There she stood, proud as all get-out. Standing tall, as though she owned the place. And that’s what she thought, too, clearly, that this was her place. The table beside her she had already declared was nothing special, it was a table that belonged to everyone. I could lay out a jigsaw puzzle there if I wanted to. Someone else could use it to cut out dress patterns. Still someone else could use it to roll out pizza dough. It didn’t matter. It held no innate value.
She pushed out her neck towards us, as they tend to do. See my collar? she smirked. I always thought the collar was a shackle, a sign of enslavement, an eternal binding. I always wondered why priests didn’t wear these rings of white around their wrists and their ankles, too.
Bound to Christ. And I’ve watched even the worst of the worst priests understand their commitment, their relationship to the collar, to their master.
But to women the clerical collar comes off as more of an accessory than anything else. Something for which she would have to find earrings as a complement. Or an extra brightly colored stole to show it off.
The focus of an overly thought-out interior design: the vase of great value. With sprigs of lilacs dropping over its edge.
But not of the value of their relationship, their binding, to Jesus. No, more, a prize of conquest. Of having beaten the men, the church, into submission. I’ve never, ever heard a woman in this position speak of her surrender to her Lord. Of her submission.
The Holy Spirit gets mentioned from time-to-time.
But that’s about it.
So she stands there, bright in her collar. Thinking that the collar makes her bright, or that she brings her gift of brightness to the collar. Either way, she’s wrong.
This is not a church where you have to leave your brains at the door. She says.
I guess that means that I can come in and think anything I want to. I can cogitate on the Pythagorean theorem. Or I can sit and muddle over the varying strains in the Middle East.
It’s my choice, apparently.
The church, herself, has no responsibility to tell me what to think, now that I’m sitting in her pews. She has no right to impose herself on me. I’m a free-thinker. And here’s the place to indulge myself.
Aren’t schools the place where I can go to play with my thoughts? Pull them out like ethereal taffy, and stuff them back again, making an infinity of shapes out of the building blocks of the supposition?
If that is so, why, then, do I have to keep my brain active when I am at church? Why is it not a haven, a respite from thinking? A gift from God, designed just for me, in order to do my thinking for me so that I can let go and let the stress go from my soul?
Isn’t that where we should be putting the emphasis? On the soul?
Welcome, leave your hearts, and minds, and bodies at the door, and bring us your souls to be healed.
Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof; but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.
What more could we ask for? What better could we ask for?
I don’t want to be a scholar, sitting there, shining bright and brilliant. I want to be a mote of dust hanging in the beam of sunlight that streaks across the aisle and into the pews.
That’s all I want to be on Sunday mornings. Or at any other time that I get to be blessed by attending church.
Churches are places to pray. The prayers can be written out by ancient fathers, or new ones, who took their time to smooth out the words. Or they can be petitions for congregants too ill to be on their knees. Or they can be drips from our souls, longings that search for fulfillment.
It doesn’t matter. People who think it matters are just silly. Prayers should only be this or that. Never this. Never that.
As though God has a standard that he applies all incoming prayers against. Nope, this one’s gotta go. Too much punctuation. Look, THREE exclamation points! What’s he thinking anyway?
We, as a culture, have turned our backs on prayer. We like to keep the world thinking that we are very serious Christians, but we seem to value our television shows above prayer. Way above prayer. Once in a while, there’s a public gathering. Very announced. But, in general, if you were to go up to someone on the street and ask him what he would like you to pray about for him, I imagine you would be treated like a crazy person.
And, ironically, it’s this emphasis on thought, not on surrender, not on prayer, that has been, I think, the most effective means of driving the devout out of the church doors. Let’s think about it.
No, let’s not.
Collared women have been infamous for making those people who were, before their arrival, considered to be devout, pious, caring, responsible Christians, people who made sure the problems of the church were seen to, feel most unwelcome. Out you go, you old fuddy-duddies.
It is the church, herself, who is the most busy at unchurching the religious. Out you go, you old-fashioned fundamentalists!
I can’t imagine ever imagining this when I was younger: that those people who were baptized, confirmed, married, in the church, who then turned around and baptized, confirmed, and married off their own children in possibly the very same church would be told that they didn’t belong where they sat.
That they left their brains at the door when they came in to kneel, and sing, and bow, and so no longer qualified for membership.
Brain over soul.
Where is the soul of the church these days?
Outside the door, perhaps.