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In this collection of poetry, prose, memoir, and essays, Edmisten addresses a range of issues relating to ...
In this collection of poetry, prose, memoir, and essays, Edmisten addresses a range of issues relating to women:
• The uniqueness of women's talents, burdens, and sorrow
• The failure of the hierarchy of mainstream churches to recognize the contributions of women in the Church's history
• The widely accepted relegation of women to peripheral rather than central roles within churches
• The unexamined unease the hierarchy and some priests exhibit toward sexuality-their own and women's-contributing to injustice within the Church and society
Challenging, thought-provoking, and inspiring self-examination, A Longing for Wisdom calls for Church reform in an era where conventional wisdom has taken precedence over the wisdom of Christ.
My book opens with poems and stories about brave women. You will recognize the biblical figures, but I also write about unsung contemporary women, all valiant in their own ways. I pay homage to these women by referring to each one as "my lady," the original Italian definition of madonna.
"The first man never finished comprehending wisdom, nor will the last succeed in fathoming her.
For deeper than the sea are her thoughts; her counsels, than the great abyss."
Hagar was the Egyptian woman given by the pharaoh to Sarah, Abraham's wife. You'll recall that both Abraham and Sarah were advanced in years and could not have children. But how would Abraham become the father of Israel if he didn't have a son? Scripture tells us that Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham, and that Hagar conceived a son, Ishmael, who Moslems believe to have been their first prophet and the ancestor of Muhammad. We know that, according to Mesopotamian laws at the time (present day Iraq), any offspring of the coupling of Abraham and Hagar would be considered Sarah's son and Abraham's heir. We know that Sarah greatly resented Hagar who, apparently, lorded her pregnancy over Sarah. Ultimately, after Sarah birthed Isaac; after she expelled Hagar and Ishmael into the desert; after they were near death from thirst; after the Lord's messenger appeared to Hagar and told her not to be afraid, that God would make of Ishmael a great nation, and a well appeared so that they could drink, Hagar took Ishmael by the hand, and they continued their journey. Ishmael went on to become the ancestor of the northern Arab people.
How did it feel, Hagar, to be offered to
Abraham by his own wife, the woman
you served? Did you protest, knowing
any child you bore would be hers?
How was it to lie with the ancient man?
Was he tender with you, or did the tent
poles shake and the goat skins upon which
you lay abrade your smooth apple ass,
the only part unblemished
by scorching sun and withering work?
Lost is your side of the story, after Sarah's
old ovaries finally released an egg and she
birthed Isaac. She expelled you and your
toddler Ishmael into the desert. Were you comforted
when the angel said your boy would change history?
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the woman I revered as a child. She represented the pinnacle of womanhood. All Catholic girls were taught to model Mary's faith, gentleness, and obedience. While my relationship with her has changed (I no longer recite the rosary every night, a practice I did before falling asleep, well into my forties), I continue to honor her as a brave woman who bore her unorthodox pregnancy with pride and as a woman who gave birth the same way millions of poor women still do. Not only that, she raised quite a son. And, by the way, I still carry a rosary in my purse.
The House of God
The Holy Spirit anointed Mary's womb
to shape the House of God, la casita de Dios,
where woman's blood fed a divine embryo,
a divine fetus, a divine baby.
When nine months had passed,
Mary pushed Him into the carpenter's hands
and then, with swollen breasts,
she suckled God and man with woman's milk.
Martha is the woman we become when we're overwhelmed with
household and professional duties. Who among us would not have
preferred to be Mary, to sit at the Lord's feet? The Lord and Mary,
nevertheless, go to Martha for nourishment.
Host to Christ, she scurried around the
cook stove, making His lunch (and Mary's).
All Martha wanted was a little help,
a little understanding, but, like tired women
everywhere, who scold their children or
resent their husband's freedom, she got the
bum rap while Mary curled up at the Lord's feet,
just like Martha wanted to do,
but who would feed them?
In the Catholic Church, Mary of Bethany is often considered the same woman as Mary of Magdala, despite John (11:1-7) who makes a point of identifying her as the sister of Martha and Lazarus. This is just one example of how the names and histories of women within scripture have been eliminated and/or conflated.
Mary of Bethany
Adoring Mary, you recognized
His divinity, you poured fragrant
oil on His feet. So sensuous an act,
so profligate your gesture of love,
you must be that prostitute,
Mary of Magdala.
The Woman with a Hemorrhage
Jairus asked Jesus to heal his daughter,
but you waylaid Him in that clamorous crowd.
You had the gall to touch His garment,
you, an unclean woman who had been bleeding
for twelve years, had the audacity to stretch
out your arm and touch His clothing.
