Category Archives: feminism


CLICK HERE TO BECOME A FOUNDING MEMBER

Can I start my message out with a scream??! Or maybe a song, “The hills are alive with the sound of music, ah ah ah ah!” If you could see me, I am doing leg kicks I am so excited about TARALOMA YOGA STUDIO! This place is a culmination of many dreams all wrapped up into one amazing opportunity. Many of you know I spent the last 10 years in ministry. You know that I am passionate about creating sacred spaces for people to encounter the Divine. You know how much I love to sing and use music to touch people’s souls (following all of the Keeping God’s People Safe rules of course). You know my creativity and my desire to embody and incarnate the Spirit and share this joy with others. 

For many years I felt tugged in different directions: musician or minister? Church or yoga? I realized I want it all. No bifurcating passions. No more dualism. Then suddenly I began to see how all of me fits into this TARALOMA dream. Right now (while I am doing leg kicks) I am designing healing liturgies for our bodies– especially for those of us who have been sexually abused, who struggle with addictions, or seeing ourselves in God’s image and are just too hard on ourselves. I am writing songs and chants to enhance my yoga teaching. I am designing a sacred space for people to encounter the Divine as we become more transformed into the beautiful selves we are but have maybe forgotten. 

Fargo is booming now and yoga and alternative expressions of Christianity & spirituality are a pioneering work in this historically conservative Christian area. As a seminary graduate, a youth minister in The Episcopal Church for ten years and yoga instructor I have the skills to make bridges and be a leader in this changing landscape.  As an introvert I am prone to do things by myself.  As a person of faith I know I need the community’s support and God’s help.  I can pull off the bare bones by September or I could invite others to help me create something bigger than I could imagine or ever do on my own.Here is my vision, and maybe you are a part of it: I see a sacred room, with yoga mats, blankets, blocks, and straps, available for guests to pop in before work, over lunch or before dinner to still their minds in meditation, prayer, music, and strengthen their bodies with yoga. I imagine inspirational art on the walls, candles, a warm room on a cold winter day where people can escape to center themselves and grow spiritually. I dream of a space where people can take off their masks and explore the deep questions of life.  I envision a healthy meal (a gluten free pan o’ bars and kale juice) shared in community after a Sunday’s healing liturgy of the body.

To launch TARALOMA YOGA STUDIO I am in need of basic yoga supplies, a few pieces of art, internet, insurance, some office furniture and a computer software program.  I’m so excited to begin this work!  And I am excited to see what happens has I partner with others to manifest this dream.

Donors will receive an invitation to the exclusive Grand Opening Celebration and free yoga/meditation passes. Far away friends who cannot join us will receive a copy of the homemade work of art that will hang in our studio with your name on it as one of our founding members as well as a personal guided meditation and/or yoga routine and/or song created just for you.

This page is a work in progress and I look forward to keeping you updated!

Thank you!  And Namaste! (Leg kick!)
Jessica

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May 19, 2014 · 12:17 pm

Were You There When They Crucified My Girl

A spin on an old spiritual. Often in holy week we focus on the history of the story. I wanted to contextualize and feminize the modern idea of crucifixion. Also to bring to light the fact that the female experience and the Divine Feminine are still excluded from mainstream Christian worship. Maybe the modern crucified Christ is the feminine form of God that is devalued and raped every day. Maybe it is time for Her to rise from the shadows of our unconsciousness.
#RiseWithHer

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Filed under american society, christianity, church, culture, episcopal, feminism, good friday, psychology, religion, spirituality

Revealing Our True Selves

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It was a 6th grade assembly and I sat in the bleachers with my mouth hanging open as I watched a visiting jump rope squad perform a routine to Michael Jackson’s hit, Billy Jean.

“She is so cute!” Billy said pointing to the confident smiling girl in the center of the floor.  The boys quickly agreed that Jill (God I even remember her name!) was the cutest and I began to feel my skin grow hot and green.  It was another confirmation that what I needed most in life–to be loved–existed outside of my ordinary power.  If wanted to be like the confident girl that everyone adored, some serious changes were in order.

