At the Wednesday Morning Ladies’ Bible Study

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carla-funk-gracious5by Carla Funk | @carlafunk

Even now, decades later, I can still see them in their circle of hardback wooden chairs, their heads bowed over the onionskin pages of the King James, those ladies of the Wednesday morning Bible study. In church-soft voices, they read aloud from Psalms and Proverbs, the prophets and epistles, following a paper script with questions for discussion.

Afterwards, there’d be fellowship in the basement kitchen—tea and weak coffee, friendship cake and matrimony squares and egg salad sandwiches cut cleanly into triangles. But first, they studied, bent over their Bibles with the devotion of ancient scholars, these Anns and Tinas, Sarahs and Netties, grandmas and never-marrieds and stay-at-homes with school-aged kids. Among them, my mother, quiet, smoothed her skirt and bowed her head.

While they prayed and softly spoke, I roamed the building freely. Downstairs, I marveled at the men’s urinals, flushed every toilet. Sprayed the can of aerosol deodorizer until the room smelled like a chemical bouquet. In the upstairs nursery, I crawled into a crib, trying to remember what it felt like to be a baby. I tugged the plastic cow by its string and made it moo. I stacked a tower of wooden blocks and made it topple. In the Sunday school rooms, I snooped through stacks of coloured paper, sniffed the pots of white glue, stood at the front of the class and pretended I was the teacher, telling a flannel-graph story with boils, locusts and blood.

But what comes back to me most vividly is those women in their prayer huddle, and how they reached for me when I came in from the church yard, filthy and on the verge of tears. Against my mother’s warning, I’d gone roaming outside the sanctuary, had tried to pick a scruffy bouquet from the weeds in the ditch between the parking lot and road, but instead had come back with mud-crusted knees and white socks hooked with burrs. My quest for brighter buttercups and fatter clover had drawn me down toward the boggy culvert, and I’d fallen, twice, struggling up the slope of the ditch and back into the church. I tried not to cry, but as soon as the women looked at me, their eyes kind and their tongues clucking with compassion, I broke.

My mother reached for me first, enfolding me into her smell—Avon lotion and spearmint gum. The other women bent down around us, and with a flurry of hands, began to wipe away the mud from my knees, dabbing at the dirt and scrapes with spit-moistened tissues, plucking off the burrs stuck to my socks. While I cried into my mother’s shoulder, they tended to me, murmuring a gentleness without words until my shuddered sobs calmed to breathing, and the Bible study ladies kneeling on the carpet had removed the evidence of my fall.

How far I’d strayed outside the boundaries, how humiliating the fall, how worthless my now-wilted weed bouquet lying at my feet—these faded as I stood inside the circle of their low and soothing voices, learning early the kind of rare grace that’s meant to live inside every gathering of women, every sanctuary.

“Oh, but look,” said Old Mrs. Wiens, pointing to my white socks.

“All clean.”

She held open her handkerchief. Each Nettie, Sarah, Tina and Ann poured in a handful of burrs. Old Mrs. Wiens tucked it in the pocket of her black cardigan, touched my cheek with her cool, blue-veined hand, and said, “Now, let’s go have something to eat.”

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About Carla:

 

rsz_1funk_headshot_2I live, write, and teach in Victoria, B.C., where I served as the city’s inaugural poet laureate from 2006-2008. My fifth book of poetry, Gloryland, was published earlier this year by Turnstone Press.

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