Wells, stones and perfume

Photo by Jamie Sutter

A lynch mob of fundamentalist church leaders crash into the bedroom, tearing her off of him. Hands like vice grips dig into her bare, sweaty flesh as the drag her through the streets, past the gawking stares of neighbors, friends, enemies. Dirt clings to her and knees begin to bleed as she’s flung at the feet of a poor, itinerant preacher. They just want to make an object lesson out of her, set a trap for him using her life as bait. Until she hears their stones dropping with thuds in the sand.

In her world women were owned, possessed. She had no rights, no education, no way to make a living. A wall in the Temple kept her from worshiping God with the men. Yet he allowed her to sit at hit feet, to listen and ask questions just like the men who followed him. He protected her right to be a disciple, a right He had no business giving her. The opportunity was worth the world to her, certainly more than the price of the perfume she used to anoint his feet.

She was the gossip of the town, the loose woman hopping from bed to bed. She’d been damaged goods when the first man left her for burning the toast. The rest had taken pity, but this fifth man disposed of even the charade of a wedding. She was a half-breed, unwelcome by the “pure” religious folks, rejected by her own. So why was this traveling Jew breaking every rule by talking to her? Why did he tolerate her theological questions, dignifying them with answers? Everything screamed that it was a ruse, but she couldn’t keep from trusting him.

I’ve never understood the game of femininity. In high school I was enchanted by the girls who still smelled like perfume the last class of the day. Their glossy hair, lilting voices, and trendy clothes made me feel like being a girl was a competition I couldn’t hope to win. So I didn’t try. I hid every girly thing about myself behind flannel shirts, baggy jeans, ball caps, and hackey sack. Most of my friends were guys because they made sense to me. None of the drama and double meaning I got from girls. I wished there was a way to be non-gendered because I had no idea what being a girl meant for a poor, round, clumsy nerdy girl.

I came into the church when I was fifteen. It began to teach me some of what being a female meant. I was created to be a helper to the men in my life, first a father and then a husband. Somewhat disheartening for a girl with four absent dads, but a message I took to heart nonetheless. My strengths were validated, to be sure. I could teach other teenagers, and pray with people, and study on my own. Ultimately, though, women were meant to run a happy and efficient household, to educate their children and make a home worth coming back to for their husbands. Women shouldn’t teach men, and certainly couldn’t preach or be leaders in the church. My body was a temptation to all those poor, lusty boys out there so I needed to be very modest. But men are visual and they can’t form a connection with a woman unless they are lusting after her a little bit, so I needed to be attractive all the time. And I should pursue the passions in my heart, but not get too attached to them in case my future husband had a different calling because I would need to submit my calling to his. After all a godly woman has a quiet and gentle spirit that seeks to be a helper. All of this was very difficult for me as an independent, intelligent girl who didn’t like kids very much and didn’t know if she wanted to get married. If I had been a guy my personality, gifts, and strengths would have made me a prime candidate for seminary. But since I was a girl I should go to the local community college and work on my personal devotional life.

When I discovered hippies, I found a femininity that made sense. The shiny girls in the halls in high school had defined “woman” to me. But in the dust fields of Cornerstone I found women who were gritty, intelligent, strong, opinionated, passionate leaders. They wore flowy skirts and tank tops that showed their bras. They lived in their bodies with no shame, no fear, no felt need to cover themselves. They had dread locks and tattoos and bare skin. They were beautiful. And they were shoulder to shoulder with the men, not a step behind, not hidden in the proverbial kitchen. They were serving alongside, and their beauty was beaming.

I had come to believe, really believe in the core of my being, that being female made me secondary. Furthermore, I had no full identity to claim until I found a husband because I would be largely defined by him. God had made a mistake when He formed me together, because I was either meant to be a guy or meant to have a completely different personality. I was a misfit toy looking for my island. My destiny was to spend my life suppressing who I was and chaffing as I forced myself into the narrow mold the Church had created.

I was taught a lie. Jesus didn’t see women as secondary, and he didn’t look to their husbands to find their identities. Some of his closest friends and followers were women. He shared intimate moments with women. They supported him financially without emasculating him. When all the men scattered in fear at his trial, the women remained at his side and the foot of his cross. He first revealed himself as the messiah to a woman, and first appeared in his resurrected form to a woman. Women were never an afterthought to him. He saw women, saw them as human, as disciples, as friends. What made them feminine wasn’t a certain personality, a certain marital status, a certain look about them. Prostitutes, cousins, old maids, government wives, and courtesans were all the same to him. He didn’t value them for their sexuality, or for their quiet and gentle spirits, or their killer skills in the kitchen. He valued them for their faith. For their devotion. For their love. He valued the men for the same.

I may never fit the cultural picture of femininity. I may never fit the Church’s. But I think I do fit Jesus’ picture of femininity. I am the woman caught committing adultery, playing the harlot with every willing idol. I am the used up half-breed just trying to collect enough water to make it through another day. I am the woman who can’t conform to the culture’s demands of her, but who nonetheless longs to sit at his feet and learn from him. He invites me to do so, pouring his love over me, reminding me that I’m made in the image of his God and this makes me beautiful.


1 Comment

  1. viclyn7 said,

    September 9, 2013 at 7:43 am

    You ARE beautiful! I love this.

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