I began to grow out my hair (the whole mullet thing was seriously cramping my style).  I begged my mom for new clothes.  But even as I tried to change the outside, something was still fundamentally wrong with me.  I began making a list of all my physical inadequacies:  bony knees, glasses, no breasts (not much has changed in all these years).  I began to dread that since I couldn’t change these things that I would be doomed to live in the Land of Nerdom for all of eternity.

When my elementary school announced we would be starting our own jump rope team called the Jammin’ Jumpers I shed my usual shyness and ran to the front of the room to sign up.  Every girl was allowed to come to the practices, but if we wanted to travel to other schools and perform we had to make the cut.

I practiced for hours at home every night until I could do the routine in my sleep.  This was no small feat for a girl who didn’t even know how to jump rope and was called klutz by her family because she was often found splayed out on the ground with no explanation for why she just fell on her face.  Try outs were one week away and I was ready.

During our final practice the girls began to gossip about who was going to make the cut and who wasn’t.  Suddenly I realized the intense anxiety that filled the room as all of our eyes fell on Jenny.  If I lived in the Land of Nerdom, she lived in a land somewhere beyond it–in the next solar system.

Jenny was adopted and she looked different.  She was Native American with dark skin, wide chocolate eyes she looked at the world as if she had come from another planet.  I saw her jump rope tangled up in her feet. Tears welling up in her eyes.  I ran over to her and asked her if she wanted to practice with me after school since she lived on my street.  She looked up at me and smiled.

We practiced every day up until tryouts.  She told me how nervous she was.  I told her to watch my feet.  I promised to stand by her during tryouts.  I told her I would whisper the moves so she knew what do to.

Finally the big day arrived.  “Billy Jean is not my lover,” blared through the gym speakers.  “Criss cross,” I whispered to Jenny.  “One, two, three, four, heel toe,” I whispered.

The teachers made two initial cuts.  Jenny and I stood in the center of the gym with a few other girls. The teachers asked us to perform the routine one last time.  I was so relieved that I hadn’t made the cut yet so I could help Jenny.  I continued to watch Jenny’s feet and whisper the moves to her.  I was so proud of her.  She was nailing it.

At the end of the routine the teachers said, “We could tell which of you had learned your routine, and which of you were watching other’s girl’s feet because you had not practiced enough.”  Then they read the last cut.  When they called Jenny’s name we both screamed and jumped up and down.  But I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

The teachers folded up their papers, stood up and congratulated the new Jammin’ Jumpers.  And I was not one of them.

“But you knew the routine!” Several of my peers gathered around me to console me.  They knew that I knew the routine.  They knew that I had worked with Jenny all week.  But the teacher’s did not.  I remember that pain of being unseen.  Of having no words and no power to change the outcome of the situation.  I remember the dark clouds that rolled in that day.  The way I curled up under my covers and cried when I got home.  I remember that feeling of exclusion, as if my exile from belonging was now publicly official.

The teacher’s were right, though.  I was not looking at them and smiling.  I was looking at Jenny’s feet and whispering her the moves.  I was sacrificing my best so that Jenny would make the cut.  Only I had no idea how much I was sacrificing.

As a woman, I find that sacrificing everything–even my success–is a very easy thing to do. I was raised in a Christian home that valued service and shunned selfishness.  I looked to Jesus who gave even his life away for others.  I learned how to be a spiritual doormat.  The nuance I was missing was seeing clearly who I AM.  Often when I let others define me I feel like I am a nobody.  On the other hand,  Jesus (as ego-inflated as this may sound) knew he was God (at least in some of the gospels)  and it was this radical audacity that really pissed off the religious leaders.  He was claiming his own power.  A power that he knew was divine.  I had yet to find a connection to that kind of power in my life.  For so long that power remained outside of my self.