You had suffered greatly under many
doctors, and having spent all you had,
those guys still left you with a wounded womb
that gushed thick dark blood. Had you tried
to stanch it before you reached for Him
or had you lost all pride?
Who touched me? He asked, aware that grace
had poured from him. His followers thought
He was joking, given the pressing throngs.
Trembling, you came forward and told
Him your medical history.
He listened and your blood dried up,
even though you had no name.
Here I make the transition to contemporary women. Even we sometimes take for granted other women's strength, perseverance, and capacity to bring kindness to others. Recently, my son injured his back. As a single father, he needed help with his two small children. In Pensacola, we were expecting tornadoes the day I received his call for help. It was a fearsome time to be driving. I had to spend the night in a motel, and in the morning, I stopped at a Waffle House.
It's 5:00 AM on a nippy Monday
in Lake City, Florida.
It's still dark outside, but the lights
inside Waffle House comfort
like a hot bath on a cold night.
The lanky cook stretches and yawns.
Just finishing your shift? I ask.
Yeah, and I didn't sleep before
startin' it either, she says,
tightening her white apron.
One egg over easy, grits, and whole wheat
toast, I tell the waitress, coffee too, and a
glass of milk. Do you have low fat?
No, she says, it's whole, but sometimes
they bring two percent. Today it's whole.
No thanks. I watch the cook swirl the
oil in the pan before cracking my egg.
Light on the butter? She smiles at me before
painting the toast with melted saturated fat.
You got it, I reply.
The egg has a perfect runny yoke upon which I
spoon the steaming grits. Anything else?
asks the waitress. Only that I want to thank you
for ministering so kindly to me on this cold
morning, I think. Only that I'm grateful
to you, roadside Samaritans.
The Car Wash Lady
Grim-faced, lanky men motion me to halt.
They stir some primordial fear. I show my
pre-paid card to a demure, gray-haired
lady whose fluffy white doggie sleeps on the
counter at the cashier's window.
Dapper dudes and designer dames wait
in a bleak corridor with folding chairs
and moldering magazines.
On the other side of the crevasse,
bridged by an Inquisition-like machine that
pulls my car, a woman sits reading and
underlining something significant.
A student, no doubt, working her way
out of the belly of this dark, oily place.
(Where does that foul water go?)
The WHOOSH of the dryer is her cue.
She slides into the car and expertly
cleans the windows. After returning to her chair,
she picks up her assignment.
I see the cover: TV Guide.
I imagine her returning to her run-down
room with a few treats for the children,
bought with a few meager tips.
The parish my husband and I belong to was established in 1896 to serve the descendants of the slaves, the Creole population, and the seafarers who visited Pensacola on tall sailing ships. Our pastor, while adhering to Catholic dogma, always gives intelligent, challenging sermons. He has a bright and fast wit and enjoys warm relationships with the people. We're also blessed with two choirs that praise God with gifted and exuberant voices. I frequently choke up during the Our Father when we hold hands across the aisle and praise Him unashamedly. During communion, I am struck by the varied family relationships.
Our parish is not "scrubbed;" its members carry every conceivable scar and heartache. Yet they proceed, in every glorious hue of skin, up to the priest or Eucharistic minister to receive the bread and wine. Our church also has luminous, Italian stained glass windows. Th e Chalice is about a beautiful elderly woman upon whom fell the light from those windows; although the old woman is the main character in the poem, pay attention to her daughter.
The deacon carries the chalice to the tiny old woman in the third pew.
The daughter watches apprehensively, but her mother knows
Who's coming, despite her cerebral plaques and tangles.
Her sparrow arms reach out.
Her fragile, mottled hands grasp the chalice.
In slow motion, she tilts her head back and lifts the cup to her pale lips.
(Many have sipped and there are only a few drops left.)
At the kiss of wine, the sun through the Italian
stained glass windows, burnishes the chalice and the
halo of white hair around the old woman's head.
The deacon returns to the altar.
The old woman smiles serenely.
Her daughter relaxes.
Ever vigilant, the daughter relaxes. Having raised her own children, she now nurtures her mother. Would her mother spill any wine as she held the chalice? How many of us live our lives, ever vigilant?
I dedicate this next poem to my grandmother, Kunigunda Brigita Seitz. Her husband, my grandfather, was Henry. Coincidentally, their parents, my great grandparents, had named their children after Bavarian saints, King Henry and Queen Kunigunda, known for their generosity and kindness. My grandfather Henry came from Bavaria in 1906. Two years later, he married my grandmother Kuni whom he met in the choir of the Catholic Church they had attended in Milwaukee. He knew from the start that he wanted to marry her and loved telling of how he followed Kuni and her then suitor on the way home from choir to be sure the boyfriend treated her with respect.
