God, the church, "Disappear" and spiritual awakening
Emotional Resonance is a safe place where we can go deep on what a single song means to us. Happy times and sad, good news and bad, we explore the soundtrack to our lives.
I was reading Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir, Andrea Dworkin and writing a formal paper for my church to give to a committee of 14 men who were to decide if women should be given certain rights to speak in our church. My paper represented the non-vocalised appeal of all the women I had grown up with and all the women who surrounded me week after week when I covered my head and went to worship God in the small protestant religion I was raised in. Most of the women in the church didn’t approve of my application, but the ones who did had fought hard to get me the right to present a paper to the panel of “brothers” before they were to make their decision on the fate of the women in our community. We had won the right to read bibles at public meetings, but that was still contentious, as half the congregation would leave whenever a veiled woman read from her bible in front of them. Now we were arguing for the rights of women to speak their own words.
I had two months to come up with a concise biblical paper that addressed every verse that contended females were not to speak, and only had the equivalent of secondary citizen rights to males in our church. I worked night and day, read many books, and interviewed Catholic nuns, ex-Catholic nuns, theologians of other religions, Anglican nuns, and those literate in ancient Greek, ancient Hebrew and Aramaic. I learnt wonderful things about what we call our bible; for example I learned that Eve was never forged from Adam’s rib, rather an androgynous creature was split in two and male and female were born. I found ideas like that thrilling, exciting, and invigorating. Imagine what correcting a translation such as that would do to, not only the relationship between men and women, but for homosexuals who had also been rejected by my church through scriptural misinterpretation?
At nights, because the study made me too wired to sleep, I would take a deep bath and soak to the tunes of the Mazzy Star album Among My Swan. But I rarely got past that first song, “Disappear”, which seemed specifically written for the battle I was fighting. Hope Sandoval’s incredible voice, the water lapping gently at my throat, the hope against hope that I would be able to help my church see the error of their ways, held me in a strange bubble that I intuitively understood to be short lived. Along with the way scripture had been perverted to prevent women from spiritual autonomy dawned a more powerful recognition that the problems in this practice of searching the scriptures for God and for life’s answers were impossible to counter. Verses lost their divinity as I decoded. Even as I studied, even as I grew closer to the words as God intended them, I drew further away from God himself. The more I read the scriptures, the deeper I let them fill me, the more Hope Sandoval told me “I’ll never be what you want me to be / Now I can’t disappear”, the more I knew I was killing God with his own words, and I started to understand why the keepers of the text had been telling the flock for so long that they can’t have direct access to the scriptures.
When I took Nietzsche’s existential leap and declared my God to be dead, it happened in my attempts to get close to him, as I was held by Hope Sandoval’s songs.
When I presented the completed paper to the committee I had already left. The issue ceased to live inside me and I no longer cared about what they thought. They shelved the paper, without reading it, and chose to refuse women the right to speak. By the time word had gotten around, I was gone. I had disappeared after all.
More than ten years later, the paper was found, and published as a book that caused a scandal in the church, because of its clarity, erudition and ability to obliterate all scriptural arguments stating females can’t perform all the same duties as the males. I was invited to speak about the book, but I declined, claiming it was no longer my battle and the book didn’t belong to me anymore. Some women understood, and others were angry, thinking I had left simply because I was ignored. The truth is I don’t know how they can read the paper I wrote and still believe in God; all that was lost to me when I took a deep, close look at his message. But I still have Among My Swan and I still have Hope Sandoval whispering to me in the darkness, “Close your eyes and look at me / I can’t believe what I cannot see / everything is like you say / Change your mind, and you’ll have to forgive”.