Something happened while Pastor Anne Edison-Albright was preaching at our Synod Fall Theological Conference I haven’t really been able to talk about.
It was a Spirit moment that is hard to explain.
But Anne and I realized that Spirit moments are not given to us to keep to ourselves. We have the story of God’s work among her people because people did not keep spirit moments to themselves.
This is mostly Anne’s story. So here’s what she says:
In Michele Obama’s speech on Tuesday, she talked about the real, visceral power of words, particularly violent language used against women. “It’s cruel. It’s frightening. And the truth is, it hurts.”
When I was preparing to preach at the northeastern Iowa synod fall theological conference on Tuesday, focusing on the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8), I knew I wanted to communicate a couple things.
I wanted my sermon to be more than a motivational poster/pep talk about prayer, rejecting the narrative of “Just keep praying; God’ll get around to you eventually.”
I wanted to emphasize that God is NOT an unjust judge. God is with the widow.
The parable isn’t about my admiration for the widow or sympathy for her. It’s about God’s empathy and God’s love for and shared experience with her.
Based on what we know about power and authority, it’s easy to imagine God as an unjust or absent judge. But that’s not who God is.
To get more into who God is, I decided to spend a little time describing who the widow is, and that’s where I got into trouble.
I noted that you might call her persistent, strong, courageous. And that she’s also called shrill, annoying and abrasive.
“And,” I wrote in my notes for the day, “there are other words, words specifically used to demean women.”
And that’s where I stopped and wasn’t sure how to continue.
Everyone would know what words I meant. I didn’t necessary need or want to give those words any more air time than they’ve already had during this election cycle. (“Oh, that’s a good line,” I thought, and wrote that in and continued my sermon.)
The truth is, it hurts.
It hurts to hear those words, to say those words, to even write and think about saying those words.
So the day of the sermon came and I stood in front if my new colleagues and started preaching, still not entirely sure what I was going to do when I came to that part of my notes. I got there, and I looked up and said, “And here’s the part of the sermon where I wasn’t sure if I should say the words or not.”
Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson said, “Say the words, Annie.”
Typed words can’t convey the gentleness of her encouragement or the compassion and presence of the Spirit in her voice.
“But it feels like violence,” I said, and the tears started, which I had not expected at all. Michelle Obama spoke of being shaken to her core, in a way she did not expect.
Shaken and shaking, I said the words.
“They call her a bitch,” I said. “They call her c***.”
I put myself back together, thanked Joelle, and continued with the sermon I’d prepared. When I sat down, I was greeted hugs and tears. Empathy.
The truth is, it hurts. The good news is, God doesn’t meet our hurt with pep talks, platitudes, suspicion, denials, diminishments or blame. God meets our hurt with empathy.
God gets it.
I’ll never forget what happened during that sermon, especially that Spirit-filled communication between Joelle and me. I’m grateful to God for being present to us, and through us, in that holy moment.
I did not plan to speak out during Pastor Anne’s sermon. But she looked at me and faltered.
And I knew she had to say the words.
She had to say those awful cruel violent words in that sacred space. We were studying John and John is all about how the light has to shine to expose the ugly things that hide in the dark.
The words had to be spoken to exorcise the power they have to define and demean and marginalize us.
We were both looking at each other.
I learned to preach in a congregation with many African American members and I have appreciated and missed the way the congregation will pray and encourage the pastor when they falter.
So I just held her gaze and prayed her into saying the words.
And she said them. And nothing bad happened.
Maybe some were shocked or offended. Or just confused. That’s okay. It was a Spirit moment. The Holy Spirit is shocking and offensive and confusing.
What I take away from that moment is the responsibility we crones have to lift up and support the younger women.
Not complain that we had it harder. Not whine that they don’t do feminism the way we do. Not resent the opportunities they have that we didn’t. Just support them.
I am a crone.
I can dye my hair and put on the night repair I fool myself is erasing those hard earned lines on my face. But I am a crone.
Being a crone is hard earned, important role.
We need the crones.
We women, of all colors, of all ages, are always in danger--no matter how privileged we are—we are always in danger of being pushed back to the margins. (#repealthe19th anyone?)
So we need to support one another. And say the words.
*The Rev. Anne Edison-Albright is a pastor at Luther College in Decorah, IA.