Saturday, September 14, 2013

My Name is Hester Prynne

It has been years since I read The Scarlet Letter. I remember when I did read it, I absolutely loved it.

I fell in love with Hester Prynne, this woman who was strong, confident, and powerful. She was a woman who chose her own path and built a life for herself in spite of great opposition. Hester loved deeply and well.

When Hester is punished for the crime of adultery, she bears her punishment with quiet dignity and grace, even a touch of defiance in the elaborate way she fashions the scarlet "A" that will adorn her chest for the remainder of her life.

The women of the town, it seems, hate Hester, both for her striking beauty, the way she carries herself with dignity and grace, all things essentially feminine, and yet also her bold, daring, and powerful life. I believe they feel threatened by her dignity, grace, strength, confidence, power, and self-assurance. Hester is punished as much as for her beauty as for bearing a child of unknow paternity.

In spite of being the subject of scorn of the local townsfolk and having no husband to provide for her, Hester manages to make a life for herself and her illegitimate child by working as a seamstress. As is still common in our world today, we have a tendency to look down on those we consider our moral inferiors, and yet we continue to associate with them when they have something we want. In Hester's case, she was the most talented seamstress in the town.

Hester also continues to serve others with no thought of reward, ministering to the sick and poor. And though having been rejected by her Puritan fellows, Hester herself rejects the church, she raises her daughter to know the Christian faith.

Hester bears the assigned punishments and bears up under the scorn of her neighbors. However, the manner in which she does so makes clear that Hester has re-defined the scarlet letter rather than allowing the scarlet letter to define her.

I love Hester Prynne.

Which is why, when I learned this past week that one of my parishioner's refers to me as "that woman," my first thought was, "Oh, my goodness! I'm living in the 17th century and I'm Hester Prynne to her Puritanical beliefs. Best. Compliment. EVER!!!!!"

As was explained to me, this particular individual is gravely offended by the fact that I am 1) a woman, 2) "well endowed", and 3) looked at by the men in the church.

I am no Douglas Fir....
First, let me assure you, I am a woman. But seriously, my boobs are NOT that big, and I wear reasonably modest attire -- revealing no cleavage at church. Ever. And I spend an hour every Sunday morning standing on stage, before an entire congregation, behind a lectern or pulpit (depending on my role that week), leading the Call to Worship, praying, singing, and on occasion preaching. Where exactly do you think the men should be looking!?

I wish I had as much quiet grace and dignity as Hester. I wish I were as strong, confident, and powerful.

While I have no desire to commit adultery or bear a child out of wedlock, I do genuinely hope that one day, I might care about what others think of me as little as Hester cared what others thought of her. I hope one day to know that kind of dignity, grace, strength, confidence, power, and self-assurance.

In the meantime, I'm satisfied to know that someone sees these qualities in me. So much so that after 2 years, rather than calling me by my name, I am referred to simply as "that woman." (Incidentally, for the first year of my time in this church, before I lost 100 lbs, this woman called me by my name).

Some day, I really will be that woman. That woman of dignity, grace, strength, confidence, power, and self-assurance.

Some day, I really will be that woman. That awesomely bad-ass woman.