Psychologists tell us how important mirroring is in forming our early identities as children.  When we have been abused or neglected that work of seeing our true essence is even more difficult.  As I have grown up I have often had women confess that they hated me initially because I was tall and beautiful, which I still don’t get because when I think of “me” I think of the picture posted at the top of this article.  I think of the girl who didn’t make the Jammin’ Jumpers.  How blessed are we when we are surrounded by people who see our value and divine worth.  (Even when we sport mullets.)

What I am finally learning as I near 40, is that belonging is not about fitting in at all. Brene Brown reminds us that actually fitting in is the ultimate barrier to belonging.  Her research has shown the tolls of trying to twist ourselves into something else for others.  Belonging begins with self acceptance.  For me it begins by loving the nerd that I am.

I still don’t know my limits, I don’t know exactly who I am and what I am capable of.  But I am testing those limits and gathering the courage to face whatever learning opportunities present themselves.  I am becoming mindful of the twisting that I can do for others (this has nothing to do with yoga)  in order to belong.  I am learning to distance my true self from the voice that is constantly hounding me:  “You’re going to get run through the ringer for that one.”  “You’ll never make a living doing what you love.”  “You have nothing to give.”  I am learning that this voice wants to protect me from future harm.  But it goes too far when it protects me from truly living.

So I am learning to live with less judgement.  To accept each day as having an abundance of grace and all that I need on my path.  I am meditating on the great I AM.  When I meditate on I AM I cannot see myself separated from the mystery of creation.  Instead I become keenly aware that the life force of the universe dwells also inside of me.  Jesus called this God.  It has also been called Love.  A love that is stronger than death.  And it’s this realization of incarnate love that allows us to make the great sacrifices in life.

I remember watching Jenny run down the hallway with all the Jammin’ Jumpers.  I had never seen her body radiate so much joy.  And in the midst of my own feelings of rejection, her joy touched my heart and I was able to share in her bliss.  The illusion was that I had been cut off and separated from that joy–but the truth was that I had been a part of it all along.

Today, I know that I am not the outcast I thought I was.  I am the fruit of creation’s ancient journey.  I am made of star dust.  I am a miracle.  I am enough just the way I am.    And so are you.

Michael Jackson was right, Billy Jean is not my lover.  I am the lover I have been looking for all along.  And you are yours.   May you have compassion on yourself this day, and receive who you are.

Happy Valentines Day!

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The Woman of the Light

EarthCreecher’ features another guest blogger, Mary Ann McDowell,  for our series in Advent reflecting on the incarnation.  If you would like to take some time in this busy season to stop and mediate on the energy and meaning of this season for you, we would love to hear from you too!  Submission guidelines can be found here
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Incarnation. I looked at the word on the page.

“Incarnation: a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit or abstract quality.”

Nope. Not me. No chance. This has been a year of change for me. I left an abusive relationship just over a year ago. At this time last year, I would not have named it that, but that’s what it was. A year ago, I was not the woman I really am. I cowered in corners, didn’t speak much, kept opinions to myself. I was stupid, I was weak, I was incapable. These were the voices in my head, and they mirrored the voices of someone in my life. I was terrified. I was convinced that those voices were right. I was going to fall on my face, and fail, yet again. My world was dark, and I was in so much pain, an almost constant dull ache that grew and swelled and subsided, but never really went away. Then something happened.

Through those pains and through the darkness, I could see a glimmer of light, a small pin prick in the distance. I turned towards it. It was far away. I felt the darkness closing in around me as I pushed my way towards that faint glow. It was a difficult road. So often I thought that I would not be strong enough to make the journey. The light seemed beyond my reach. But then, I could see someone in the light.

A woman beckoned me towards her. She was bathed in the light. I was immediately drawn to her warmth, her strength, her compassion, and her beauty. She gave me strength to escape the darkness, and as I did, she folded me into her being. I had given birth, and I had been born.

“Incarnation: a person who embodies a deity.”

