Hers is the faith of How Great Thou Art. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound of children laughing and singing and reading the Christmas story. Dust will gather on the tops of hymnals, the organ will fall out of tune, candles will melt into oblivion. But I have brushed up against the other side: the one without belief. The light does not shine there as it does in a wrinkled Kleenex, wet with tears. She showed me what it meant to believe, as she sat at the table, wiped her eyes again, and forced a laugh. Of course everything would fall apart at once. A hug and a knowing eye and a prayer. She showed me what it meant to believe against unbelief; sitting in that church, gripping the pew in front of her, knowing what she was going home to face, sobbing during the benediction, loving even though it hurt.
Women of my childhood, of my home church. Women I have met since I moved away. Women I can only hear about as I lay them to rest. Women who have shown me sacrifice along with hate and truth along with pain. I have seen their tears and I have heard their stories.
They are beautiful in a way only women can be; whispering, giggling, shushing well past the schoolgirl years. They carry burdens and harbor secrets, they bring casseroles and baked things and care for the children and do the housework. They smile and sing, ….oh do they sing. They write, they teach, they pray, they dance. Squared shoulders and powerful arms, gentle enough to rock even the newest of babies to sleep. Their words echo in my mind; words of wisdom, hope, empowerment.
We gather at the table (the one the women prepared), all from different places now; some strangers, all friends. A still, small voice breaks through the static, telling me to stop and listen instead of talk. To wait with the faith of Hannah and Elizabeth. To believe against unbelief. To take the things and ponder them in my heart.
I carry them with me; their smiles, their eyes. I hear their laughter and their broken voices. In many ways, I’m made up of what I’ve seen and heard, in other ways, I’m quite the opposite.
There are some songs we never seem to forget, some words that seem to spring forth before our eyes even get the chance to open in the morning, some recipes (especially Christmas ones) that will always lead us home. For these, and for the women who keep bringing them to me, I am grateful. I want to be this kind of woman.