicitly. My parents didn't tell me these things. I'm a big picture girl, and looking at the wider world of our religious environment, I put 2 & 2 together. Part of my resistance to motherhood for so long stems from this feeling of succumbing to powerlessness by doing something so thoroughly womanly.
Seminary was the height (or depth) of this experience for me. By then in my late 20s, I knew my capabilities. I knew what they said about my femaleness didn't add up. Over and over again, I was told my experience didn't matter because of what "Scripture" said. And, my religious framework gave me no retort.
Three things opened up new horizons for me: The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, historical/contextual research in to the "clobber passages," and a Nooma video called "She" by Rob Bell.
Ironically, that last one was assigned to be parsed and dismissed by a professor of Systematic Theology, my last semester. I was the only person in class who felt I'd been dunked in a cool wadi in the desert. For the first time I heard about the times God is described (by God!) in feminine terms. As creator. As one with a womb. As Rob talks, the video shows a mother and her daughter. Subtle glances, seemingly hours of effort to reach home, willingness to work past exhaustion; the wordless story tells of fierce, un-swaying mother-love. God is creator, sustainer, defender, and can only be best understood in the light of all the attributes of God, whether traditionally male or female.
Suddenly, the table I longed to join expanded. Not only was I welcomed, I was a representative. I was co-image-bearer with my male friends, brothers, and occasional antagonists. My sex is not an afterthought in creation, it is equal expression of God.
|Valentine and I|
I look at my love for my daughter. I built her in my womb. I labored to introduce her to the world. I sustain her by my breasts (one of God's names, El Shaddai, can be translated as "the breasted one."). My voice is her favorite. I call her, and she seeks my face. God describes God's self this way. This does not diminish the traditionally masculine attributes of God. It brings them into harmony and completion. In a very real way, I learn about God by observing myself and other women, as well as men.
God surprises us, when we're willing to look. We build systems to sustain power, God chose the humble, stinky image of shepherd. We push our message through debates and politics, God gently calls. We wash the table, and fussily check and double check who shouldn't be present, God welcomes. We look for a warrior, God sends a carpenter. We participate in patriarchy, God is both mother and father.
You, my sister, you are an expression of the divine. Whatever message you heard, cutting you from the table, muzzling you, dishonoring your talent/gift -- it was a lie.
You, my brother, you are an expression of the divine. Whatever message you heard that God could only be known through hyper-masculinity, that you could not express tenderness, or fully own your capacity to love -- it was a lie.
Welcome to the table. Go grab some friends. Our parent has prepared a great feast, and there are seats aplenty.