No, that word didn’t fit….. My soul emerged from that darkness, into the light of a new day. I was reborn. Although I was still in the same old body, the rebirth of my soul certainly felt like a reincarnation. The world around me had begun to take on a new light, new colours emerged, new beauty. I was very much like an infant trying to make sense of her world. People began to see me in a new and different way; I really was a new person.  And as such, I began to live in new ways.

I began to be intentional in my life and in my living. I reconnected with many from my past who had been important to me, and I connected with others who quickly became important to me. They all saw something in me that I did not yet see, I was still struggling with the old voices; I was still living just on the edge of that darkness. These wonderful people in my life supported me when the darkness called again. They drew me out.  They helped raise this child.

There were times when I could see the beautiful woman from the light, beckoning me once again. She was there only fleetingly, and I began to feel the need to find her. She had rescued me, and I wanted to thank her. Then there came a time when I couldn’t find her anymore. She had shown me the way, and I was grateful to her, but she had disappeared when I emerged. I started to sense her, more than see her. She was with me, still elusive, but with me. The negative voices started to subside – all but one.

This voice was the voice in my head that said that I was unattractive, that I was ugly, that I was unworthy of love. When this voice spoke, all others were drowned out. So many people confronted that voice, and told it to go. It diminished, but it was still there. At times the woman from the light seemed completely absent. I would see her when the voice wasn’t there, but when the voice was strong, it seemed to drive her away. Then one day, quite by chance I saw her out of the corner of my eye, and she was close.

I looked again, and was in disbelief. She was here; she was in my reflection. “That couldn’t possibly be!” I thought to myself. “She is so strong, so compassionate, so warm, so beautiful. She is not me….” And then I stopped. I thought about all of the things my friends and loved ones had been saying. They were not describing the me that I had been seeing; they had been describing this woman who I felt had been eluding me all along. This woman, this divine woman who had saved me – this woman was me. I am the warm, strong, compassionate and even beautiful woman that had been here all along. Incarnation: the embodiment of the divine. Yes, I had given birth, and I had been born. The divine, which dwells in me had been born in me, and I in Her.

Mary Ann is a mom, food banker, part-time student, blogger, and seeker of the divine feminine.  Her blog can be found at mamcdowell416.wordpress.com and you can follow her on twitter @mamcdowell1.

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Now receiving submitions for my advent blog!

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Calling all bloggers to submit a reflection on the incarnation for my blog this advent. Specifically share how you have experienced God in your body or conversely tell of your experience of the absence of God in your flesh. I love the theology of advent, particularly this idea that we are all created to be God-bearers. But I am curious about how one makes their body a sacred dwelling place in a culture that often devalues and objectifies the body. How do you handle this tension?  I also love the feminine implications of this reflection: let us all imagine ourselves pregnant with holiness. Write about how you carry and nourish what is sacred within.

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Are Men’s Bible Studies Killing the Church?

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The church’s cancer is insidious.  But we know it’s here, growing, consuming all that is sacred and if we don’t do something to stop it now, the fabric of our society and our world will be torn beyond repair and we will lose everything that is holy to us.  But let’s thank the Lord that we have the tools we need to direct the radiation and begin the treatment.

We know the feminists really messed up the God ordained structures of our society.  Our men were emasculated and our children were abandoned.  Suddenly men thought we really needed one another.  We thought that talking to others like ourselves would help us understand our unexpressed thoughts and feelings.  We needed the reassurance of our faith.  We needed to build up our trust in an all powerful God.  We needed more hugs and we began to call one another brother.  We needed family ministries because our families were falling apart.  The church doubled down and courageously survived the waves of feminism.  Thank the Lord, no one started praying to Sophia on Sunday or radically changed our time worn liturgies and languages to reflect that anything but the ancient belief that only the male sex can hold divine qualities.  Yes, some of us allowed girls to become pastors and priests–but only if these girls were able to support the powerful God-ordained patriarchal top down order of the church.  Sustaining this order is certainly the key to the church’s survival.  But here we are, having won the battle of the sexes and still: our churches are dying.  And it is with this understanding that I have come to realize how men’s bible studies have become the cancer that is infecting us all.  And because we can take it:  you can begin directing the radiation here.

