Friday, June 15, 2012

Sarah Smith and the Something More

Ah, Mother’s Day.  It came around again.  Of course, Provie was drawn out of the mothballs in the attic and given a good shake and presented to us in her annual splendor.  For Christian women, she comes hand-in-hand with Mother’s Day.  There is no escaping her.

I will confess here and now that I am none too fond of the Virtuous Wife from Proverbs 31, whom I have nicknamed Provie. Oh, I know her worth is far above rubies.  I know that her own works will praise her in the gates.  In fact, I am willing to concede that some of the most beautiful things ever written about women in the Bible are written about her.   The words are sublime and inspiring: "She does him good and not evil all the days of her life." "Her children rise up and call her blessed." "She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness."  There is much to admire, but something is missing.
My husband says I am far too hard on her; I don’t care.  “She just wants to take care of her family,” he says, “You know half a dozen women who are just like the Virtuous Wife.”  Then, he lists off my wonderful friends in support of his statement.  “Yes and no,” I reply.  I do indeed know myriad women who mirror some of the outward qualities of Provie, but they are so much more so than she. I mean, does anybody really like this Proverbs vision of the ideal woman? She's always getting up early and buying fields and spinning and filling up ships and getting food and displaying her merchandise. Sounds like a real bore to me.  And, yes, her husband will have no lack of gain.  And yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.  I get it; she’s pretty darn amazing.  But again, something is missing.

This view of a wife comes to us from God, of course.  He inspired Solomon to put down the words.  We know, then, that He must want us to take note of the qualities of this Virtuous Wife.  This character sketch apparently also comes from that good, ol' scoundrel, King Solomon’s, mom. He called himself King Lemuel in 31:1, but he wasn’t fooling anybody.  I can only imagine that Bathsheba harangued him constantly to make better choices in his love life.  As she watched the parade of foreign beauties arriving in Jerusalem to share her son’s bed, she must have wished for him just one Hebrew wife who had in her possession the greatest attribute of all: fear of the Lord. Years later, I imagine, he wrote this proverb under divine inspiration to make it up to her; “Ma was right all along,” he must have sighed to himself, as he witnessed the deceitful charms and passing beauties of his pagan wives.  Thus, was ensconced for all times the wifely ideal.  Again though, I say,  something is missing.

I believe that the Christian ideal of womanhood must veer at least a bit from this Proverbs 31 portrayal, by necessity of this Age of Grace in Christ. Proverbs 31 is all about doing. Provie works and works and works and works.  It is good work, too.  Blessed work that fortifies and edifies her family.  She is at a distance, though.  We do not get to know her.  When will she draw near a moment and just be? Doesn’t it remind you of Martha, Lazarus’s sister?  I can imagine Provie’s being worried and troubled by many things.  But, I as a Christian woman want to choose the greater part.  I want to choose the one thing that is needed.  So, I offer up as my own role model Sarah Smith of Golders Green.

Do you know Sarah Smith?  She is the Great Lady from Chapter 12 of The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis's novel about heaven and hell.  The narrator boards a bus in hell that is bound for heaven.  On it are miserable souls kept in the bondage of their own making.  He then takes a tour of heaven with 19th century Scottish author, George MacDonald, as his guide; he, along with the other souls under damnation, must make a choice: to die to themselves and find life anew in the realm of glory or to return to hell in the chains of self-satisfied sin.  In that plane, as in ours, too  many make the latter choice.  It is not Scripture, but it is Spirit-soaked.  My favorite part is when he first views the Great Lady (edited):

Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. . . . Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done. . . . Only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.

"Is it? ... is it?" I whispered to my guide.

"Not at all," said he. "It's someone ye'll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green."

"She seems to be ... well, a person of particular importance?"

"Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things."

"And who are all these young men and women on each side?"

"They are her sons and daughters . . . Every young man or boy that met her became her son . . . Every girl that met her was her daughter."

"And how ... but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat-two cats-dozens of cats. And all those dogs . . . why, I can't count them. And the birds. And the horses."

"They are her beasts. . . . Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. . . . And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them." I looked at my Teacher in amazement. "Yes," he said. "It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength.”

“But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life." (emphasis added)

Now that . . . that makes me weep with shameful knowledge of my own shortfalls and sins and doubts and denials. I cannot feel bad about not getting up early and filling up a bunch of ships; but, I can remember times when I have not shown the love of Christ to those upon whom I have come in my life, and feel real and true sorrow.  My husband says, “Of course you like this Sarah Smith
, because you like gadding about with kids and animals and not doing any real work.”  As always, he knows me only too well.  There is nothing to suggest, though, that Sarah was less than industrious during her earthly time – but she was something more.  There was overflowing  joy in her; there was overarching love in her.  If Provie is Martha, then Sarah is Mary – both women, good and true; but one who just got it a little better.  There is only one thing I want from this life: to live it in a way that, when the shadows fade and we are out of the cave and into the sunlight, my eternal legacy will mirror just a hundredth of that of Sarah Smith of Golders Green.


Flicka Spumoni said...

Bravo! again... you've done it again, made me think about something and look upon something in a whole new way...And I am totally with you on that Proverbs thing. Rise up early? Are you kidding me?

Justine said...

Jason says I'm too harsh on Mrs. Proverbs 31. He's says she's just doing her best to take care of her family, for goodness's sake, and why don't I lay off on her? That may well be; but, she doesn't seem to have much of a personality, does she?

Some of the phrases are just beautiful, though: "She does him good and not evil all the days of her life." "Her children rise up and call her blessed." "She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness."

So, there's a lot there to aspire to; but, overall, the description of Sarah Smith just resonates more with me. Jason says it's because I like gadding about with kids and animals and not doing any real work. Just so, just so.

By the way, when I was first ranting about Mrs. Proverbs 31 during Bible study one night, Jason said, "And, isn't Mrs. Spumoni like the virtuous wife?" And I sheepishly admitted it was so. For, your worth is truly far above rubies -- even if you don't like to rise while it is still night.