17 January 2013

Let There Be

Several years ago I had the chance to go see the musical Children of Eden.  The musical is an old one from Stephen Schwartz of Wicked fame, and follows the story of Adam in the first act and Noah in the second.  At it's heart it's a story of the relationship of parents and their children, but it's not often performed in this neck of the woods.  To a conservative audience, any adjustment to the Bible is a little iffy, and in this case there are several story liberties taken that can make people squirm.  For one, the "Father" character, who represents God, is not a perfect individual.  He questions and makes mistakes and can come off as a bit harsh.  (He doesn't agree with Noah's son marrying a faithful girl who just happens to be of the race of Cain?  But she's so nice!  And they love each other!  And she prays and everything.  Where's the forgiveness?!  Jerk!!)  There are also some historical question marks.  (Cain discovers Stonehenge?)  For people who would prefer their Bible stories to be presented with exact accuracy, it can be a little blood curdling.

Apparently I'm not one of those people.

I really love this show.  It isn't perfect, but I trace some pretty big changes in my life back to some perspectives I gained from watching it that first time - especially in the presentation of Eve.

In traditional Christianity, Eve is something like Guinevere of Arthurian legend.  She's a kind, beautiful, mother of all living who totally ruins everyone's lives.  She eats the fruit, tricks Adam into eating it too, and ruins our chances of living in a perpetual paradise.  If Eve hadn't been such an awful sinner, our lives would be so much better.  In Mormonism, we see Eve slightly differently. We see Eve as an intelligent human who consciously makes a decision and understands the consequences.  She sees that in a state of ignorance, they can't have children.  That it is good for herself, and good for Adam, to leave Eden and to gain experience.

Only, beyond those discussions, we don't really talk about it much.  (I suppose I probably shouldn't say "we" in the sense that it includes the entire church.  I'm sure that there are corners of the church were the topic is discussed more.)  And, as many of you will have noticed from a huge increase in publicity and discussion about feminism in the church recently, it's a topic that probably ought to be discussed more openly.

It is not enough any more to assume that women of the church will only have futures that involve (or should involve) a traditional family.  For many women that hasn't happened, or it has and has been disastrous, or it can't happen for other reasons.  For those women who are told that the highest calling they can have is to be a wife and mother when it hasn't/can't/didn't happen for them, it can be hard to figure out how to harness or define what womanhood means for them and how they can contribute in a real way now, not just at some distant point in the eternities.  What makes us divinely different from men and how can we be valuable?  (In other words: am I only valuable because of my uterus and home maintenance abilities?  Or are there other ways that I am valuable that I should be earnestly pursuing?)

To me, the answer has been stated most clearly in Eve's song from Children of Eden.  The song, "The Spark of Creation", is centered around her belief that when God created the world he left a spark of the creative fire within her being.  She calls herself an "echo of the eternal cry of 'Let there be!'" and a "keeper of the flame" (of creation).  I have never, ever had a song speak to me as a woman more than that one did.  Suddenly the calling of womanhood felt so much more broad.  I did not need the power of the Priesthood - I had a calling, a divine calling, to continue with the work started when the world began.  To make something exist that had not existed before I was there.  Creating life is a part of that.  So, too, is creating a beautiful home.  But creation. . . creation covers so many things.  It involves writing, for me.  Photography.  Discovering new ideas and spreading them.  It involves helping to mold my students into confident, capable, intelligent human beings.  It covers so many aspects of life and is a much more forgiving image of the value of womanhood in the world.  It is not limited to one sphere.  It is all encompassing.

And this, friends, is why I align myself in the feminist side of Mormonism.  Not because I want to rob men of the Priesthood.  Not because I hate my bra.  Not even because I intend to campaign for exactly equal numbers of male to female speakers/prayer givers in church meetings (though I think more female representation there would be stupendous.)  I consider myself feminist because I see myself as a woman responsible for preserving and protecting the art of creation in its many forms (even those that I don't entirely understand, re: vinyl lettering).  It is my responsibility to promote and encourage it in the world.  And in case you think that I am overreaching, check out this awesome nugget of wisdom from someone much smarter (and more righteous) than me.


Suzanne Tanner said...

Thank you for sharing this, Joni. It is a completely beautiful thought. I absolutely love this idea, this way of defining not just a woman's, but a person's value.

And you always were so creative.

Robyn said...

I can't believe I didn't subscribe to your blog the last time I read it... good thing I found it again through facebook. Can I say amen too many times to what you write?! I love this musical and I love your take of "The Spark of Creation"--it goes way beyond the uterus, as you put it so well. :) I feel like I align almost perfectly with the same reasons you consider yourself a feminist. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!