Kate Murphey recently claimed that Youth Ministry is killing the church.  But let’s man up a little bit.  Children are an easy target.   Do we really want to send our kids to the front lines of this cancerous battle?  Maybe.  I’ll be the first to say it:  If we are going to cut youth ministry, then it’s time to surrender our men’s bible studies too.  We too have become our own sort of mickey-mouse eared church.  We are like a clique that lives to serve it’s own selfish purpose.   We have deep conversations that are meaningful together that no one else would understand.  Damn, we have even cried together.  But it’s time to grow up now and be a role model for our youth.  It’s time to get thicker skin.  I know that this will be difficult for us to do, and that’s when it hit me:  a radically reinvention of church is necessary.

I mean, we really can’t afford to hire a youth minister anyway, so let’s just be honest about why we think it’s youth ministry that is killing the church.  That certainly alleviates a lot of pressure.  After all it’s nearly impossible to find someone who is willing to work at such a low wage with no insurance, who actually has a theological education, who has been trained in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd or Godly Play and understands the spirituality of the child anyways.  Besides, even if we found someone willing to do this work, it would require the parish to embrace this spirituality of the child and we may have to radically change church in ways we can’t control.  Honestly, and let’s admit what we only post on other blogs anonymously: youth ministers are really just immature people who don’t really deserve our respect.  I mean, they work with children after all, children who are not even fully human and put very little into our offering plates on Sunday mornings anyways.

Whatever Jesus said about becoming like a little child to understand the heart of Christian spirituality is forgetting how much fun it is to practice a religion filled with masochistic guilt.  Our graying congregations have already figured out the secret to building a vibrant community and it’s not by self-serving anyone but our inner curmudgeon.  What little children need to understand is how to worship like grown ups.  They need to put down their iPhones and come rake my leaves.

It’s time to put a stop to all the tender feel good ministries of the church and get everyone back in their uncomfortable pews on Sunday morning.  It’s time to stop asking questions, stop having meaningful conversations with our peers.  We all should be forced into a community with people and that’s why no one is going to be allowed to pick their own seat anymore.  We’ll assign pews so everyone must sit by strangers because the most important thing about church isn’t being comfortable or welcoming, but perfecting the liturgy and keeping our bills paid.  (In fact, lets all invite our rich friends because the poor have become such a drain on us in this economy).  Let’s cut all the fluff ministries. No more kids programs.  No more men’s bible studies or women’s groups.  No more home visitations (what have they done for us lately?)  And yes, no more youth ministry.

But let’s be honest about why we’re doing this.  It’s because our overworked priest really gives us all that we need for one hour on Sunday.  The rest of us already know that we are not worthy and could never live up to our priest’s spiritual standards and that’s why we’d rather not get involved anyway.  And frankly, we’re quite happy to carry the burden of guilt because we enjoy suffering silently.  And besides, being passive aggressive is actually kind of an exciting way to live one’s life when you’ve got nothing better to live for.

It’s time to cut the crap and get our churches back on track.  And I’m willing to give up the ministries that feed my soul in order to do that.

–J. Creech  was an immature Youth Minister in the Episcopal Church for ten years,  who unwittingly helped kill the church by creating sacred spaces for children of all ages to respond to God at age appropriate levels.  

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My Fig Leaf Dress

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So it’s time to share some of my memoir.  I can’t believe how hard this is after ten years of working on this project and having written the rough draft over a year ago.  But it is.  But I also believe that stories can heal.  I know that writing helped me heal.  And it is my hope that my story will encourage other girls and women to voice their stories and heal from their past too.  
 
I have begun the process of submitting it to publishing houses and agents.  One thing that I am learning is in the changing landscape of publishing I need to build a strong platform.  So I’m pouring the concrete here and inviting you all to carve your initials in before it dries.  ​You can support this project by recommending it your friends, following me on Twitter and liking my Facebook page. Thank you so much!  
 
