Inclusion and Exclusion in Our Daily Lives PART III: ADOLESCENCE
KATE LYNN HIBBARD
I always wanted to be one, sat outside the sacristy instead waiting for my white-robed brother to finish his acolyte practice. But I was the devoted one, bride of Christ in my unholy union of shroud and bouquet playing at wedding my best friend. We girls were groomed for the altar guild instead, pressing linens and polishing brass so that God could be served in the beauty of His holiness. I watched the Eucharist with envy, paper thin wafer on a gilded plate, red wine brimming in the jewel-studded cup tipped to parishioners' lips. A performance every Sunday, I suppressed my attraction to the tipped up soles of their tender black shoes, my desire to burn at an altar of my own choosing.
In this poem, the religious life is both attractive and elusive, a painful push-pull, that has much to do with female identity and value. Have you had this experience? How has it resolved in your life?
I don't remember exactly why I wrote this poem when I wrote it, but it is inspired by my youthful experience (or lack thereof) in the church. Back in the 60s, when I wanted more than anything to be an altar boy, I had to be resigned to tagging along in my brother's orbit. I wanted to be the one to ring those little altar bells, carry around the wine and the host, wear the white robes, etcetera. My brother was mostly indifferent about it all, and I suppose the fact that I couldn't have it made me want it all the more. There was nothing dramatic about the altar guild; I could (and did) iron linens at home. But the transformation of the men and boys into churchly beings was so compelling to me.
Writing the poem was a way of crystallizing for myself the power dynamics of gender and religion. There's something enticing about how supplicant the parishioners are while at the communion rail that I hadn't fully realized until I started to explore that image. What I mean is, they're not only supplicant to God, but also to the (at that time always) male authority figures behind the altar. I don't go to church anymore, but I'm gratified that women are now able to take a much more active leadership role. There are now girl altar "boys" in the church where I grew up. I'm also very gratified by the presence of a gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. (If that had happened sooner, I might still be there!)
KATE LYNN HIBBARD won the 2004 Gerald Cable Book Award, and her poetry collection Sleeping Upside Down was published by Silverfish Review Press in 2006. She teaches writing and women’s studies at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and enjoys a life in Saint Paul that includes her partner of ten years, writing, singing, dogs, cats, and a lot of pet hair.