Barrenness and Broken Bread (3 Nephi 20-26)

Monday, October 12, 2020

Channing: [00:00:00] Hi, I 'm Channing and this is The Faithful Feminist podcast.

Elise: [00:00:12] But this is not just any come follow me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the come follow me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood.

We are here to show you all the really good ways that faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience. 

Channing: [00:00:37] We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about 3rd Nephi chapters 20 through 26 for the dates, October 12th through the 18th. We're so glad you're here again. Yay! 

Elise: [00:00:52] Yeah. Welcome back everyone. We are so pleased to be able to be back on the podcast with you jumping into the scriptures. It was interesting coming back from a conference week and kind of a week off of from the podcast. And these are the chapters that we were met with.

And when Channing and I were studying, we both kind of, we both just asked each other, like, did we forget how to read and interpret the scriptures. These were hard chapters for us. 

Channing: [00:01:22] Yeah. Yeah. Well, and it doesn't help that Jesus like whips out Isaiah and he's like, Hey, this is really important. And we're just like, wait, what? 

Elise: [00:01:33] Yeah. And there's a lot of second coming conversation, which. Is perplexing to me cause I'm like, but you're here now.

Like, I don't know. I, I'm having a hard time finding the narrative thread that kind of makes this one cohesive story. And I'm also struggling with the fact that like, I want to hear Jesus's voice, but I'm hearing Isaiah’s and Malakai's and Samuel the Lamanites and a little bit of Mormon it's and it was just, it was hard to piece together, but honestly, maybe, I don't know if you feel this way, when we're here right now, I'm feeling like, okay, we pulled some good stuff out of here and we're just going to make the best of it that we can. 

Channing: [00:02:15] I kind of felt the same way. And one of the questions that I asked myself when I was getting kind of frustrated with these chapters was even if I'm frustrated, is there still something that I can pull from these chapters that is valuable and that's kind of the approach that I've had to take for a couple of other episodes in this year's podcast. So it was interesting too.

Read and reread and read again, these chapters to see, okay, even if I don't understand the story, even if I don't a hundred percent understand everything that's going on, I can still find something valuable here that I can take away from my scripture study. And so the truth is that sometimes that's what scripture study looks like. It's just finding those few things that we can take with us, even if we don't understand the whole story, the whole context, the whole narrative. 

Elise: [00:03:10] Absolutely and with that said some of the things we do want to spend our time focusing on today is taking a look at Jesus in the sacrament.

And also the women that show up in the act of the sacrament. We want to spend some time working through the Isaiah chapter that shows up in 3 Nephi chapter 22, that talks about the desolate woman. And then we'll wrap up the episode by focusing on the values of mercy and justice.

So if we start in chapter 20 verses three through seven, this is where Jesus practices and passes the sacrament and kind of pulls bread and water out of nowhere. It's this miracle and the verses say, “And it came to pass that he break bread again and blessed it and gave to the disciples to eat. And when he had given unto the multitude, he also gave them wine to drink. Now there had been no bread, neither wine brought by the disciples, neither by the multitude, but he truly gave unto them bread to eat and also wine to drink.”

And in the last episode that we did with Beyond the Block, we talked about the Syrophoenician woman and how she might show up in the practice of the sacrament. And in this week's chapters, I thought we could take a look at the way that the unnamed woman from Bethany shows up in the act of the sacrament.
This is the woman who she brings an alabaster jar of expensive ointment, like pure spikenard, and she breaks the jar and she pours out the ointment on Jesus's head. And I think one thing that we can link together here is the act of breaking and pouring that we see Jesus doing not only in this chapter about the sacrament, but also during the chapters that talk about the last supper. There's talk of Jesus, breaking the bread and pouring out his blood unto all of the people. 

And this unnamed woman, she breaks the jar and pours out the ointment all over Jesus. And there's a book chapter that's titled “Women, Eucharist, and Good News to All Creation in Mark” by Elizabeth Dowling and Veronica Lawson. And they've helped me see that the sacramental character of Jesus’ actions with the bread and the wine allows us to make this connection of the sacramental character of the unnamed woman's actions with her alabaster jar.

And because this woman's story is positioned between other stories about betrayal and denial, her story is one of hope and healing that's inserted into this mixture of violence and really a lot of disappointment. And in that same way, I think we can allow ourselves to invite her into the sacramental nature of what's going on in 3 Nephi chapter 20.

And I think both she and Jesus with the Institute of the sacrament, hold themselves up as a nourishing healing presence for everyone who partakes because everyone is welcome to partake. What do you think of this? Seeing this unnamed woman of Bethany in the sacrament. 

