studies

Spiritual Virginity, part I

I’d spent most of my adult life single, an anomaly to my semi-rural Baptist church. As I got older, the offers to set me up grew more frequent and I was more stubborn in my refusals. Maybe I just won’t get married, I thought. I’d gotten used to the single life, which was fine, even if it felt empty sometimes. But, I’d garnered a fairly one-dimensional view of marriage from my Evangelical perspective, which definitely wasn’t for me—a stay-at-home wife, a quaint life of child-rearing and quilting parties. A life where, when I once expressed an uncertainty at bearing children, the response was simply, “God says ‘be fruitful and multiply.’” Over time, I believed my differing opinion didn’t matter. My fate as a woman was already sealed.

This is unsurprising, given St. Paul’s words of wisdom to the Ephesians (5:22): “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord,” and (v. 27) “present [her] without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Why would I depend on a man for my spiritual purity? I can do that myself.

When I was discerning Catholicism, I vividly remember the moment I learned I didn’t have to be submissive to mere mortals. I was sitting in a pub, listening to a loud, overweight woman talk about her love for Jesus. She was a normal person, living a non-cloistered life, and was a consecrated single. What is that? I marveled. I researched as soon as I got home.

I’d started to understand more about Jesus’s love in those few months of discernment than I had in the decades prior, so consecration seemed a pretty nice gig—dedication not to a human being, but to the ever-present, unchanging Creator of everything. I was proud of the silently-observant consecrated, making a bold decision to love Christ as other women loved husbands. This seemed the better (and more productive) option than quilting parties, but somethig felt off for me. It was ideal in that moment at the pub, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt like taking the easy way out. What if this wasn’t God’s plan for me? There isn’t exactly a large pool of eligible bachelors in their mid-thirties, but what if I did meet an actual nice guy one day?

That nagging “be subject to your husbands” mindset was still lingering. But if the consecrated life is a marriage to the Spirit, shouldn’t human marriage be equally holy? Over time, I learned there are a lot of literal interpretations of these verses without the spiritual back-up. Ladies are taught to remain obedient and silent, and us independent women reject St. Paul’s seemingly archaic rules. Like, he was a single guy, so what does he know about marriage? Or, it was just the culture at the time. Or, he’s a misogynist so nothing he says can be true, anyway.

But I went back to read the rest of Ephesians 5, which isn’t exactly secretive about the rest of St. Paul’s advice (v. 25): “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Emphasis mine.) To understand human relationships, we have to understand… Jesus Christ. If I were to proofread St. Paul’s letters, I would’ve put this part first. Because without this spiritual context—Jesus—the rest doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

So I began to dig into that, too. And what I learned about Jesus’s love for the the Church, and His people, will take up an entire blog post of its own.