I wore dark purple eyeliner [by accident.]
I cried during an organ concert.
I stood up in a pulpit way up high above a congregation and talked about my faith.
And then I blogged about it.
I've always sworn that I wouldn't force my faith down other people's throats. I've often told myself that I don't know enough about theology, world religions, or even Christianity to comment with any authority on matters of faith. However, there comes a point where the separation of Church and State of Nilsen (if you will) becomes disingenuous, and those two worlds intersect in the most inconvenient and powerful ways.
What follows below is the text of what I said, way up in that beautifully carved Presbyterian pulpit. Words that I never thought I would utter to myself, much less in public, much less as one of the speakers in church. It took every ounce of faith in myself to get up there, every ounce of nerve to keep my voice semi-steady, and every ounce of gumption to believe that my words were those that needed to be said.
Here's what I said. And you know what? If it doesn't float your boat, I don't need to know about it. I'm feeling fragile enough, with all of this personal glass-ceiling shattering going on.
I always loved school.
I was that annoying kid in class who was excited about spelling bees, read ahead in the reading books, and longed for the end of summer vacation so we could get back to school. Sure, by the time I reached college I realized there were a few areas in which I'd never excel - that's what majors are for! - and learned to dread deadlines with the best of them.
But I never lost my fascination with academics. Bliss, to me, was a desk deep in the stacks of the university library, with primary texts, critical texts about the texts, and lots of really sharp pencils for note taking. I sat in the front rows of lectures, scribbling madly and trying to capture the very best of what my tutors had to offer. I read far too many books for my own good, and far too often worked through the night on papers because I was having too much fun with the research.
When I finished college, I took a year off. I went to live on a farm - a self-sustaining mission in France, run by deeply devout people using their farm as ministry. One gray day in November, I sat on the hard clay of the carrot field, pulling them up by their leafy tops in preparation for market. The elderly patriarch of the family slowly made his way out to where I sat, and stood there chatting while I worked. He asked about my plans for the next year, and I enthusiastically told him about the graduate program in art history for which I was registered. There was a long pause: he gave a French sort of sniff, accompanied by a dismissive wave of his hand, and said "this is all very well, but when will you learn to be UNE VRAI FEMME [a real woman]?"
You can imagine the insult an idealistic female college graduate took from that.
I believe, looking back, that his intentions were genuine - if maybe a little old fashioned - in asking what about life I was willing to learn, in the midst of all my studies. His were the words of an elder - of a pastor who had ministered to generations of young women like me. He was not asking me to define myself through the mastery of puff pastry or the art of a crisply ironed shirt (which of course is what I took away from his comment.) Rather, as someone who had first hand knowledge of the presence of God in his life, this man was asking me to open my heart and mind to the lessons that God would teach me in life, not in my books.
With the wisdom of hindsight, his words were, quite simply, prophetic.
I don't have a name for what it is that I do every day, but I do know that it is life that has taught me the hardest lessons, and has refined my heart and mind.
I have learned to take knowledge from loss, to glean wisdom from failure. My life since school has been filled to the brim with moments for which no amount of formal education would prepare me. In those moments, all that I was left with was listening to that Still Small Voice that had been there the entire time. Jeremiah says "Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust IS the Lord" - my faith could no longer be in what I 'knew' or had studied, but in what the empty, knowledge-less places could teach me: that I had only to place my trust in the Lord, and the answers I sought would be there.
This has been a source of peace, of confidence, and of joy as I walk the path of life. A true woman, "une vrai femme" may take the guidance of God's words in Isaiah:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
for I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.