My grandmother could not resist his creative approach to courting. Her parents, however, were opposed to the marriage. Immigrants themselves, they wanted something better for their American-born daughter, despite the fact that Henry was a skilled pastry chef. Kuni and Henry's love prevailed, and after their marriage, they opened a pastry shop above which, many years later, I grew up.
My fondest memory is when my grandpa would lift me up and set me on his cake-decorating table. In front of him were large containers of butter frostings he had made. My favorite was chocolate. He would choose just the right tip for the white paper tube that held the frosting. Then he scooped frosting into the tube and pretended he had to test the size of the tip's opening before making his delicate roses, so he squeezed a little onto my fingers before starting. He did this each time he used a new color and flavor of frosting. What a delight to lick Grandpa's butter frosting from my fingers.
My grandma was more serious than Grandpa. Six days a week, from 4:00 AM when she made breakfast for Grandpa and the other bakers, until 7:00 PM when she made supper, she worked in that shop. She washed baking pans, carried trays of freshly baked breads, hot hard rolls and Danish pastries to the showcases, sewed hems of fl our sacks to make drying cloths and sold baked goods to ethnically diverse European customers. With all those chores, she sometimes found time to play with me. She would sit me on the wooden extension of the treadle Singer sewing machine and play, "Button, Button, Who's Got the Button?" I remember that as she aged, she had to wear bandages to support the thick cords of blue varicose veins that bulged because of the long hours on her feet.
Finally, when Henry and Kuni retired and moved to their dream home, Grandma was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She told me then that she wished to live long enough to see me graduate from university. Although she died before I graduated, I took notes at my graduation so I could later write this poem:
Summa cum laude
Grandma was a working woman,
up at four, with her immigrant husband,
to bake bread and Danish.
They lived behind the store
in those struggle years.
I sat on grandma's sewing machine
and played who's got the button
while she hemmed flour-sack dish rags.
Her parents didn't want her to marry an immigrant.
Born in the U.S., they wanted a "real" American.
She bore Henry four children,
and still she scrubbed pans and mopped floors.
She told my mother she wished
children were got a different way.
She was a pianist, but her husband's
massive hands played the dough.
Grandpa bought her a Steinway
when they moved to the new house.
She paid for my piano lessons
and scolded when I was dirty.
My portrait was taken in a frilly pink dress
and hung over their mantel.
She never complained as cancer ate her uterus
and royal blue veins bulged under transparent skin,
keeping her prisoner
in a rose brocade Queen Anne chair,
where her mother's dreams for her
became hers for me.
Hospital tubes infused suffering.
No story here for a slick woman's magazine.
Too frumpy, this one, with her forehead
embossed by damp gray wisps,
soothed by her immigrant's gnarled fingers.
Sometimes there are friends or relatives who reside only in the recesses of our memories. Our mobile and hectic lives preclude the attention to, and maintenance of, past relationships. The story below shows how one phone call can retrieve a memory and a lost portion of our lives.
The Phone Call (memoir)
The phone rang five minutes after our grandchildren arrived. I had just set the water to boil for the shrimp, having added the spices in their tidy little sack.
"Please let the machine take it," I told my husband. "I can't talk right now," I said, sure it would be for me when my hands were full of slick shrimp juice.
Ignoring my wishes, he answered the insistent rings. "It's about your friend, Barbara," he said, his voice somber. He whisked the grandchildren upstairs to show them the wooden toys we had recently bought for them at the Nicholas and Alexandra exhibit in Mobile.
"Hello, this is Christine," the voice said. "I'm sorry it took me so long to give you the news, but my mother Barbara died last Wednesday. She was in a car accident."
I knew why my husband was concerned. I have a dear childhood friend named Barbara with whom I'm in regular contact, but her daughter's name is Jill. Th is call was about another Barbara whom I had not seen since my high school graduation. I was named after her mother, my mother's best friend whom I always addressed as Aunt Pat.
"Mom talked a lot about you," Christine said. "I was looking at the photos you sent her of your mother and my grandmother when they were girlfriends in the forties. I got your phone number off the Internet."
And I don't even know you, I thought. I didn't even know your name before this call.
"How did it happen?" I asked.
"Mom was driving. The doctors thought she might have blacked out. They hit a tree."
"Your father was with her?"
"Yes, he's okay."
Excerpted from A Longing for Wisdom by Patricia S. Taylor Edmisten Copyright © 2010 by Patricia S. Taylor Edmisten. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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