Poetry Sundays: Who The Meek Are Not

 

 

Mary Karr, Sinners Welcome

Who The Meek Are Not

By Mary Karr

          Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent
under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep
          in the rice-paddy muck,
nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles
          make the wheat fall in waves
they don’t get to eat. My friend the Franciscan
          nun says we misread 
that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them. 
          To understand the meek 
(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop
          in a meadow, who—
at his master’s voice—seizes up to a stunned
          but instant halt. 
So with the strain of holding that great power
          in check, the muscles 
along the arched neck keep eddying,
          and only the velvet ears
prick forward, awaiting the next order. 

 

::

Among my favorite religious poems, Who the Meek Are Not, has stayed with me since I first read it. It is one a few jewels I pull from a treasure box of inspirational writing when I become confused or wonder if my particular variety of discipleship is worthy of God’s grace.

I understand this version of meekness, the ears pricked forward, the sudden awareness of a call, the subsequent redirection of energy. Meekness can be a quiet yet powerful force running through our veins. Mary Karr and her Franciscan nun gave me permission to be a strong, courageous, vocal woman who is a humble servant of Christ. My agency–the power to choose, and to have an effect on the world–is only as useful as my willingness to surrender that power to God, to seek his will. I pray for strength and meekness every day.

How do you feel about meekness? What does this poem say to you? 

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I Hope You Stay

It’s not very politically correct these days in the feminist or progressive Mormon community to make a plea like this. We’re expected to honor every woman in the place she stands, to wish her well wherever she goes. And I do. I also want to be able to say what’s in my heart and on my mind.

Political correctness has never been my strong suit. And I’m not sure how to say this except in very simple words. I could say I’m asking out of love, but that may not be entirely true. Except that I love this church. With all its sexist, puritanical, hierarchical insanity, I love it. And I love you too. People like you are making Mormonism better, so even if it’s selfish of me to expect you to listen, I’m going to come out and say it anyway:

I hope you stay.crazyquiltjanicevaine

 

Please stay.

Please don’t go.

Can I help you?

How can I help you?

What can I do to help you stay?

If you’re thinking of leaving Mormonism, please reconsider.

Maybe none of this matters to you anymore. Maybe you’ve reached the breaking point or your therapist has advised you to go. Maybe your wounded heart or your guardian angels are leading you away for your own good. And what can I say to that?

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Compartmentalization

compartmentWhen I started my faith journey away from Mormonism, I was often met with one request: just ignore the parts of the doctrine that were bothering me. More specifically, I was told to separate my beliefs about social issues like feminism, homosexuality and race in secular matters from my church beliefs. It was fine to apply a feminist lens to the world I was living in, just not the  church. I was asked to compartmentalize.

I found I was incapable of doing that. I was unable to say “I’m not okay with this kind of behavior outside of the church, but I’m fine with it inside of the church.” My bishop said to me, “If you put aside the feminist stuff, how do you feel about the rest of the church.” He didn’t understand that I saw the church as a whole and was not able to just put aside the parts I did not like. My mother is a feminist, but remains active in the church. When I asked her how, she said she doesn’t apply the same criteria to the church as she does to other things. I’ve had Facebook arguments where someone has said in the same post that separate but equal laws are not okay, but it is fine for the church to teach separate but equal ideas. In all of these instances I find myself reeling. How does one compartmentalize like that?

I’ve started to wonder if that ability is the key for some people to stay religious. As I hear people’s stories about Mormonism, I see people in very similar circumstances choose to leave and choose to stay. Of course there are millions of reasons people leave and stay in religions, but is the ability to compartmentalize one of them?

I can’t divide the church from my “secular” beliefs. I can’t divide the church into bits and ignore the ones I don’t like. That inability is really the core of why I left. I wonder if I had that skill if I would still be Mormon.

There is a quote attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald that says: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Does the ability to compartmentalize make one more intelligent?

Can you compartmentalize? How has it effected you?

 

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The Church is Pro-Choice

Note: this post mentions rape, incest, abortion, stillbirth, death of infants, etc. If those topics are going to be triggering, please honor your health and pass on reading.

A few months ago, we were discussing the need for modern-day prophets in Sunday School. One woman raised her hand and said that she was grateful for modern-day revelation because of issues like abortion. I fought my urge to exclaim, “Yes! Isn’t it great that the Church is pro-choice?!” because it would really derail the lesson, so I’m going to say it here.

Isn’t it great that the Church is pro-choice?!

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Leaving Eden

 

"Two Souls" by Eduardo Rodriguez Calzado

“Two Souls” by Eduardo Rodriguez Calzado

I have a secret to tell: I mourn not being able to be the Mormon woman I was always taught to be, that I was always told I would be, that I was always patted on the head for my righteous desires to be as a young woman. I wanted to have the lovely home, the quiver full of children, homeschooling, every meal homemade with love. I would lie awake at night when I was engaged to my husband, envisioning a life of fresh muffins in the morning and a constantly clean bathroom (admittedly, this one is still on my wish list).

I know the dream is idyllic and was completely unattainable from the start, but I still mourn the possibility. I never asked for my faith to take a dramatic shift, held together by ribbons of choice and streams of hope rather than anchored in certainty. I never asked for my mind to be so thirsty for more knowledge and information that the easy answers stopped working. I never asked for the postpartum depression that followed my births, making motherhood an excruciating tumble into the abyss of despair rather than a joyous journey in those first months and years. These are not the things we simply pick out of a lineup of potential experiments like cans on supermarket shelves. These experiences choose us and we learn how to stumble our way through as gracefully as possible.

But every day as I work to reason and share my heart with others about the experiences that have brought me to Mormon feminism, I am confronted with the woman that I once thought I would be: the woman who believes so easily, who finds joy and fulfillment where she’s told she would, the woman who is that Mormon woman. I mourn her despite the fact that my life experiences have caused me to cry out, “Please stop defining me by a biological process that, while bringing light and life, also brought utter darkness! Please stop telling me that I ‘just don’t understand,’ when my mind spends countless hours of every.single.day mulling over, praying over, writing over, and pondering over these things! Please stop telling me that I just need to have more faith when I’ve exercised all that I have in me and still, somehow, try to keep my faith together.

I mourn her because her life had a well-laid path and straight-forward answers. When belief was easy, she didn’t have to spend so much of her energy finding footholds. I mourn her because her life was not conflicted: read, pray, follow the prophet, endure to the end. Check, check, check, check.

One night as I shared the profound sadness in my loss of innocence with a friend, the picture became clear. Much of the time when we speak of the story of Adam and Eve, we forget how radical the underlying message is–in order to truly live and progress, we must choose knowledge. We must choose a life of paradox and pain. We must choose to have our eyes opened. We must leave the Garden. We must leave what we thought was the ideal, the simple and well-laid path, in favour of life.

I wonder if Eve, in those moments of toil in the lone and dreary world, ever looked back on Eden in the way that I look back on the woman I was always told I should want to be. I wonder if she thought, “what if my eyes had never been opened? What if I could have continued on peacefully without having to struggle, without being removed from the certainty of God’s presence? What if I had just done what I was supposed to do? Why did I seek out this knowledge?”

But like Eve, we go forward. This is the work of women. Forward, ever forward, eyes constantly lifted to heaven for more understanding, a space in our hearts for that piece of us that could have been continuously content but chose choice, uncertainty, and the height and depth of human emotions.

Forward, ever forward, with faith held together by ribbons of choice and streams of hope.

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