What makes a saintly woman?
The saintly woman three generations ago was defined by from what she abstained. Perhaps the saintly woman of today is defined by how she exhibits compassion. Those in their 90s today define godliness and being set apart as related to a moral goodness that is internal. Yet, when I look at the term godly or righteous, I see it in terms of external relationships, how one interacts with the stranger. When I put these two models side-by-side, I experience a bit of friction. I love the sinner by inviting him in, she loves the sinner by keeping him out. She is set apart by her personal lifestyle of abstaining. I am set apart by my personal lifestyle of engaging. We read the same passage of Scripture and hear different things. What did it mean when Jesus said to treat the obstinate as one would a pagan or tax collector? (Matthew 18:17) What did he mean when he invited us to live in the Spirit instead of by the flesh? Did the flesh refer to the law or to a form of immorality?
We as a church are definitely in a time of transition. I had thought it was a transition of models of existing in community, but I realize it is more of a transition of how we understand the gospel and the good news of Jesus Christ. The transition is both smooth and bumpy and I'm not sure we'll quite realize when we've come out on the other side, because at first glance I don't think we will look that different. But, oh, will our soul be different! We will be set apart in a new way--not by being separate from society, but by being different from society. I hope we will have finally found a balance in our cultural engagement in which our actions, words, and lifestyle truly reflect the kingdom of God.
At the same time, I fear that we might lose some of the positive wisdom of her generation. Wisdom of obedience in ways that protects and blesses our bodies and our health. Wisdom that enriches the health and sustenance of intimate familial relationships and society as a whole. Wisdom that recognizes the tie between behavior and latent consequences. Wisdom that recognizes there was a purpose for law and without law grace is under appreciated and abused.
We have so much to learn from each other. One generation and the next need to remain intertwined and in conversation. Perhaps God meant it to be that way - for each generation to have its own spiritual treasures so that we might learn from each other and grow to be more like Christ. Amen.