From child bride to American doctor

I have nothing to despise. The whole universe is a lesson to me.
from a letter to Theodosia Carpenter, December 26, 1881

Here are some of the things Indian woman Anandibai Joshi didn’t despise, but clearly could have:

  • Becoming a child bride at the age of 9 and moving far away from her home.
  • Living among people who were not of her caste or of her cultural group and being unable to eat food prepared by them, not even when they’d freshly arrived somewhere and hadn’t yet unpacked their belongings, so she often went hungry.
  • Being openly mocked and spit at for doing such radical things as: taking a walk by herself, dressing according to her customs, conversing with her husband in public, being educated.
  • Being beaten by her husband/teacher for taking time off of her studies or for cooking instead of studying.
  • When she was 14, her son dying after only 10 days of life.
  • Being rejected by everyone because she intended to go to America to get medical training.
  • Enduring set-back after set-back in her plans to come to America.

All this by the time she was 17.

Another example of her thought:

“I wish to preserve my manner and customs unless they are detrimental to my health. Can I live in your country as if it were my own, and what will it cost me? When I think over the sufferings of women in India in all ages, I am impatient to see the Western light dawn as the harbinger of emancipation. I am not able to say what I think; but no man or woman should depend upon another for maintenance and necessaries. Family discord and social degredation will never end till each depends upon herself.”

And this painful truth, inspired both by her countrymen and by the Christian missionaries she met in India:

“I rely on God, and do not seek to know who are his individual messengers to me. Take any religion you like and you will find that its founder was a holy man. Go to his followers and you will find holy men the exception.”

I am writing at The Mudroom today about this pioneer. Please join me. It’ll give you good background for when I write about her complicated marriage next week 🙂


* Quotes above are from Anandibai Joshi’s letters to American woman, Theodosia Carpenter, as quoted in The Life of Anandabai Joshee, a kinswoman of the Pundita Rambai, by Caroline Wells Healey Dall, published in 1888, by Roberts Brothers.

sometimes I want to break up with the Bible

So I’ve been participating in these Five Minute Friday posts (prompted by Lisa-Jo Baker), and today’s word is broken. I want to keep up with this habit, this community, but I also have something else that’s been bugging me, so bear with me as I go a bit past 5 minutes.

Sometimes I want to break up with the Bible.

I come to the Bible a broken person. I have a sinful, selfish mind that can grab onto technicalities and blow little things out of proportion. More than that, I’m a specifically broken person, with my own experiences and my own hang-ups (as a result of those experiences), my own expectations. Even more than that, I’m a hurt person, a hurting person. I bring those hurts and (sometimes secret) fears to my reading.

This is partially why I’m reading the Bible through from beginning to end: no more picking only my favorite parts, no more focusing only on the fun passages, the passages that support what I already think and believe. This has meant dragging myself through Numbers (why, oh why repeat each set of numbers twice?!?), but also meant discovering gems of passages I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

Right now I’m reading Ezekiel. That is one weird book of the Bible. God really puts some of his prophets through the ringer. It starts with a fantastical vision of strange beings with wings and wheels and multiple faces and God giving Ezekiel a scroll of funeral dirges and pronouncements of dooms and making him eat it. Actually chew and swallow it (don’t worry, it tasted as sweet as honey). But within the weirdness is this:

“You must give them my messages whether they listen or not….And whether they listen or not — for remember, they are rebels — at least they will know they have had a prophet among them” (Ez. 2:7, 5, NLT).

I am not a prophet and I have no plans to ever go around calling myself Prophet Natalie. But God puts things on my heart to say, to write. And that passage tells me to say and to write them whether people respond or not, because my responsibility is to give the message that God has given/does give/is giving me, to use the voice God has given me. It’s not my job to fuss about how many readers I have or to despair because people don’t seem to be listening. It’s my job to speak. I am encouraged by this. It sets me free.

Ezekiel has to pull some crazy stunts (although God goes back on his request that Ezekiel defile his food by cooking it over human dung patties). I tend to approach these as God doing the equivalent of making a viral video: he’s having his prophet pull a public stunt that people will see and just have to talk about with people at the market, at the threshing field, on the roads (see Ez. 5 & 12).

“Did you hear what Ezekiel did this time?”

“Can’t be crazier than when he shaved his head and beard and divided it into thirds and burned part, scattered part, and slashed part.”

“Why did he do that again?”

“To show what will happen to Jerusalem because we’re ‘so rebellious.’ What was it now?”

“He packed his stuff, dug a hole in the wall, and walked away with his hands over his face. Says we’ll all be in exile, never to return, even Zedekiah.”

God will use anything to get his people to listen, even our love of gossiping about something crazy that someone did. I can appreciate that.

But then Ezekiel 16 has a disturbing metaphor about Israel as an abandoned female baby that God cleaned and cared for and raised and then married, but the wife/Israel trusted in her fame and beauty and gave herself as a prostitute to every man/country that came along. The wife/Israel used the gifts God gave her and turned them into idols and gifts for idols and gifts to all her lovers. The story gets quite graphic about how God will turn over the unfaithful wife/Israel to her lovers for them to destroy.

Israel as an unfaithful wife is a common metaphor in the prophets, and I’m trying to take to heart the message that my relationship with God is an intimate one, that God feels my betrayals as personally as a spouse who’s been cheated on. As a result, I’ve been trying not to skimp on the confession part of my prayers in my rush to get to the assurance of pardon. I can also approach the story as historical, as describing the history of Israel and saying how it will be for Israel in exile.

Still, this story sits in my gut like a gas bubble and I’m not sure what kind of foulness will result it it bursts.

And then I read on. Ezekiel 23 is about the repeated adultery of two sisters (aka Samaria and Jerusalem) against their husband/God. The story starts with this indictment: “They became prostitutes in Egypt. Even as young girls, they allowed themselves to be fondled and caressed” (v. 3). As if a young girl makes that happen because of her lust. As if a young girl being fondled is her fault.

There’s more stuff in the chapter, but that’s what really got me, what sent a lick of flame to one of my fears: that the Bible is a book by men for men, where what I am (female) is repeatedly misunderstood and misrepresented and used as a metaphor for what is wrong.

I know, I know. There’s more than that to God and more than that to the Bible. But it’s easier to keep that assurance going when I don’t have to read stories like the above. It is, in fact, what kept me from a regular devotional practice for years: fear that I’d meet a God who challenged my beliefs about him. But stories like that are in there. And I have to deal with them.

Here’s how I do it. I will keep reading the Bible, and I will find something amazing, something that gives me hope, something that tells me how much God loves me, how radical and countercultural God is, and the bubble will deflate. The bubble will still be there, because the Bible has some disturbing stuff in it that’s hard for this woman to deal with. But I also know that God is bigger than any culture’s language or stable of metaphors about him.

So even though I kind of want to at this moment, I won’t break up with the Bible. And I definitely won’t break up with God. I’m going to be uncomfortable for a little while, no doubt about it. But God will love me through it. He always has, and he always will. That is my faith.