I am eating an egg and thinking about all those women.
There is something about eggs and salt that conjures communion for me*; they seem particularly appropriate in light of last Saturday when I sat with sisters, each holding an eternal potential for life and covenant.
Everything about the evening is crowded: the train into Salt Lake with women waiting at every stop; the entry lines humming with calls of greeting, gathering, and the occasional gossip; the plush seats set close together, a subtle wheat pattern woven into burgundy cloth; the women spilling out of the conference center, lining balconies and thronging stairways, a fluid body of Christ; and a train ride home that felt particularly packed. Normally such proximity to that many women makes me vaguely uncomfortable. I’m not certain where I fit in and I am certain that I did not appy enough makeup and/or hairspray to qualify for sisterhood. But then again, everyone feels this way (I have discovered through asking) and so I have been shushing those voices of late. I am not always entirely successful.
I glance down my row. Every sister listening earnestly and content. On the surface these women appeared to play the part, to fit the mold, to embody Relief Society-ness itself. Bev in her quilted vest with matching skirt, Karlene with her pouffed white hair, Jamie in her smart suit coat and scarf, Amy with her tired feeding-a-three-month-old eyes, Darlene in crushed red velvet with matching lipstick, Julie carrying an embroidered scripture case…. I look closer. Bev’s children are grown and her husband no longer attends; Karlene’s son is a bishopâ€”her husband’s smoking keeps him from church; Jamie works two jobs and coordinates enrichment, but she attends church alone; Amy introduces herself as inactive; Darlene speaks to me of questions while her husband heads off to the baptistry; Julie I do not know well and cannot claim any intimacy.
As we ride home, standing close and sweating on an overcrowded train car, I experience a similar double vision: I see The Relief Society in all her stereotypical glory and yet simultaneously I see the woman who ran a marathon, the woman who slides over to share her seat, the woman expecting, the woman hugging, the woman reading, the woman mother with her woman daughter, the women whose children are married to each other weaving through the other women in the car so that they can joy with laughter and warm embraces over recent newsâ€”a new grandchild is coming….
And so if you ask me what I heard at the general Relief Society meeting this past weeked I can tell you about talks and the Teichert painting along with a colorful choir and a dear loving prophet who speaks to women in spite of the pain of personal loss. If you ask me what I learned, what the Spirit taught me, I will instead reflect on a personal vision of grace: women encircled and encircling in charity. The scent of the communing souls, sharp with salt, lingers long after the crowded train ride ends.
When I reach home that night I send my husband to the store for Sabbath supplies: milk, grapes, and more eggs.
*This comes from too much reading. I found the passage that first constructed this association for me if anyone is interested: “Armenians, I read, salt their newborn babies. I check somewhere else: so did the Jews…. When God promised to Aaron and all the Levites all the offerings Israel made to God … he said of this promise, ‘It is a covenant of salt forever.’ … I salt my breakfast eggs. All day long I feel created.” (Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm p. 24-25)
Of all the ‘naccle discussions on the RS broadcast, this one is my favorite. It is astonishingly close to the thoughts that ran through my mind as I watched – I spent as much time perusing the faces gathered in the stake center as I did watching the speakers. Charity and refining fires were my conclusion as well. Thank you, so much for these words.
I would love to know the story of the inactive sister who attended the RS broadcast. It’s not something one readily imagines an inactive sister doing. Maybe in that crush of feminine humanity no one knows her and therefore no one knows she’s inactive, and so for an evening she can put that status behind her. Just wild speculation, of course.
You forgot I bought Chips Ahoy too. Don’t those have enough sodium to qualify as sanctifying?
You get so much of this just right here, Jenny, thanks. I had some of those exposed feelings at our stake’s pre-broadcast dinner, unusual for me: not pretty enough, not included, HOW do they get their hair to do that, why don’t I have better shoes and nicer toenails. But sitting at the table with the cute hair and good shoes were infertility, absentee husband, multiple sclerosis, hidden heartache.
So how do you eat your eggs?
Jenny! Hard-boiled or scrambled?
I attended the RS broadcast in the Mt. Vernon Stake Center in Alexandria, VA, and our Stake Presidency members were there with their wives. Did that happen to anyone else? After the meeting, I stayed for the inevitable 30 minutes, talking to old friends, getting drinks of water, deciding to walk back across the cultural hall one more time and talking to more friends. I have to admit that our stake has a little bit of a divide. Not a bad-spirited one, but there is a HUGE singles population, and after stake meetings, the women tend to separate into their component parts. It seems like your ward hasn’t done that, though, which is wonderful.