Channing: [00:06:23] I think it's really beautiful to see the different ways that we've been able to weave women into the ritual of the sacrament.

Last time with Beyond the Block, we talked about compassion and the word womb, and we talked about the Syrophoenician woman. And so the fact that we can pull yet another woman from the new Testament is incredibly exciting to me. The other image that came to my mind when you were telling this story of the woman with the alabaster jar was the oil, the oil that she used to anoint Jesus.

And I can't help, but think of, I don't even remember the reference, so we'll have to look it up later. But when I don't remember if Jesus said it, or God said it, it doesn't matter cause they're one in the same, but they talk about pouring oil into our wounds.

And that imagery for me has always been so beautiful. Just this idea of healing by pouring into, by blessing the places in us that have been most hurt and that need the most connection and the most attention. It's just, it's very striking to me. So just this. This idea of oil and pouring and women and Jesus, all of it together it's a lot to take in, but at the same time, that's what the sacraments all about.

It's about pouring blessings into the places in us that most need that attention. If that's not what repentance and atonement is all about, then I don't know what is. It's this attention and this loving kindness that God is paying to our wounds and to the places in us that we're afraid to show that we're afraid to be healed because it might hurt at first.

So just weaving these stories and images in together, I think makes a really beautiful tapestry of what the sacrament is and could be. 

Elise: [00:08:31] That was so beautiful. And the image that you brought up about the benefits of pouring this kind of oil or healing bomb into the places that have been the most hurt that reminds me of the Isaiah chapter that shows up in 3 Nephi chapter 22, this chapter is all about, I think that this chapter is all about love and compassion for the very thing that you just talked about. For our wounds, our afflictions, the places of ourselves that have been left discarded and hollowed out.

In chapter 22, both Jesus and Isaiah they're using, they're calling upon the image of this kind of desolate woman in the first few verses. It starts, “Sing! Oh, barren thou that didst not bear break forth into singing and cry aloud that thou didst not travail with child for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife sayeth the Lord.”

And so we get this image coming through of a woman who is barren, like she's not able to have children and she's desolate and kind of pushed aside and forgotten. We might see her on the margins, but one thing's for sure. The Lord sees her here. There's a Mormon woman project article by Rosemary Demos and she writes that, “This Psalm of praise directed to a woman in distress she's abandoned alone and childless, and the Lord comforts her and promises her an abundant family life, which is the fulfillment of all of her desires. Her family, which is also the family of the Lord can now be established with the bonds of love and peace that continue forever.

Isaiah's deepest symbol of joy and abundance is motherhood, but this is a role that comes with pain, as well as joy.” And elsewhere, I think we can hear echoes of other women in the scriptures like Sarah and Hannah, these women who long for posterity and abundance in a very particularly mother-type way and the Lord meets them and the Lord sees them.

And the Lord in this chapter of Isaiah, the Lord takes on the role of not just Redeemer, but also husband who can bless our desolate barren woman-ness and turn that into abundance and joy though, there has been pain along the way. But I wanted to ask, does this image, like, does it resonate with you, the Lord as her husband and us as this desolate, barren woman?

Or, or like, if we were in this metaphor, who or what would you choose to be and who, or what would you choose the Lord to be to you or with you? 

Channing: [00:11:23] I think I have a couple of different answers because my, my initial reaction came in two waves. The first wave was like, whatever, God, I don't need a man. Like, uh, that quote, a woman needs a man, like a fish needs a bicycle.

But then, but then the second one wave that came immediately after that was like, Oh, but I really do want to be loved in that way. And so it was kind of just like an immediate, like one, two punch and I'm kind of like, oh, I don't know what to make of this. 

So we're going to do both ways. So does this image resonate with me as the Lord, as a husband figure? I think in some way, I think, in the first way I would want to answer and say no in that I don't necessarily it's that whole idea of complementary feminism. We haven't really broken this down totally yet Elise so maybe you could help me out here, but complementary feminism is this idea that man and woman are incomplete without each other.

That, um, they're two halves of the same whole, um, well, not of the same whole, but two halves. And together they make a hole and then they can't be complete without each other. And Elise and I personally kind of pushed back on this style of feminism because I find the most value in my womanhood by being a whole person all by myself first. If I can give my wholeness in a relationship to someone else, my relationship is only that much better for it versus needing to be in a relationship with someone else so that they can complete those empty parts of me. And so, in a complementary feminism way, I do kind of push back on this and say like, God, I just want you to love me for all that I am even in my bareness and I don't want to need to be fixed in order to like, be meaningful and loved and whole.

