This is just me.
I have come all the way around on this word. Submission. Not just in this week, but in a process like this week, where I say out loud that this word is a loaded word, and has darker connotations than rebellion, or even the selfishness of individuals in our age of satiation and empire. I came through or near all the places that were posted here this week, even if I couldn’t articulate those places. And where I ended up is something I can barely explain.
I do submit. In my marriage. I make a practice of it. AND, I might even whisper that I do think that this is gendered.
I wish that someone had told me that submission in marriage would come for me when I was at my most powerful. Not when I was weak and scared and hurt. I wish someone had told me that it would grow like a growing thing, alive and full of mystery. And most of all, I wish I could have understood that this submission thing may be gendered, but people are not gendered. Not in that simple, easy way, anyway. Not in the way where you stay on your side of the line and I stay on my side of the line. Because we don’t.
I speak first for the gaps, the moments when I am the other gender, or both genders, or no gender at all. I know what it is like to be shamed for lack of femininity, and all I did was shave my head and wear strange clothes and put up low-budget alternative theatre. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for live as a more conclusive threat to gender norms.
And I know this much. Exceptions are the rule. This is how it is all through the Bible, so why should Christians be surprised? Tamar at the crossroads. Jael with her tent pin. Jacob (Israel!) with his stolen birthright. The criminal Jesus of Nazareth crowned king. Exceptions are the rule.
Thats why you’ll never find me going around saying things like, Women, Submit!
But I have learned to raise the spirit in me that is traditionally feminine. I am not my authentic self without it. And I think of it this way — you don’t have to think of it this way, maybe you think of it differently — but there is a part of me where life grows, that is childbearing, nurturing, responsive, reactive and uniquely vulnerable. That part of me understands submission. It understands how to say YES and how to receive and how to follow, and how this is a part of union. It understands, too, that this is a practice, that takes patience, courage, and intention.
I didn’t gain this understanding in a church. Or because of a mandate, or a law. And certainly not by invalidating other dreams. I got here simply by making room. Lots of room. Over time. Safe spaces for truth. And complexity. And freedom.
What rises in that open space is a mystery.
But it boils down to this. I couldn’t live the life I do without submission. It wouldn’t make sense, to be on this particular hill, so close to Boise, so far away from my own people and New York City and the dreams I used to have. I do love it out here. But I came here because I wanted to say YES, to receive, and to follow. I wanted to be a part of a full union between two souls. I didn’t want to live this life by myself.
And I love to watch my husband do what he was meant to do. Even if it is rugged and dirty and my baby is always eating wood chips. I love having the strength to be with him, and to let him be free to be himself.
I can’t do that without this practice: in which I set aside my ego, my fears, my desire for control. In which I plug my nose and jump off the diving board. Say yes. I want this. Yes. I want to be all in.
I couldn’t do that if I hadn’t validated all the rest of it. The baggage. The woundedness. The way I have felt held down and trapped and afraid. The way I have heard this, from the pulpit, yes, but even more powerfully in some kind of an echo through secular culture: “Woman, Submit!”
I have to tell the truth about all this. And I have to be allowed to tell the truth about this. Or my soul isn’t free, and nothing grows, and we don’t get anywhere.
I wish for us, Church, that we could breathe some space into this tradition. Especially the gender norms, that shame and isolate, and at their worst endanger lives. But I also pray we can breathe some space into this word: submission. Let it come to us right from the page, undiluted, untranslated, like a gift. Let it come given to us. Like mystery. Like water. Let it grow up in our marriages the way things grow, because there is room for them to grow. Let it be free.
And. This is the end of the S-Word Series. Thank you so much for hanging out with us this week! If you’re just jumping in, it has been a week-long discussion of submission. The other posts are below. Feel free to share your thoughts with any of us. We’re glad you’re here!