Hey, the New Orleans Saints just scored on a triple play.
We must be sisters, Rosalynde. I didn’t (I promise) read your comment before posting mine. Too bad you always beat me to the punch line :). New Orleans is up 14-3, it’s the start of the second quarter, and they’re kicking off to the Falcons. By the way, I’m coming by this football information illegitimately: my roommate rushed home from Family Home Evening early to catch the game. Actually, my roommate is our FHE mom, and she scheduled tonight’s FHE at the Sports Pub.
Beautiful, Jenny. Thank you.
I’m not familiar with a triple play in football. But there’s a lot I don’t know about sports.
S.L.: I’m glad to know I’m not alone. Sometimes I think the actual physical gathering of sisters, whether it be at a local stake center or around a computer for a live video-stream, is as instructive as the messages shared. There’s a strength that comes from realizing others make the same choice we do to attend, despite all our differences.
Kevin: Amy’s story is quite commonâ€”married to a non-member high-school sweetheart who supports her attending church but doesn’t go with her … as the years add up it is harder to go alone. She knows members of the ward (she’s often invited out to sports and has regular VTs) but deflects inquiries with a cheerful “I’m inactive” (it takes one back at first). I’m sure she ended up at the broadcast because our RS president made sure every sister in the ward received a phone call with an invitation. In fact, of the women I described above, two others besides Amy could be counted as “less active.” I think you might be right: there’s a perceived safety in anonymity. But Christ calls us by name.
Nick: I’m sorry I forgot to mention the cookies, but they just didn’t fit as well. Poetic license? I did appreciate you bringing them, and they certainly had a pacifying effect on my Laurels …
Rosalynde: I think the hair instructions might be kept in the sealed portion of the scriptures … just speculating of course. And while I generally feel fine about myself, there are times that large groups of church women, particularly ones where the majority remind me of my mother, jumpstart my insecurity. (I know, I know, time to get over that.)
Naomi: You made it back home and are up to your usual mischief I seeâ€”this football frenzy explains the rather spirited cheering we would hear at times floating up through the apartment floors … at the time we assumed you were all applauding Bonnie’s latest work (BTW, I promise I saw her in the choirâ€”did you?). As far as my ward goes, it’s actually having to meld in order to survive. The missionaries give a knowing grin when they talk about our ward (it’s notoriously inactive in the stake). There are quite a few “older” members who have lived here forever (and many are single by now) and a fair number of growing families. The past two years have quadrupled the number of young couples and young single adults though (it’s more like quintupled, but i’m not sure that’s a word).
Deborah, I appreciate your kind wordsâ€”thank you.
PS At the moment, scrambled … although I did hard boil them for Sunday’s object lesson :)
Thank you. Sometimes I need a reminder of what I most love about Relief Society. The egg imagery is fine, but I enjoyed the salt much more. And the two together create something new and magical.
Ahna, I like your point. Eggs are great, but add a little salt for savor. I think what I caught Saturday was a glimpse of how covenants cut through cultural debrisâ€”the cleansing power of salt, if you like.
Naomi, I have got to teach you a thing or two about football.
The Saints scored on a double reverse (see http://sports-att.espn.go.com/nfl/recap?gameId=260925018 ); those are often incorrectly labeled triple reverses by broadcasters. This happens enough that ESPN columnist Gregg Easterbrook (the same guy who writes for the Atlantic and New Republic) has a regular feature in his column mocking commentators for mistating the number of reverses.
A triple play occurs in baseball.
bravo! i’m one of the perfectly coiffed ones whose life is anything but.
i didn’t attend the broadcast, but it warmed my heart to hear naomi talk about that triple play.
it is generally heartwarming to hear naomi talk, regardless of what she is saying.
Ah, the lovely innocence of Naomi cheering on the Saints and their “triple play”! Why’d you have to go and spoil it, Kaimi??
That’s part of why I love organized religion, even in a religion that supports personal revelation above many other things. The image of people gathering to learn about God, each one having weaknesses and strengths, is just heartwarming and uplifting to me. We may have problems, but at least we’re still gathering to work on them!
An exceptional post for starters, Jenny. What a depth of vision and what a masterful description. Looking forward to the next installment!
Your talk about salting babies reminded me of this.