So that's answer A and answer B is if I dig a little bit beneath the surface of that, like, I don't need a man. Not saying that that's bad, like neither one of these is better or worse than the other. But if I dig a little bit deeper into my human need as human in relationship with the divine, but also as like my own very personal need as a woman, maybe not need yes, need, need as a woman to be loved by a man. Because for me that means joy.

To have an image of a God that's willing to step into that role that has otherwise been unfilled up until this point would mean everything to me. If I wasn't currently married and I didn't have children and that was something that my heart longed for to know that God would meet me in that need would be the whole world.

It would change everything. And also from a historical perspective, knowing that to be husbands lists and childless in society for women basically meant being on the margins with no one to provide for you, you were in danger. Um, you would probably die, like to know that, uh, God was going to provide for me in that way would literally save my life.

And so. It's kind of a multifaceted question. I'm sorry. It's not just like easy and simple. So in some ways I want God to be that for me. And in some ways I don't, and that's the complexity of my answer. 

Elise: [00:15:30] No, there is nothing to apologize for. I think that you really like teased that out nicely. And I think a generous reading that we could offer to this woman that in a way that honors both her and the Lord is kind of what you were hinting at in your second, in like part B of your answer, that she knows she doesn't need to be fixed. She knows this is a reality for her and yet she longs for a God that will meet her there, but not just leave her there, not just like see her in her desolate and barrenness and say like, okay, this is the way that it is and I'm still going to love you.

But that actively uses the power and the privilege that the Lord has to listen to her needs and do the things that she wants. And I would like to think that she's the one that says, like, this is how I'm experiencing this lack of child and this marginalization. And in order to have my needs met, like I want to be participating in society and participating in a loving relationship in a way that looks like this specific thing with you, Lord.

Channing: [00:16:41] Same question to you. I am curious. Does the image resonate with you?

Elise: [00:16:46] I don't think, I think that the image is powerful. And I love and appreciate it for what it is and the way that it's working in the text. But for me, I don't identify with this like longing, I don't have kids. And so this idea of like being barren or like longing for a motherhood role, doesn't stick out to me. Yeah. So I think if this, if I were writing the scriptures and I was writing myself in, I think an image that I might use might be me as this kind of wandering stranger and who might be lost in the wilderness or the desert and feeling incredibly discouraged and lonely and forgotten. And then I think the image of the Lord might be two things.

The first thing I thought of is the story in Genesis about Abraham and Sarah. When they, in this radical act of hospitality, they open up their house to these same thing, like wandering strangers who have just showed up at their tent door and they offer them water and food. So I think that would be a really beautiful way that the Lord would show up for me.

Or I guess there's two other things or like an Exodus, like a pillar of fire to guide me through the wilderness or through the desert, but in a way that constantly reminds me that God is there, or finally like someone to sojourn with like someone to share in the journey and we can take care of each other in that way.

Channing: [00:18:18] Those are all really beautiful. And I love that in its own way. It's a complexity too. Like sometimes the scriptures don't always have imagery that resonates with us personally, but we can see the value in it. And yet in our own way, know that there are other images in the scriptures that speak to our personal relationship with God in a way that feels a lot more fulfilling and validating. Thank you for sharing that. 

Elise: [00:18:49] Thank you. Thank you for participating in it. And before we leave from this Isaiah chapter, I just want to call our attention to chapter 22, verses 14 and 17, because here the Lord leaves us and this woman with a promise of peace and love and safety.

The Lord says “Thou shall be far from oppression for thou shall not fear. And from terror for it shall not come near thee.” Verse 17 says, “no weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper. You will condemn any judgements that are thrown against you.” And I think here we have this kind of pinnacle moment.
Not, not only does the Lord show up in the loving way that this woman wants, but the Lord promises to use God's power and privilege to center her, to keep her safe from oppression to make sure she has all of her needs and her resources met. To make sure that she'll prosper and be fertile with creativity and abundance.

And I just really appreciate that this unexpected chapter shows up in 3 Nephi because as we slow down, there's so much beauty that can come from it. 

Channing: [00:20:02] Following that really beautiful interpretation and reading of that Isaiah chapter, we wanted to finish up with a few thoughts about the final chapter in this week's reading chapter 26, and this is a relatively short chapter.

This is where Jesus comes and has the sacrament again and keeps coming back for lots of visits to teach the people and teach the children and teach the disciples and basically just hang out. Like he's just there. And I think it's great because part of me, before I had read the chapter, I was kind of like, man, Jesus, didn't really get to hang out with these people as much as he did with the people in Jerusalem, but they don't really put a timeline on chapter 26. So who knows how often he came to visit? I hope it was a lot.

