Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Linens for the sacrament table

For as long as I can remember as a child and adolescent my mother would care for the linens used at the sacrament table. I don't think anyone asked her to do this. She was never called and set apart, yet she carefully washed, starched and ironed the sacrament linens regularly. The sacrament table, when prepared, was always perfect in a way that only freshly starched linens can achieve. I also have a (vague) memory of her buying linens for the sacrament table with her own money. I don't know if this was standard at the time in the "mission field" where we lived, but my mother made sure that the tablecloths were of very high quality. I remember that they were of a luxurious weave and had white embroidery.

When I became a teenager it was my job as a male, of course, to help prepare the sacrament. I noticed at the time a difference between the attitude of devotion that my mother had in caring for the sacrament linens (I should also mention that she treated the cloth itself with respect, as if it were holy) and the casual, sometimes disrespectful manner of the boys who prepared the sacrament table. This difference in attitude registered with me, but as a teenager I didn't have the maturity to understand what it meant.

I doubt that my mother ever got a word of thanks for the many years of service she performed. I know that she was not looking for thanks. I think it was simply an act of worship.

Today I have mixed emotions about what my mother did. On the one hand, I admire her devotion, constancy and willingness to honor to symbols that were sacred to her. On the other hand, I have a hard time reconciling that with the public gratitude that was often expressed over the pulpit for the pimply, barely interested adolescent boys (myself included in this sorry lot) who performed the ritual. I have a hard time interpreting this as anything other than even more evidence that men and boys are valued and celebrated in ways that women and girls are not in LDS culture.

My mother (who was born in the first quarter of the 20th century) was of another era. She was extraordinarily bright and talented; she gave up graduate school in a scientific field to marry my father (women's options were not then what they are now); she raised five children. She was my father's equal in every way, yet it was my father who as stake president called bishops and organized the multimillion dollar building program of our stake. My father got an incredible amount of adulation for what he did while my mother starched the sacrament linens, unnoticed. I wonder in the end whose act of devotion meant more.

I think the LDS insistence on "eternal gender" is misplaced. There's absolutely no reason to segregate men's and women's ecclesiastical responsibilities. There's no reason whatsoever to value the contributions of one group of people over another and to exclude whole categories of people from leadership. I, for one, would love to see Carol Lynn Pearson called to the Quorum of the Twelve, and I think my mother should have been the bishop of my ward.


Allen said...

Thanks for writing this. This is an issue that has always bothered me. The reasons we are given for why women can't hold the priesthood nor serve in leadership have never sat well with me.

If it is because they are supposed to be mothers, then why can't women who didn't get married, or are beyond child bearing ages do it? Men are expected to fulfill callings despite working full time, but women are apparently so delicate and pure that to give them the importunity to serve would apparently hurt their ability to be good wives and mothers.

I don't buy it.

Anonymous said...

This brought tears to my eyes reading it over at fmh and I had to follow your link to see who had written something so beautiful! There are so many thankless good deeds done in our church - and those that are overlooked seem far more likely to be those more "feminine" activities that do not hold the same public importance as priesthood responsibilities. Of course it's silly to think that women are unable to have the priesthood and perform any ceremony that men have been authorized to perform, if the chance were given to them. It's my personal belief that, if it is indeed HFs will to keep this gift for men only at this time, that it is perhaps a way of testing us all - women, who are understandably so often discouraged and even angered by the second class status the gospel seems to allocate to us, and men who can so easily succom to unrighteous dominion in its many forms when they alone have access to so much if the workings of the gospel. My view on this has evolved a lot over the years, but for now, this is how I see it. I'm sure that quiet, sincere acts of worship from any source on this earth will not be forgotten by those who really matter.
Sorry for being long-winded. I really just want to thank you for your touching story! I hope I get to hear from you a lot on fmh!

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Allen,

I agree: the rationale that "women have motherhood" is a flimsy one. It's just an excuse.

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. I think things are changing. Many younger Mormons find the marginalization of women to be immoral. We'll get there.