“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Beautiful blue skies peek into the upstairs window where we, a handful of church children, listen to our teacher. We’re eager for the story to end as we’ve been promised time on the playground afterwards. I’m six years old and wearing an utterly floral purple and green dress. There’s a little white collar that I love right where my chest is. I have black strap shoes on my feet, but no stockings on my legs. I wish I could wear stockings, but Mommy says that those are for winter and it’s almost summer now.
Besides contemplating stockings, I am paying attention. The creation story is strangely intriguing with fantastic images of light and dark just suddenly being. Today the teacher talks with a picture book, but my mind creates even greater visions.
I shiver, thinking of Adam and Eve covering their naked bodies in cold, scratchy leaves. I’m suddenly very thankful for the flowery dress, even without stockings. That’s the one thing about the Genesis story that I never understood—why on earth was being naked a good thing? Not wearing clothes is just awkward when I’m by myself, let alone being outside and in God’s presence!
Of course God can and does see everything, but I try not to think about that at the exact moment that I’m changing from nightgown to church dress.
* * *
“Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
I round the rest of the stairs angrily, banging doors as I go. I lock myself in the bathroom where I confront my changing body in the full-length mirror.
Ugh. Why do you have to be like this? Idiot. A new voice creeps in, bold enough to come uninvited.
I feel sweaty and cold at the same time. Mom has just informed me that the new spaghetti strap shirt that we just bought is too revealing without another layer. I’m about to go to a birthday party and this was not what I wanted to wear. I don’t know why, but it makes me really upset that I have to change clothes. There is so much I don’t understand about myself at this strange age of twelve.
I wear something different to the party. I later learn that I can wear the skimpy shirt with a bathing suit of a similar colour, and it doesn’t look so very bad. But from then on my body is eternally changed. I’m never naked in public, but I feel how I imagine Adam and Eve felt after eating the apple. Constantly covering, hiding, veiling, enveloping the body I was given. Every piece of clothing is a leaf—uncomfortable, and not nearly big enough to conceal everything.
* * *
“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
At sixteen, I survey myself almost proudly in the full-length mirror. I’m wearing a dark blue crew neck shirt, which discretely hides everything I’m not supposed to show. Just in case that’s not enough, I have a tank top underneath. I’m wearing a pair of loose bootcut jeans, which I pride myself in. They’re not too tight, but small enough that I don’t feel completely out of style. I slip a long olive green cardigan over my shoulders. It’s not the best, but not the worst either.
At least you won’t be a stumbling block, the voice encourages, as I head out the door.
* * *
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.”
A sharp whistle rings overhead. I turn, absolutely startled, to see two young men in the playground, staring at me. When I keep walking, one of them throws his worn baseball cap in my direction.
“Hey, come over here!” he invites decisively, expecting me to submit.
I’m frightened like a mouse fleeing from a lion. My pace quickens, but I can’t run or else they’ll know I’m scared. I don’t look back. My body tenses, imagining these men at my heels and what they’ll do next.
You should have been helping your brothers-in-Christ, the voice whispers viciously.
Miraculously, I’m left alone, at least in body. This new experience haunts subsequent walks and clothing choices. What did I do to provoke their interest? I was wearing the same boot-cut jeans with a long winter coat over top.
Men have big imaginations that are hard to control, it pesters.
Could my very femaleness be the problem?
You have no idea what it’s like to be a man, it snickers.
* * *
“So God created human kind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
I’m in university now, and free enough to wear a v-neck. Sitting in class, I realize that this is the first time I’ve heard these words. I know that sounds impossible since I grew up with Genesis. But I never really heard this part, if you know what I mean. Being formed into equality in the image of God with my brothers in Christ was never as important enough as my skirt hem. We mock the oxymoronic phrase “modest is hottest,” but in many ways that irony was the truth for me and so many others.
I was never explicitly told that I was made in the image of God. Sure, it was a fact floating around. But I wish that instead of expounding Eve’s sin or the couple’s nakedness that someone had said: “But even despite all this, they were crafted in the image of perfection. We know how beloved they were because God did not remove that mark even when they sinned. And later, the body and blood of Christ became the true atonement for the shame of being human.”
The modesty game within our Christian purity culture is stands in contrast to true egalitarianism because men and women are neither equal nor beloved. As stumbling blocks, women are objectified. As uncontrollable beings, men are dishonestly depicted as monsters. Neither story is true for those crafted in the image of God.
As a still very young adult, the stories of my childhood and youth are precious to me. I was blessed with parents and leaders who did teach me well. I even had an egalitarian mother who taught me the truth of who I was. And yet a culture of lies, wrapped in a Christian disguise, is hard to extinguish. I believe that we could all do a better job of understanding ourselves and others for the beloved beings that we are. The mark of shame is our fault through sin, but our God-like countenance is something to be celebrated. Something that can overcome the ugliness and grit of humanity, if we only let it.
“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame.”
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Allen Sky.