The fact that I am sitting here writing a blog is as foreign to me as going to a BSF International (formerly known as Bible Study Fellowship) meeting. I moved to North Carolina eight years ago after living my whole life in Massachusetts. The people here are different from what I’m used to and I have found it a challenge to engage fully with the natives.
From time to time, I’d talk about this with the beautiful southern soul who came every two weeks to clean my house. I craved insight into the culture shock I experienced by engaging her in conversation about family and sometimes, since her husband is a pastor, religion. Raised Catholic, I am no stranger to protestant doctrine. When my children were young, we attended a non denominational Christian church in Massachusetts. I was curious about her beliefs and we exchanged lots of information. Comparing apples to apples for example, I explained how the tolerance my family witnessed at the First Church we attended in Massachusetts was very different from what we experienced the few times we visited First Church holiday worship services in North Carolina.
We are a spiritual family troubled by the way religion has a tendency to compartmentalize rather than unite. To me, religion is to fashion like spirituality is to style. One is dictated to us and the other something we discover on our own. I shared with her that when asked the ubiquitous southern question, “What church do you go to?” my children were armed with the response, “I am a Christian who chooses not to follow any man made doctrine.” A firm believer that we have something to learn and something to teach everyone we meet, I have always remembered, that during one of those wonderful conversations, she suggested I investigate Bible Study Fellowship.
Fourteen months ago I was displaced from my position. At fifty-four years old, I am enjoying the down time and using it to recuperate from years of corporate battle fatigue. Not long ago, my husband asked me if I was looking for a job. I had to come clean and say, “No”. His response was meant to be funny, I think, when he said, “So you are a housewife?” And for the first time I said it out loud. “Yes, today I am a housewife.”
That one interchange lifted something from me. Suddenly, I had the energy to go about my daily tasks joyfully. It was as if the struggle was over. I had surrendered to the will of my higher power. I had finally accepted that my life was in a completely different place. There was no going back. Personal growth would launch me forward into a life unrecognizable from where I came.
Of course the past year wasn’t without some very dark days. When experiencing the emotions associated with losing a job, empty nesting, and the physical changes that occur in one’s fifties, I turned to independent spiritual study. I read, I think, and I meditate. When learning that my adult Godchild was seriously ill, I started saying the Rosary and continued with that practice almost daily. In an effort to introduce some structure to my day, I started watching daily mass on Catholic TV. My mother doesn’t even do that!
It occurred to me that I needed to get out of the house and take a class. I considered upholstery, watercolor painting, social media, and a laundry list of other interests. What about Bible study? My son’s girlfriend is a lovely young woman whose family is very involved with the Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) organization so I figured it would be a good way to show my support for something that is important to her. Six days ago I attended my first class/meeting and was astonished to see so many women of all ages packed into the sanctuary on a Wednesday morning! Do that many women not work?
I would not be honest if I didn’t say I felt like I was among the Stepford wives waiting on a National Federation of Republican Women’s meeting. There were three hundred of them with more than twice that number registered for a session the next day! An Irish Catholic Democrat from Boston, I felt oddly out of place. To be fair, I may as well have been wearing a shirt with DO NOT TALK TO ME screen printed on my chest.
A few women smiled at me and I did get a pleasant comment about the color of my sweater which, by the way, was St. Patrick’s Day green. Determined to see this through, I am working to overcome my feelings of resistance and keep an open mind. I keep telling myself, “It is a non denominational group of woman studying The Life of Moses.” Hey, I took a class in the Old Testament in college; an elite all woman’s college at a time when no opportunity could be wasted to promote women in a man’s world. I digress.
My assignment for this week is completed and I look forward to participating in my first discussion group tomorrow. What have I learned? I love reading the bible, the BSF distributed notes…not so much. I can’t help but be disappointed by the language used in the BSF introductory material and I have to remind myself that I am taking this class to study The Life of Moses as documented in the Old Testament, not pass judgment on the beliefs of the organization. I am grateful for the organization’s generosity; the Bible is among the greatest books of all time and I am excited about this learning experience.
The Bible passages I read this week (Exodus 1: 1-7) punctuated for me how Moses lived his life as outlined by the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father, Pater Noster); the blueprint given to humanity directly from Jesus two thousand years later. Moses had faith (Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.) in the will of God (Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.). I have come to believe that the synopsis of Jesus’ teachings is The Lord’s Prayer; it outlines how to be good citizens of the world.
Since Christians share the Old Testament with the Jewish and Islamic faiths, I can’t help but think how interesting it would be to have practicing Jews and Muslims included in our discussion tomorrow (On earth as it is in heaven.). I suspect a demographically diverse discussion group would be hard to find in my community. It would, however, be a wonderful way to start finding opportunities to unite people: find common ground, connect with our Higher Selves, Higher Power, the Oneness of all that is.
And so it is.