One of the verses that stuck out to me the most in this chapter was verses four through five. And they say, “All people shall stand before God to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil. If they be good to the resurrection of everlasting life, and if they be evil to the resurrection of damnation. Being on a parallel, the one on the one hand and the other on the other hand, according to the mercy and the justice and the holiness, which is in Christ, who was before the world began.”

So that's a big verse. So we're going to break it down into two sections. The first section that I found super fascinating about this verse was this idea of evil and good being parallels. But they're also connected because here Christ uses the example of evil being on one hand and righteousness being on the other hand.
But hands are not just like ghost hands waving around in space. They are connected to a body and just like hands are connected to a body, opposites are also connected to each other, through their opposition. And so as I think of this opposition meeting in the body, I'm Al I've always been very fascinated with meeting places.

Like, for example, the idea of on a map, at what point does the Atlantic ocean turn into the Indian ocean? Like I'm not, I'm not totally sure. I don't think anyone is totally sure. The meeting place is very blurred. And so if I think about evil being one side of the body and righteousness being the other side of the body, like at what point does one turn into the other? This is like kind of getting philosophical, but like this whole idea that they are connected and that at the meeting place, sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the two and I love it. I find it fascinating. And I think there's a little bit of wisdom there and I don't know what the meaning is, Elise, but I just wanted to point it out. 

Elise: [00:23:12] I don't know. No. The first thing that I'm thinking of, it's interesting that you described this continuum like that you didn't say in the meeting point of the two is a neutral space. You didn't use that language. And I think that's striking because particularly in today's society there's no such thing as neutral because we live in a society that is shaped by harmful systems. And so saying I'm neither going to be good, nor bad, I'm just going to, to be silent or be neutral. The only thing that evil needs to continue is that ordinary people do nothing, that ordinary people just stay neutral.

And so I don't know what shows up at the meeting point. I don't know if there is a meeting point, but I don't think it's a neutral space. 

Channing: [00:24:06] I love that. And I think it's important, especially with election season coming up, that there is no such, I saw this quote earlier this week. There's no such thing as not being into politics.

It’s  just that the current politics are serving you so you don't feel a need to be involved and I think that that's really striking here. So whatever interpretation our listeners would like to take from this. Great. I don't have one. All I have for you is a beautiful, poetic idea that is half formed in my brain, but it doesn't mean it's any less than valuable because sometimes it's in those gray areas, it's in those meeting places that we can kind of tease out the nuance a little bit of what the scripture means. So I encourage you to sit with that and think about it more this week. And definitely check in with me on Instagram, because I would love to hear your ideas.

Secondly, the other part of this first that I wanted to talk about, which fascinatingly enough has a lot to do with continuums and meaning places also is the way that the words, mercy, justice, and holiness are connected. The verse says “the people will be judged for their works good or evil, according to the mercy, the justice and the holiness, which is in Christ.”

And I think often we think of mercy and justice on opposite sides of a spectrum. Like mercy is on one side and justice is on the other side. But lately, as in the last couple of years, I've been thinking that these two forces are more closely intertwined than that. And I don't necessarily think that one is more holy than the other.

I think actually that mercy relies on justice and that justice relies on mercy and that there can't be one without the other. And at least correct me if I'm wrong, but I think liberation theology teaches that that mercy sometimes does need to look like justice, especially for the oppressed, because there can be no healing and there can be no liberation without an answering for all of the pain and suffering, that's been afflicted. And I love that these two forces of mercy and justice are contained within that word, holiness, that justice is holy and that mercy is holy and one is not over the other. They're just entwined in any eternal hug. That just becomes one. Like, I'm just so fascinated by that. 

Elise: [00:27:00] I'm glad that you brought this up, particularly because I think in past episodes, we might have thought that justice and mercy are on opposite ends of each other or we hink that like to be merciful that means we have to be nice and therefore not full of justice as if justice is only ever about anger and punishment.

But I think the word holiness, like you said, reframes it and kind of encapsulates both of these things, both justice and mercy as something that not only we are called to do because we are disciples of Christ, but these are things that are of Christ. This is what makes Jesus, Jesus, and God, God.

The verse you're describing also reminds me of a verse that shows up a bit later in chapter 26 in verse 19. And I think it paints a really beautiful picture of the ways that justice, mercy and holiness show up in the everyday nature of our lives. Because what happens is that in this community, in verse 19, the people minister to one another, they share all things in common. Everyone deals justly with one another.