*In my memoir I have made my best attempt at telling my story as I remember.  Much of it includes my emotional landscape and subjective experiences as I processed traumatic events.  In some instances I have changed names  to protect people’s privacy and merged time to honor the structure of a story arch.  I researched  the land in many places in order to describe some scenery more accurately.  The music I have added to the text was popular around the time the events occurred and it reminds me most of those moments now.
 
 
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent 
about things that matter.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr
In the beginning darkness covers everything. 
Not light, but sound first breaks the void—Shhh. Leave it alone.
There is a voice crying in the wilderness, 
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”  
If all are silent rocks will cry, 
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”  
Rocks that sit at the edge of the cliff, 
Rocks that kiss the great abyss, 
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”  
Rocks that live in the pit of my stomach?  
Be Quiet. Leave it alone.
Silent night, holy night,
The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.
Silent night? 
Yeah right. 
No crying?  
Baby’s dying!  
Shut up and leave it alone! 
In the beginning darkness covers everything.
Until I speak,
And then— 
There is light.
 
PART I 
THE TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL
Chapter 1
Whore
“The great tragedy in our lives is often the ground from which a good life can be built.”
-Dr. Rachael Naomi Rennen
Yellow corn stalks line the horizon ready for harvest.  
In the Northeastern corner of Arkansas just beyond the Ozarks, flowers turn outside my bedroom window. The dandelion weeds, the Queen Anne’s lace. In the month of August of 1989, around the time of year when the Mother of God annually falls asleep, I receive a call.
“Jessica! It’s for you,” my mother hands me the phone. “It’s Christian.”
“I’ll take it in my bedroom,” I run down the hall and lock the door. I have just turned fourteen. I am still all arms and legs and the tallest girl in my class. My hair is streaked with blonde and my olive skin glows from summer sun. I hate myself. I cannot clearly see who I am.
You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart and soul of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.  
-Exodus 23:9
“Hey! What’s up?” his voice sounds deep and sexy. He’s sixteen or seventeen—I can’t remember. He’s one of the first guys in my life to pay me any attention. He makes me believe I am more than just a giant nerd.
“Nothing,” I giggle. “Just helping mom unpack another box—my life is soooo exciting.” I’m the new girl in the small town of Blytheville, Arkansas. With the southern accent it is actually pronounced Blah-ville.
“Tell me how a beautiful girl like you just shows up in my world one day?”  
My heart pounds. He thinks I’m beautiful? What the heck? No one has ever called me that before. Nerd, prude, dork—that’s what people call me—not beautiful.
“You know, when you talk about me, it doesn’t really sound like me,” I say.
“So tell me all about the real you,” I can hear him smiling. I wrap the curly mauve telephone wire around my index finger and think it over. Obviously he has figured out how to be popular. Everyone loves Christian. Even my parents. My mother entrusted us into his care the first day we showed up at the Youth Center on base. He works there. I guess he’s like a Youth Leader or something. He has the keys to a world I want to be inside of. The one thing I want in life is to belong—not on the fringes, not in the shadows, but in the center, near the sun and the bright smiles of my peers. I want to be protected from the people who make fun of me. I want to become a whole new person, one that is likable, even lovable. My fantasy is that Christian will take me under his wings and shelter me from any further assaults, train me in the ways of cool. Me, his little Padawon.
“Okay, Christian, but you have to promise not to tell anyone. I meant it, NO ONE.”
“Jessie, I will never tell a soul your secret. What you tell me tonight will be our secret. I promise.”
He is so good at making me feel comfortable. How can I resist? “Okay,” I swallow down the lump in my throat. My hands begin to sweat. Will he still like me when I tell him who I really am?
