On being ‘that girl’ no longer

On being ‘that girl’ no longer October 14, 2013

I used to be that girl.  Devout, unquestioning, orthodox, loyal, safe.  But I’m not now, and there is no going back.

I spent time at the beach last night chatting with a good friend who was also, that girl.  But in recent unbidden flashes of knowing, sudden critical insights, and the lifting of heavy lidded eyes upon the great scene of the churched patriarchy, she too has changed. Her ground has tilted and notwithstanding she has done everything, and more than was expected of her, her bearings are now off.     And there is no going back for her either.

Nobody knowingly, nor graspingly seeks out this place of uncertainty, both terrible and beautiful all at once.   It comes upon us suddenly, often beginning with what feels at the time like a simple and innocent question.

‘Are women really equal in the church?’  

‘Why do I feel so powerless because I am a woman?’

‘Why don’t we talk about Heavenly Mother any more?’ 

‘Why can’t women have the priesthood?’

‘Why was Relief Society taken away from  women and placed under a priesthood committee?’

‘Why don’t women give blessings any longer?’

Questions, that once begun, fizz and buzz with more and more questions, exploding at the surface of our consciousness like the night sky on Guy Fawkes.    Terrifying but beautiful.

After our evening beach interlude I dragged my friend to an evangelical service, one of those youth/young at heart Christian rock affairs replete with electric guitars, drums and the unembarrassed swayings and prayings of those in spiritual ecstasies.  I wanted some worshipful simplicity.   We pondered later upon the straightforward beauty of this triumphant celebration of Jesus, where worshippers embody their love for God, with arms held high, a song of thanksgiving on their lips.

‘How do we Mormons embody our love for Jesus?’ We wondered.  

Nathan and I had taken the family to a Choral Eucharist yesterday morning.  The High Anglican love for Jesus was embodied in sobriety, exactness, and the visual and aural perfection of the service.  Not a word, a cassock, a surplice, a note, a reading, a collect, an anthem out of place – for this was God’s work, and nothing should be out of place.

‘How do we Mormons embody our love for Jesus?’ We wondered.

We wondered if we Mormons embody our love of Christ through talk.  Perhaps for Mormons,  its a cerebral affair;

See how the plan of salvation makes such perfect sense? 

Of course the Godhead is three separate personages!

In the heaven’s are parent’s single?  No! The thought makes reasons stare!

Families can be together forever!  

And over time we stock pile stories, official declarations, handbooks of instruction, policies, media, conferences, testimonies, histories, commentaries, teachings, explanations, lessons, talks, directives, warnings, commandments, discussions, counsel, councils, scripture, interviews, dogmas, doctrines, maxims, memes – words, words, words, years upon years of words.

If our eyes were half shut, in a fat, exhausted, sleepy, smiling kind of way we’d be inoculated from the fissures and fractures that begin to appear between the words.

 ‘Uchtdorf’s words made me feel like I belong, Christofferson’s made me feel I should leave’.

Scott’s words offered me assurance; Packer’s made me fearful.

Oaks used logic and argument;  Monson used  amusing facial calisthenics.

But as the weight of words have burdened my friend and me over time, we have had to sift, sort, arrange and synthesise, and we have realised that the seemingly coherent tapestry of words that make up our religious language are shot through with privileges that we will never know because we are women.   And we intone together,

‘This is such a nice, nice church for boys, and for the women who want it to stay so.’ 

But we can’t go back to unknowing.  We can’t roll back the clock to the before when we thought our religion was like a jelly donut, just stuffed full of sweet sticky stuff; When we thought that our religion was pure, guileless, innocent and brimming with an easy goodness;  Before we noticed that some Mormons are afraid of our new women’s words, our new questions, our new women’s language.   Nobody goes back to the unblinking, narcotized fug of their former semi-consciousness.  Just as an adolescent can’t go back to infancy.

We are the great inbetween.  The church has lost our former selves, but we nonetheless feel found – wide open, full of breath and thought, and a spiritual rhythm that sings in time with our new found knowledge of ourselves as beloved women of God.  But sadly many of us have been escorted to the doors of the meetinghouse by the pleasant polyester smile of the viscously well meaning:

‘If you don’t like it, why don’t you leave?’

‘Nobody’s keeping you here!’

‘Tow the line’

‘I’m afraid for you’

‘You are bringing contention into our church.’

And some of us take the invitation and leave triumphant but angry, tired but relieved, liberated but heartbroken.

And some of us stay, held tenuously by the tremulous hand of a patient but uncomprehending spouse, friend or family member.  Held in the breach by fear of the unknown, not sure of who we are in a world where we are no longer numbered among the Saints.  Held by feet aggressively planted in an act of resistance.  Held by the loving words of a church leader, who despite the meanness of others, love us and see us.  Held by testimonies of church grown in a time where once it made perfect sense, but we love it still despite its failings.    Held because others, many, many others who share our own language of uncertainty have made a church – our kind of church.  Held because we think, we hope, we wonder if we yet have something more to offer.

But none of us can go back.  We can’t be ‘that girl’ any more.



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