And we have this, I don't know, I have a sense of everyone's needs are met. Everyone is both individual and communal and everyone has had a taste, a good taste of the justice and the mercy and the holiness and what that community might look like.

Channing: [00:28:33] To close out the episode. We wanted to talk about one final image that we come across in chapter 26.

This is in verse 13 and it says “The Lord truly did teach the people for the space of three days. And after that, he did show himself unto them oft and did break bread oft and bless it and give it unto them.” I mentioned earlier that I hoped Jesus came lots of times to spend time with these people. But this verse demonstrates that it happened more than once, he came unto them oft this wasn't a once or twice and then totally done.

Like he didn't just leave forever after that. This was, an again and again, and again, kind of thing. And I think that this is the lesson that I want to carry out from these chapters, this idea of Jesus coming to us again and again, to break bread, to teach us to be with us. And as I was thinking about this verse, I wondered, does Jesus visit us still?

Could he? What would that look like? I'm not totally sure, but I'm excited about the implications and I hope that Jesus is still coming and we just don't know that it's Jesus, like this idea excites me endlessly, like who knows actually it's exciting and terrifying because like, who knows if Jesus is the homeless man on the corner of the street that I definitely ignored the other day passing by.

Like who knows who Jesus is so exciting and terrifying because it's to our benefit or to our detriment. So I don't know. I have a very, I almost feel like I need to apologize for the way that I'm like showing up with the text this week, but I just, I'm excited by the nuance and the poeticism and the verbiage and just the way that Jesus is almost elusive in this chapter, in all of these chapters. That's how it's felt to me this week as we've been reading, like I can't quite find Jesus, even though this is 3 Nephi and he's here. Right? And so that's what I'm walking away with this week is the elusivity of Jesus and what that means for my faith and what that means for me, reading the scriptures in the future.

And maybe that's a gift. Like I am convinced that that's a gift in and of itself. I'm just not sure what to do with it yet. 

Elise: [00:31:18] That's really good that, and I wonder too, if this verse can, if Jesus here can be both elusive and ever-present? I'm thinking of Matthew 25, 35, that when the disciples are like, Lord, when did we see you? We didn't, we never saw you naked. We never saw you in prison. And Jesus is like, well, you didn't see me because you couldn't imagine it. You thought I was too far from you. You thought I was only in heaven and not around you. And if we're the disciples in that situation, we can get stuck in the heavenly elusiveness of Jesus and forget the ways that Jesus has both concrete and ever-present I think.

Channing: [00:32:03] Yeah, that's really beautiful.

Elise: [00:32:06] So look at that out of six chapters that at the beginning of the week, we thought I have no idea what is going on. I don't know about you, but I feel like this was a super rich episode, full of fresh insights that we kind of work through together. And I think the shows you need friends to read the scriptures with, you need people to talk to about the scriptures, because sometimes we can get so caught in our own heads and our own understanding of who we think God is and how we think God should show up for us that we can't see all of the other ways that God is knocking at the door, without our friends.

Channing: [00:32:44] Yeah, I totally agree. In fact, we had someone leave us a review on iTunes a couple of weeks ago that, um, they didn't enjoy the podcast, unfortunately, but that's okay. But one of the things that they said was that it's like, Oh, it's just two friends talking to each other about the scriptures. They did get that right!

Like literally exactly what this is. Two friends talking to each other about the scriptures. And that's the whole reason we started this podcast because we wanted to show our listeners what it means to work through the scriptures in real time. And sometimes we're able to come to this episode, totally prepared with notes written now know exactly what we want to talk about. We might be feeling especially passionate or especially touched by what happened in the texts that week. But other times, like this week, we show up with like a half-baked outline and a prayer that we could offer you something of value.

And that's exactly what happened. It's happened multiple times recording this podcast. And I truly think like we've talked about this outside of when we record, like that's the magic of coming together to talk about the scriptures. That's the magic of having someone to discuss these really nuanced, spiritual ideas with, and so if you think this podcast is just a bunch of girls talking about their scriptures, that's exactly what it is. And we encourage you to do the same. 

Elise: [00:34:15] Exactly. Yes. I was going to say the same thing and remember the invitation that like we're saving seat on the soft chairs. That's true. You don't know who to talk about the scriptures with, or don't know how to talk about your faith transition or how to find language for your feminist awakening, like, welcome. There is a soft seat right next to us here. 

Channing: [00:34:35] And we'd love to hear from you because in community that's what it's all about. And that's where we're at. Join us for every episode. Next episode. Thanks for joining us for this episode. We can't wait to hear from you and can’t wait to talk to you again next week. We love you so much. Bye.

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