06 March 2017

Éowyn: The Cage

"What do you fear, lady?" He asked.
"A cage," she said. "To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire."

Too often have I heard of duty,
too often been told what a woman should do.
Too often have I heard of duty,
and duty has become my cage.

My duty to cheer as the men ride to war,
my duty to stay behind.
My duty to rule while they are away,
my duty to submit when they return.
My duty to fill empty bellies,
my duty to keep hearth and home,
my duty to marry a nobleman someday,
my duty to give him sons.
My duty to watch them ride away
to shed their blood on a foreign field,
my duty to suffer and wait.
My duty to mourn them when they fall,
my duty to praise their glory in song,
my duty to while the nights away,
left behind, alone.
My duty never to question
where my life has gone.

Too often have I heard of duty,
and duty has become my cage.
Imprisoned behind the bars
of your expectations,
I do what I must, but without joy,
I am what you want, but not myself,
I gaze through the bars longingly
at the life that should belong to me.

I was born for more
than cleaning up after men,
than singing their praises
and sitting at home.
I am a daughter of Eorl,
no dry-nurse, no serving-woman;
a sword is at home in my hand.
The call to war resounds in my blood -
how can you tell me 'no'?

I was born for more
in this time of need;
I am filled with purpose,
I have so much to give.
I am a shieldmaiden
and this will not be my fate:
I won't stay behind bars
and let my gifts go to waste.
If I will die on a sword,
let me wield one first
and make my death worthwhile.

Too often have I heard of duty.
All your words are but to say:
'you are a woman -
this is not your part.'
Yes, I am a woman.
Alas, I am a woman
and you are blind
because you are a man.
Yes, my Lord: I love you.
And yes: I know
it is but a shadow and a thought.
For it is not you I love
but the dream
of being like you,
respected and free.


[6. March 2017]

The Lord of the Rings is one of the books that has most impacted me growing up, and Éowyn is one of the characters who most left an impression on me (partly because during 7th grade my friends and I roleplayed as LOTR characters and I was Éowyn). I have often found myself identifying with Éowyn, especially with her fear of a "cage".

Re-reading that conversation between Éowyn and Aragorn (The Return of the King V. chapt. 2 The Passing of the Grey Company), I realised something about Éowyn's inner conflict. Society (and the men around her: her uncle Théoden, her brother, and Aragorn) have expectations towards her - and always she is fulfilling these expectations, always doing her duty. But she wants more. She knows that she is completely capable of more - but nobody lets her do it.

Writing this I have to admit I had to think about the debate over whether women are allowed to preach / be pastors. I think the situation is similar.. women find they have gifts that fit current needs (like Éowyn knew she had what it took to contribute in the battle against Sauron) - but too often men restrict them by saying it is "not their part to play". I understand Éowyn's frustration. She had to "hide her light", "bury her talent" - like many women who are called and gifted for the pastorate are still told to do today. In the end, however, she played a vital part by killing the Witch-King whom it was said no man could kill. Her "rebellion", riding to war disguised as Dernhelm, was necessary.

I talk about women's ordination etc because that is my context and the kind of debate (as a woman pastor) I have had to deal with. But I guess Éowyn's example applies to and inspires in other situations too.

Here's a good article to read about her: http://www.themarysue.com/the-story-of-eowyn/

Picture by Edmund Blair Leighton

03 March 2017

Merab: What Could Have Been

1. Samuel 18:17-19

Strange to think now
I could once have been yours,
that it could have been me
gracing your side.
What might life have been
if my father kept his promise?
What might life have been
if you had married me?

Strange to think now
that I ever wanted you,
that there was a time
when I'd see you and swoon,
when my heart would beat faster
each time you looked my way.
Such a silly girl,
young and in love,
protesting when they gave me
to another man.

Strange to think now
what I might have endured -
could I have endured it
the way she did?
Could I have stood by you
against my own father,
abandoning my family?
Could I have lied to protect you
from the people I loved?
Could I have endured
years of separation,
fearing for your life?
Could I have endured
being reunited with you,
when you no longer loved me
but had married many more?
Could I have endured
a life torn in two?

Strange to think now
I could once have been yours.
Strange to think now
that I ever wanted you.
Could I have endured it
the way she did?
I was such a silly girl,
young and in love.
But today I look back
and thank the wiser hand of God
for not granting me my wishes
and not letting dreams come true.


[2. March 2017]

Merab was the elder daughter of Saul. Saul originally promised her to David, not her sister Michal - but then gave her away to be married to someone else (probably to spite David). Merab doesn't really get a voice in any of it; we don't see how she felt, whether she actually "liked" David the way I portrayed it here (though he was so popular, especially with the ladies, that I think it's quite possible). As often happened to women (especially princesses) in those times, others decided her fate for her and she had no say.

The theme I decided to pick up on here was how sometimes, it's better not to get what we wish for - that sometimes, we only see later how things would have unfolded, and have to admit that not getting what we wanted was better. We may sometimes be disappointed by God not answering prayers or not letting things happen the way we'd like them to - but "the wiser hand of God" knows what and how much we can take. I keep marvelling at how much Michal, Merab's sister (who became David's first wife), had to go through (and I'd like to write many more poems about her!) - and that she didn't break under all that. She had to take sides between her father and her husband - a dreadfully painful thing! So when Merab says in this poem, "Could I have endured it / the way she did?" she is talking about Michal. Not everyone can bear things the same way. God knows which trials to give us, and which to spare us from.

But often we need the wisdom of hindsight to see that it was better not to get what we wanted.
For me this means: I need to trust that God knows what He's doing when He doesn't make all my dreams and ideas and plans come true.

Picture by Ernest J. Rowley, The veiled lady (1903).