display | more...

Women of the Bible was advertised as a one-woman dramatic presentation of three characters, one from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament. Only 90 minutes, including the actor's personal testimony. Only 10 dollars and less than 10 minutes away, at my mother's church, and my mother wanted to go. It was dark, cold, and rainy. All I wanted was to stay in my pajamas reading, but would have felt like a jerk letting her go alone. She really wasn't up to driving yet, even during the day. So we went, early. My mother brings her infamous umbrella. Greeted by the head of The Rosary Society, of which my mother has been a life-long member; we're lead right up to the second row.

Who comes over but the lady whose daughter accused me of stealing her umbrella. Mortified, I said with a quick smile, "We were hoping you would be here. We brought the umbrella and it probably is your daughter's, because when we got home, the umbrella sleeve at my mother's house was blue, not purple. My mother is actually the umbrella thief here, but I'm sure it was accidental." The woman smiled and said, "I went out and bought my daughter a new one and she hates it. See you after the show!!"

And with that, the music started, lights dimmed and a seemingly old woman, half bent over and walking as if each step brought pain, slowly made her way, with a walking stick, from the back of the sanctuary to the altar, where there were minimal props. A few bowls and baskets, a pitcher, some rocks, rugs, pillows, a small crude table. The woman gesticulated with her hands before speaking, each finger looking crooked and gnarled with years of dry desert living. Her story was that of Sarah, earthy, complaining about her husband and a brief retelling of her attempt to provide an heir by letting him sleep with Hagar. She paused, "Do any of you do that? Encourage your husband to have a child with another woman? Oh, the stupidity of that idea!" Then she told of God's promise in her old age to bear a child, her loud laughter at God; as she leaned back laughing, she places her hand on her belly. Suddenly, she looks about seven or eight months pregnant. She didn't break character, but asked a few simple questions to the packed audience of men, women and teens. "Have you ever made a choice and regretted it? Have you ever been forced to leave a place where you're comfortable and walk into unknown and foreign places? Have you ever run ahead of God's promise for your life?"

With an ancient, weary sigh, she hobbled off the stage, her dusty old feet in sandals, her body wrapped in simple robes, dark scarves twisted around her head, hiding any hair. Silence, then music, then lights briefly up. People stirred, a few whispered comments, but the lights dimmed and in bustled Martha, much younger and jabbering about too much to do, a basket of grapes under one arm, bread in the other. She placed them on a rug, then turned and headed back to where she had come from, muttering, "not enough time, Jesus is coming..." She stops halfway through the audience and looks around at each face, "Well, it's not like we had cell phones...it was word of mouth...and when the rabbi comes to your house, it's a big deal."

She gets more grapes and walks quickly toward the altar, turns and holds up one grape in very graceful fingers, "Do you think the grapes will be sweet enough?" And she pops the one grape into her mouth, makes a sour face, and says, "Oh dear. I'd better get more wine, and serve it first. Wait, this is a Catholic church; there's probably plenty." She whispers, "Last week I was in a Baptist church, that line didn't go over so well." The audience is laughing but not for long. "So have you ever worried what you had wasn't good enough? Have you ever thought more work, or more money or more food or more of anything or everything would bring you peace?"

Back into the story, Martha continues, "And all the time my sister Mary is just sitting at the feet of Jesus, not helping at all. When I complained to Jesus, he said, "Martha, Martha, it's not that what you do isn't important. Sometimes you just need to put things in perspective." With that, she walked head bowed, reverently to the back, in silence.

Music, lights dimmed for longer, then from the darkness another woman in sandals, drab robes and subdued scarves cautiously walks through the audience, as if we are all judging her already. She doesn't speak with the wisdom and age of Sarah, nor the frenetic wit and comedy of Martha, but with deep shame, as if her sins are so terrible she deserves no name other than the Sinful Woman. Even her hands seem as if she wants to hide them. She barely moves, standing as far from the audience as possible, then tells of how if she could just touch the hem of his robe, she will be healed. The Sinful Woman becomes the forgiven woman and needs not ask any questions. Most audience members are wiping their eyes as she exits, lights not dimming, no music to distract us from the power of her furtive words.

Then up the aisle struts a lithe woman in a tasteful little black dress and black high heels, hair grey worn short, like Jamie Lee Curtis. Full house lights, she tells us her name is Anita Gutschick and straight off, her articulate hands fly to her head and she explains, " Just don't want you to worry. I'm not undergoing chemo; I have alopecia," as she twirls so we can see all sides, the circles of baldness. "It's a cyclical auto-immune disease and I'm going into the all-of-it-falling-out-in-chunks part of the cycle." She shrugs, "When it gets really awful, I just buzz it. I suppose I could use some scarves from this show, but I don't." She also explains why she deliberately does not name the Sinful Woman, because there are many in the Bible, and she likes the ambiguity.

If I wasn't already blown away by the show, this explanation about her hair hits even deeper, as one of my grandsons has this condition and I know the agony he went through in middle school, and still goes through in his first year of high school. Anita goes on to give us a short synopsis of how she came to be doing this full-time and loving it, as well as how it changed her life spiritually. She ends with, "If I've touched one heart tonight, it will have been worth the drive here on the New Jersey Turnpike in the rain."

There is a reception with incredibly decadent dessert and good strong Catholic coffee. By now, I'm so glad I chose to attend that I'm considering joining this church. Meanwhile, as I'm eating some lemony cheesecake triangle and licking my fingers, my mother slipped out to the car to get the stolen umbrella. When she returned it to the accuser, there was a look of skepticism and the reluctant owner pronounced she didn't think it had the right handle. I politely suggested she either keep it and be happy or leave it at the church in the umbrella stand. There were more calories in the form of cookies and chewy brownies to eat!

Before leaving, I had to speak to Anita and asked if anyone had told her she had touched their heart tonight. She paused quizzically, and said, "actually, no." Then I told her, "Well, just so you don't feel like the drive up the Turnpike in the rain, was in vain, you touched mine in many ways, but mostly because of how open you were about your alopecia." Then I told her why, and the glow of her rather beautiful face clouded over with concern. "Here's my e-mail, if he ever wants someone to write to about it." I almost hugged her but vaguely remembered her mentioning in the testimony that she was Episcopalian. I thanked her, then threw my Methodist caution to the winds, and hugged the heck out of her.