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.”

______________

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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  • Ashley

    What a beautiful reminder of the compassion and grace God extends to us. It’s so easy to get stuck in a cycle of condemnation and shame, forgetting that His love covers a multitude of sins and his love carries us through even the darkest of nights. This reminds me to be more gentle with myself. I so needed this today.

    • Carla Funk

      So thankful for God’s compassion and grace, too, Ashley. How would we get through a day without it?

  • My hope is, having read these beautiful words, that I will respond with the same grace and practical love the next time I’m given the opportunity — that I will tuck the burdocks away out of sight, focus on the “All Clean,” and offer sustenance instead of shame.

    • Carla Funk

      Oh, I so agree, Michele– “sustenance instead of shame” is what it looks like when Jesus shows up through us!

  • Stephani Greenway

    This is such a great picture Carla. I can imagine how Jesus longs for us extend His grace that is given to us, and love other women this way.

    • Carla Funk

      Thanks for the response, Steph!

  • Chalcea Malec

    A true and important message, beautifully written. Thank you Carla.

    • Carla Funk

      Hey, Chalcea– thanks!

  • maggie campbell

    Someone said to me recently that a group of women committed to Jesus and serving together are a ‘force to be reckoned with’. While the imagery of that statement might seem abit aggressive, the heart of it is how much influence a group of women who love God can have! In this beautiful story, I see this truth displayed in the simple kindness and love shown to a young girl who physically lost her way. May we be that type of women, who can reach out to others who have lost their way spiritually and help clean off the things that have clung to them with love, acceptance and forgiveness. Beautiful!

    • Carla Funk

      I, too, want to be a “force to be reckoned with”! Thanks, Maggie!

  • Cat Nnaegbunam

    How the actions of yesteryear hold such strong messages in the present. It strengthens and empowers. Such a great story. Thanks, Carla. <3

    • Carla Funk

      Thanks for reading, Cat!

  • Paola Moore

    I love how this stirs up the feelings of home and safety. That’s who Jesus is and aren’t we called to be the same? Specifically as women. We can be a place of safety, home and sisterhood instead of a place of condemnation and rivalry. Such a wonderful challenge written through tender musings of the past. Oh thank you Saviour for grace!

    • Carla Funk

      Yes! Preach it, Paola!

  • Bethany Campbell

    Beautiful. Thank you for reminding us what community should be like.

    • Carla Funk

      Bethany! Thank YOU for being such an awesome part of our community!

  • What a beautiful picture you’ve given us. Something tangible … this is what it looks like to belong, to be loved, to be brought inside …

    • Carla Funk

      Thank you, Tina, for your response!

  • I love this picture of strength and sisterhood so much. And you wrote it so beautifully.

    • Carla Funk

      Thank you, idelette! Honoured to be part of this sisterhood!

  • Sue

    Carla, you have an amazing way of drawing us into your writing….seeing what you see and feeling what you feel..thank you so much!

    • Carla Funk

      You’re so welcome, Sue– thanks for the encouragement!

  • Tasha

    This is beautiful, Carla. This part makes me want to cry with hope: “…learning early the kind of rare grace that’s meant to live inside every gathering of women, every sanctuary.”

    • Carla Funk

      It’s a rare grace I so often need reminding of, Tasha. Thanks for reading and responding!

  • And this is what real life community looks like … love your recollection, Carla, so beautifully spoken.

    • Carla Funk

      Linda, thanks for the kind words– and yes, I agree– we should all be willing to pick burrs from one another’s muddy white socks!

  • Helene Burns

    So touching… I admit as I began to read your post, I glanced up to read what your last name was as I could sense a kindred spirit within your experience of the women who gathered to pray. My church also had a Nettie, a Tina, a Sarah or two and my pastors wife was Mrs. Wiens (yes, I grew up Mennonite Brethren). Although I am decades older than you, your expression of community feels so gloriously familiar and a treasure to my heart.

    I must get a copy of ‘Gloryland’… I think I will love it.

    Thanks for sharing your story with all of us Carla xo

    • Carla Funk

      Hooray for Mennonite heritage– and hooray for the Netties, Tinas & Sarahs of the world– and thanks for your kind words, Helene!

  • Janet Matthews

    What a great lesson in abiding you were given! And so great you can share it so graciously. Thank you!

    • Carla Funk

      Janet, I learned so many lessons in that church and from those folks!

  • Such a beautiful story of women and the community they create to take care of others. These are the kind of women you want on your side at all times.

    • Carla Funk

      So true, Theresa– these kind of women are the ones we want around us– and the kind of women we want to be!

  • lisa stellingwerff

    God’s tenderness and power revealed through ordinary women. Brought to mind an image of a hen gathering her chicks (or in this case hens and one chick). Beautifully, colourfully written.

  • lisa stellingwerff

    God’s tenderness and power revealed through ordinary women. Brought to mind an image of a hen gathering her chicks (or in this case hens and one chick). Beautifully, colourfully written.

    • Carla Funk

      May we all be both hens and chicks– gatherers and willing to be gathered! Thanks, Lisa!

  • Jamie

    Very beautiful! I love how you described your adventures through the church!

  • Wendy Tolsma

    You drew me in from the very beginning of your story and into it’s particular place and time. I chuckled at the adventures of this little girl and then felt her distress and humiliation, then I smiled and was comforted along with her as these sensible compassionate women tended to her needs. Beautiful! However, It did leave me wanting to read more of these precious moments and the adventures of this little girl 🙂