Here goes. “Christian, I’ve never been popular.”
“What do you mean?” He chuckles, “You’re so beautiful. I can’t imagine that.”
 “I used to wear glasses.”
“So?”
“No, these huge blue glasses that covered up half my face. I just got contacts last year.”
“You think a pair of glasses could hide those big blue eyes from the world? They’re so pretty. I love your eyes.”
I can’t stop the smile from spreading across my face.
“And I wear generic shoes.”
“So?”
“From Payless!”
“So what?! You are probably the hottest girl in the world with your big blue glasses and generic shoes!”
“Shut up!” I laugh. “Everyone used to make fun of me.”
Christian is silent. The phone keeps sliding through my hand. I press the number pad closer to my cheek and wait for all of eternity to hear his reply. Finally his voice breaks through the void as if he is commanding an answer from the dead, “Who made fun of you, Jessie?” The question echoes across a black universe of pain.
“Lots of people…my whole life,” I whisper, suddenly finding it difficult to talk.
“Oh, Jessie…how could anyone be mean to you?”
“I dunno,” I try to hold back the child-like sobs, but the force is too strong and the dam breaks anyway.
“I’ve just never figured out why I don’t fit in! I think it has something to do with my parents’ religion!” Snot falls out of my nose and drips off my chin.
“Jessie, shhhhhh, don’t cry. Try to calm down, okay? I don’t like hearing you so upset when I can’t be there to give you a hug. Is your bedroom door closed?”
“Yes.”
“Good. You don’t want your parents to hear you.”
“I know.”
“Jessie, you know I care about you, right?”
Relieved, I croak out, “Yeah…”
I can hardly believe it. Suddenly, my soul swells with hope. It’s a new feeling.
Maybe everything will finally be all right. I will learn the ways of Christian Roberts. He will take care of me. I breathe deeply, into something I have never known, like I have come home to a place that has never been mine.
“Jessie?”
“Yeah?”
“I can help you. Do you believe me?”
“Yes.”
“All we have to do is initiate you,” says Christian.
“Initiate?” I ask. “What’s that?”
“Jessie, do you know what sex is?”
“Yes,” I blush. “It’s something married people do.”
Christian laughs. “Is that what your parents told you?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Well, there’s your problem!” he says. “All the popular people have sex together.”
“They do?” I say, truly amazed.
“Yes! Even friends have sex with each other. You don’t have to be boyfriend and girlfriend or anything—or even in love to do it.”
“Really?”
“Yes! Don’t you watch TV or read magazines?”
“Yes, well, kind of…”  Actually not much.  I live a pretty secluded life.  
“Everyone has sex, Jessie, it’s what human beings do.”
I think of Madonna steaming up the TV with her hot music videos. I think of all the sexy girls sprawled out on the covers of magazines with their half open eyes and parted glossy lips. Suddenly the veil is torn in two. Of course they do, I think. How could I not see it before? This must be the missing piece of my life. Sex is the secret to connecting with others and making friends and being popular—which is sinful—which is why my parents don’t want me to know about it! Oh! I feel so silly. All this time everyone has been sneaking off and having sex together and I’ve had no idea! How naïve I have been!
“Tomorrow,” he says. “We initiate you tomorrow.”
I remember the warmth that appears between my legs and rises into my heart exploding like a million butterflies inside of me. This is what I want. All those butterflies in my chest. Someone to hold me and love me. And maybe this is my part in the crime: I am naïve and curious about sex without knowing how dangerous a woman’s sexuality or curiosity can possibly be. My mouth turns dry. My body begins to tremble. “You’ll finally belong,” I tell myself. “It will be okay.” But something inside of me knows otherwise.  
~
For years I turn to boys and men to save me from myself. This is the awful start to it all. Or maybe it isn’t the start. Maybe it begins when I am five, when God enchants me and pulls me into his dark world. Or maybe it goes further back, deep into the annals of history, towards theologies of original sin, dichotomies of flesh and spirit, and ancient fears of women and what they know in their bones.
 