In my stake, the Stake Presidency and High Council serve a beautiful dinner to the all the sisters after the broadcast. Yes, the Stake Relief Society does decorate the room, but the men do all the rest of the work- table set up, preparing the food, clean up. I love this tradition and the opportunity it allows us to spend time together when none of the sisters have to worry about cleaning up, etc.
The CHI is very clear that men who have had any kind of gender alteration surgery cannot enter the temple. But it is not clear on whether they are to attend the Priesthood session, the Relief Society Session, or both.
The baby is napping …
My thanks to all who helped to straighten out the football mystery thus proving what I have long suspected: Relief Society and football do share a common ground (and that’s with the concession stand staying out of the picture!).
random me: I hope today goes well for youâ€”thanks for sharing.
The Wiz: “at least we’re still gathering to work on them”â€”I appreciate that sentiment. It’s part of what keeps me coming back each week …
Wilfried: thank you for your encouraging wordsâ€”they mean much to me, especially considering their source.
AM: that sounds like a great tradition (shared by others who have commented here). I think I’ll have to bring it up next year …
And dear DKL, thank you for bringing your patented spice with you. It takes a master chef to add cannibalism and transsexual issues to a simple post on the RS broadcast. Your concern and sensitivity bespeaks an inner hunger for acceptance. (Perhaps you should grab some Wendy’s fries on the way home [ask for extra salt].)
Actually, the transsexual question is a real one. The guys who work for me love to give me a hard time about being Mormon. So one time they asked me about General Conference (something had made the news; I can’t remember what), and when I told them about Priesthood session, they asked if there was a session for women. I answered that there is such a session, once every year. Then they asked which one the transsexual Mormons attended. The answer I gave them is pretty much word-for-word what I wrote in my comment above.
The cartoon came up, because I asked a Jewish friend at work if Jews salt their babies. His response was something to the effect, “Yeah. Just before we eat them, you degenerate Nazi. What are you trying to imply anyway?” That brought to mind the cartoon I posted.
(I should clarify that my Jewish friend was just joking.)
DKL, I wasn’t trying to imply that the transsexual question wasn’t realâ€”I just thought the answer was somewhat obvious given standard church practise: do what you think you should do/what the Spirit directs unless specific counsel or direction has been given. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a transsexual at the RS general meeting, just as I am not surprised to find the occasional high priest or husband. While it’s probably less common to find a woman (or a transsexual) attending the priesthood session of general conference, it’s not like it’s hard to do (ok, yes, I did onceâ€”then I realized I have enough meetings to attend, that I can read it/download it online, etc.). The point (and I did have one when I started) is that while the question is real, the answer will vary depending on the individual … just like many daily details of personal worship.
As for your Jewish friend, I’m glad he was joking (I’d hate to be called a “degenerate Nazi” seriously by one of my Jewish friends). And I’m afraid I must apologize for leading you slightly astrayâ€”in order to keep the Annie Dillard quote from taking over, I cut it here and there. One of the phrases pared down was “so did the Jews at the time of the prophets” (emphasis mine). Hope this helps to clarify things a bit.
A beautiful post and experience.
I attended a RS Session with the young woman I was dating way back pre-Conference Center. We sat in the front row of the Tabernacle and I received many welcoming looks from the sisters. The Prophet said that abortion was to be considered only if life or health of mother was at risk. I felt some of the unity you described, but not so fully, being male and not mature enough then to appreciate and understand it.
9. RE “I think the hair instructions might be kept in the sealed portion of the scriptures â€¦ just speculating of course” I hadn’t thought of that before, but I believe you could be correct: the sealed portion of the BoM contains all things from the foundation to the end of the world — so that should include hair instructions!
17. The Wiz, your comment echoes the latter Nephites’ worship. One of the ways I see this as a living Church is in how the members help each other grow.
Naomi, you rock. I don’t get football, either. It just doesn’t look fun or comfortable to me.
Anne and Mark,
It’s axiomatic, of course, that Naomi rocks. I would never try to imply otherwise; to do so would merely call my own powers of reasoning into question. Any sports-related semantic slips she makes merely give her character and personality, and do not in any way change the basic underlying fact that she is several orders of magnitude cooler than I’ll ever be. (Along with others who have corrected her football terminology (see Gibson, Brian), I’ve (mostly) accepted the fact that I’m merely a small asteroid or perhaps Kuiper belt object, while the inner solar system is (mostly) reserved for Frandsens.)
Dang it, that’s the last time I ever try to impress you lot again. I’m off to read Jenny’s new post.
Lovely, Lovely, Lovely!