by Leah R. Berkowitz
“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy”—Exodus 20:8
In the midst of my first week in the rabbinate, I found myself combing the grocery stores in my new city for Sabbath candles and challah, the braided egg bread that we eat at festive meals. I must have been at my third store when a colleague called me on my cellphone. After explaining my predicament, I exclaimed, “Aren’t we supposed to have wives for this?”
Last week I reached a milestone. I paid off my car. It took me 5 years to do it, and I found, as I saw the last bill with $0.00 after the words “Balance Due,” that it was a bittersweet moment.
I’m not one of those people who has a relationship with my car. At least, I don’t think I am. However, I see a burgundy Subaru Station Wagon (now a rarity) and I am taken back to the first car I learned to drive with a manual transmission. I can still remember my mom teaching me how to drive it, telling me when I learned, then my sister and I could stay home alone while she and my step-father went away for a weekend. I learned quickly. I smile when I think of “Bob” the neon that my sister and I shared for a while, and the “tin can on wheels” Tercel that was basically a car body, 2 doors, a stick shift, and a steering wheel. My last year of college I got my first “grown up” car – a Nissan Altima. It was used, but I had graduated to a vehicle that had automatic door locks and windows. I was in heaven. That car took me from college graduation to my first job. It is what I parked at my first apartment, drove back and forth to my parent’s house, and is the car that took me to visit seminaries. I can still remember leaving one school and pulling out of the parking lot after visitation weekend knowing it was not the place for me, and 2 weeks later pulling out of my future alma-mater certain that this was it. That car carried me to seminary, across the country for an internship, on road trips with friends, to tiny rural churches to pulpit supply, and eventually 14 hours north to my first call. I remember when I signed the papers for the new car feeling sad about the passing of the old one. But, 125,000 miles is a lot and it was either throw good money after bad, or have a fresh start.
A post appeared recently in the closed Facebook network for The Young Clergy Women Project that caught my eye. In this post, a fellow YCW asked about the search process with her husband. He’s a pastor. She’s a pastor. They have a baby. And it’s time for them to search. So, she was looking for wisdom -- as so many of us do -- from her clergy sisters. The married clergy sisters with babies, that is.
That sounds bitter. Maybe it is. Whatever. I’ll talk about it with my therapist. That’s not the point. The point is this: I read this post only to think of another friend who has just completed a search process, a friend that bemoaned the fact that it’s harder to discern God’s call when you’re married. I imagine this is further compounded when you have a baby, but I have neither. I am not married. I have no baby. But I am indeed searching.
An online engagement announcement. In one second I was thrown from a bored moment at the computer, idly Facebooking between tasks, to crushing doubt, self-criticism, and questioning every decision I had made in the last four years. The last thirty five years, really.
The last guy I had been in a serious relationship with was engaged. Statistically, I knew it was bound to happen at some point after our parting four years earlier. He wasn't a bad person, and our relationship had ended as ideally as a relationship can end. So I was shocked that when I read the announcement of his engagement my first reaction wasn’t joy for him and his future wife, but a sinking in my chest and a surprising swell of self-pity. Quickly followed by guilt- I should be happy for him that he found a life partner, not feeling like a failure because I was still alone. I briefly wondered if this was a sign of full-blown narcissism. It certainly didn’t seem like the sort of reaction a clergyperson should have to news of a wedding. Nevertheless, there I was, sitting in my office, crushed by someone else’s good news.
And it wasn’t the first time.
I never thought I would end up in an open relationship. I never dreamed that this is the way my life would unfold. But then, as a young clergywoman, I followed God’s call to a small town in northwest Pennsylvania.
The town is a typical small town. There’s a downtown committed to keeping chain stores out and so there are mom and pop diners, antique shops, and a pizza parlor/movie rental combo. But with only one stoplight in town, I was in for some major culture shock, having just graduated from a seminary within minutes of Atlanta. Yet as I settled into a new place, a new home, I began to love the small town feel and charm.
Editor's Note:This article is one in an occasional series called "All About the Benjamins," running this fall on Fidelia's Sisters. As many congregations and organizations are running stewardship campaigns and lining up budgets for 2012, we'll be taking a look at the sometimes-taboo topic of money, and the roles it plays in our ministries.
I haven’t had a boyfriend in a very, very long time. Or even a good date.This long stretch of singlehood has made me identify more closely with the women in the Bible who are dealing with their barrenness. Not the literal lack of children in my womb, but the inability to form the family I long for, to fall in love and find a partner to share my life with. Like many of those Biblical women, I sometimes wonder what I have done wrong to earn this fate – what deficiencies keep me from experiencing what seems to come naturally to so many other women? I wonder,like Sarah, if after so many years I will ever get to experience the pleasure I dream about. I struggle, like many of the barren women of the scriptures, with how to define my worth as a woman in ways that don’t fit with society’s expectations.
Two scriptures, in particular, have stuck with me recently, and led me to sit with the ideas of barrenness and hospitality, and how they relate to my life as a single woman. “Sing, O barren one who did not bear,” urges Isaiah 54, “burst into song and shout, you who have not been in labor.” Sometimes the hardest thing is keeping hope, after a string of uninspiring dates, that there is someone out there I can connect with. Isaiah urges not just hope, promises not only joy, but reminds me to LIVE like I believe in the promises these verses contain. “Enlarge the site of your tent,” instructs the prophet. Make your home, your heart, your world big enough to hold all that you dream will happen. Make room for the people you want in your life.
Feminism seems to be a dirty word these days. At a recent all-women roller derby practice one of the organizers cheerfully described the league as being run by women, for women, but not, you know, "feminist" (the scare quotes were implied), and I was baffled. This denigration of the women's movement is a shock to me, particularly when I hear it from a female peer. Our generation is the first to truly reap the rewards of the struggle of the women who came before us and made our vocational choices possible, both in society in general (like this roller derby league) and in the Church.
Where our foremothers had to endure being hissed at as priestesses, snubbed at the altar rail by disaffected churchgoers who refused to receive the sacraments from their hands, I grew into adulthood in the reality of a Church that had ordained women as priests since before I was born. When I discerned my call to ordination, it was in a parish that had called a woman as rector when I was 7. I didn't have to experience the front lines of that fight, and I continue to be profoundly grateful to the women who did, often sacrificing personal happiness along the way. And so it troubles me to admit that one of the last great bastions of institutionalized sexism today is the Church that I love.
As I considered where I might go on vacation this summer, I knew it had to be somewhere tropical. Having visited some beautiful beaches before, I knew deep within me that this would be the most relaxing, rejuvenating and restful experience that summer vacation had to offer.
Right about when I was dreaming up this idea, I met someone. Over these last few months, I’ve had to adjust my independent and sometimes selfish life to once again include someone else in the constant push and pull of time and compromise that lives within a relationship. And to be honest, I’ve loved every minute of it. It seemed to make perfect sense to both of us that we would vacation together.
I am a single rev. At least I think am. At least for now. And for a while to come. I think.
I am falling into that “liminal space” (thank you seminary vocabulary) that comes between single-but-dating and single-but-engaged. For some couples, this space is short, maybe only a minute or two, but for my significant other and me, this space is turning out to be extremely long. We have known for two years that we want to marry each other, that it's okay to talk about “when” rather than “if,” but right now there is no end in sight.
We are choosing to do it this way because neither one of us is ready to leave our call to a congregation, and while it's certainly not ideal, there's no one way to negotiate this part of a relationship. Every couple has to figure it out for themselves. It seems to be working for us so far. But I have a feeling it won't work forever.