Religions centered on the worship of a male God create “moods” and “motivations” that keep women in a state of psychological dependence on men and male authority, while at the same time legitimating the political and social authority of fathers and sons in the institutions of society.
-Carol P. Christ
 “Are you sure you want to stay home?” My aunt Mary Kay, my mother’s youngest sister sits on our couch drinking coffee with her wet white-blonde hair smelling fresh. She’s just ten years older than me and I think she’s cool. But hanging with my family is definitely not.
I roll my eyes. “If it was just me and you,” I smile. “Besides I’ve got plans,” I say. I convince my parents that it’s more important for me to stay in town and make friends today.
The doorbell rings around 10 a.m. Christian stands in the doorway, the light behind him makes him glow, like he is Jesus, come here to save me. His broad chest fills out his white t-shirt and his cologne snakes through the air and makes my heart pound. I hope my parents don’t sniff us out. His wavy red hair feathers back, his fair freckled skin is clear, his teeth are perfectly straight. He shows them off with an easy smile. A black belt wraps around his waist, holding tight his tapered stonewashed jeans.
“Hi,” I say as my heart melts like warm butter.
“Well, hi,” he laughs and makes small talk with my parents. I look past him; afraid I might stare too long. Watch the dandelions dodder in the dry grass behind him. I pluck one from the ground on the way to his car.
“Have a good time!” My mother and father stand on the threshold of home and world and wave goodbye.
Christian puts his hand on my shoulder and directs me to his old black mustang. I pretend that I am more woman than child. I smile and throw my head back like the beautiful girls on TV. He turns up the radio and Don Henley sings, I know a place where we can go that’s still untouched by men. We’ll sit and watch the clouds roll by and the tall grass wave in the wind. You can lay your head back on the ground and let your hair fall all around me offer up your best defense, but this is the end, this is the end of the innocence.
We race down Chickasawba, the old road named after an Indian Chief who is remembered for offering honey to all who crossed his path. This road connects Blytheville to Gosnell and our pain to our balm. As the cotton and the soy beans sway, as each of us looks to the horizon dreaming of the hope we’ll find when we get there.  
~
 “Dammit!” Christian bangs his hand on the steering wheel.
“What’s wrong?” I hide my alarm and try to be nice and sweet. That’s what boys like.
“I forgot to tell you, I promised to pick up a few of my friends soon. You won’t mind if they come and watch will you?”
“Um…” I didn’t know what to say, but I start to have an awful feeling in the pit in my stomach. I press the yellow flower into my arm so it bleeds on my skin.
“Actually, in any sort of initiation there has to be witnesses,” he adds.
“But I thought it was just going to be me and you.”
“Jessie, you want to be popular, don’t you?”
“Yes, but—”
“So, you won’t mind if my friends join us will you?” His tone grows harsh and forceful. I know how to fight with my parents. I have no idea how to fight with someone older and cooler than me.
I look at the yellow streaks on my arm and try to ignore my feelings. I am so close to the dream I have always wanted. I know it won’t come easily. There are sacrifices involved in life. Christianity has taught me that much.
~
When the drought comes, the Native Americans ask De Soto to pray to his God and give them rain. They admire his shiny armor and his advanced weaponry. They bring two blind men to De Soto and ask him to heal them. Agreeing, De Soto builds a fifty foot cross and places it on top of the peoples’ holy hill—maybe it was the Chickasawba mound, the one discovered between Gosnell and Blytheville. And like that the natives surrender their sacred religion to a stranger who possesses more material power. 
~
“Like who?” I ask finally.
“Like Matt, you’ve met him before. The skater with the long dark hair.”
Yeah, I remember meeting Matt. He did seem like a pretty cool guy. And I do have a thing for skaters, especially the one’s that have flops—that long hair that covers up one eye—so mysterious. But I just want to be with Christian for now. Maybe initiations aren’t for being romantic. Maybe that comes after.
“I guess,” I fall back into the seat and let the familiar haze fill my head. I zone out and follow orders. He turns up the radio, My head is full of magic baby and I can share this with you…I’m alive, oh, oh, so alive.
~ ~ ~
 

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