Making Sense of Sunday
What is the most important commandment, Lord?
Love God and love your neighbor.
But who is my neighbor?
Who is the Samaritan?
The one left on the side of the road, the one
you hope will disappear.
(Who is my Samaritan?)
Oh, and what is Love?
Alice and Carol have been partners for over twenty-five years. For the last five, Carol has been unable to stand – battling one infection after another in her long quest to have a double hip replacement surgery. Alice spends long hours reading Harry Potter aloud, acting out the voices, cooking healthy meals, bringing news of the outside world. I have known my husband for five years. I hope I would bear up as well under the strain of long-term care. I don’t know if I am that strong yet. Alice replaces the gauze on an open wound. I go home to hug my husband, with hope for Us twenty years from now.
The Pharisees invited Jesus to dinner. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating there, she brought perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the host saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus sensed his thoughts, turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman has not stopped kissing my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
What is this thing, love? A power that trumps powers, that revises our histories; strong enough to heal a woman’s soul. The name of deity itself: God is Love. “Do you see this woman?” Really see her. I think of the bishop in Cambridge who implored us with Christ’s own fervor to make the ward “a safe place for sinners – we are all sinners.”
When I was three days old, my parents placed me in a crib in the room of my five-year-old sister, Rachel. We shared everything, and I was her grand pupil: she taught me how to read, how to open my jr. high gym locker, and how to manage the hallways in high school. When she went to BYU, she let me spend each Friday night with her in her dorm room. I wouldn’t have been such a generous big sister. She is shyer than I am — and certainly kinder; an artist and a teacher, making her way in the big city. But she has chutzpah, coming out while still in college. Provo is not the safest place to be a kind, shy young lesbian. The very place that should be most welcoming and embracing — a church house — becomes an emotional landmine. Memories of anti-gay comments I heard from LDS peers in high school still make me wince; I did take it personally – every joke – but in silence because I didn’t have the courage to tell them to Stuff It. Years later, she harbors no bitterness (I’m still making sense of that); she lives a vibrant life and supports my decision to remain a member of a church that has effectively shut its doors to her.
I finish a Relief Society lesson. Somehow Rachel had come up, our friendship, navigating these waters. After one then two – and later three and four – women come up to tell me about their brothers, fathers, sisters. It’s like confessing a secret, like we have kept it as a skeleton in our closet long after loved ones have come out of theirs.
I didn’t want to come home crying on Sunday. I had pre-read the announcement on the web, and thought I had the grit to attend. Later that evening, I looked up the story Ruth – balancing two worlds for love of a woman — thought of my sister, wondering: Who is Ruth and who is Naomi? Protecting and loving each other, trying to worship the same name of God: Love.
And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest I will go: and where thou lodgest I will lodge: and thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God.
Ruth, you were a good daughter-in-law,
Provider where no husband was
Daughter where only a son had been.
And when Naomi cried out with bitterness
You went to work. You brought home food. Kept house.
But what did you miss
In those lonely hours in the field
(stranger in a strange land)
As you stooped to gather the discarded?
When the wind came to Moab, how the fields blew?
The gossip of the women who know
The story of your birth?
When Israelite women wondered, shifting-eyed,
At the hue of your skin,
The fabric of your hair,
The angle of your voice,
Did you want to shout out what you lost?
To name your dead?
Did you want to carve your sacrifice on your palm
And say, pressing it into passing souls:
Here is my goodness and it is hard.
I’m trying to make sense of it all. Love and loyalty. Church and family. I don’t expect to any time soon.