Liturgy of the Fingernails
I awoke to a shock. I often wake to shocks—my dreams are full of fear and chasing and my first thoughts of the morning are similarly painful, usually a sudden remembering that I have a paper due, that I didn't remember to call someone, that I was supposed to be somewhere early in the morning. Even the more pleasant remembering is sudden and somewhat shocking to me, that I am married, that I own this beautiful house, that I am a pastor—and wait, do I have to preach today? Have I written a sermon?
Thus my mornings generally start with a shock. This morning’s shock was quite different as I raised my hand to adjust the covers and saw bright red—no I’m pretty sure it is coral shrimp—on my normally naked fingernails. My slow morning mind struggled to bring back what has happened.
First I remembered the painting time—the giggling and yet focused energy as each of us slowly realized that the little brush was not going to do what we asked of it. I had red streaks on both sides of my fingers, and when I touched things it spread. Our little gang passed around a cue tip to remove the excess strokes, when what I really needed was a sponge. In bed I look more closely at my thumbs where the polish goes from cuticle to cuticle, and up over and onto the finger, and my pointer where I seem to have forgotten the right half of the nail. The lumps on several fingers, the chip already started on one.
This is not a skill I have developed over time, this painting of one’s own appendages. This is not a skill I want to develop. But it is fun for a small group of women to have a project we do together, marking ourselves as a team. Marking ourselves because….the morning haze is starting to lift and I remember the story that started this pre-ritual ritual.
The stories started with the evaluations we have received about our clothes, our hose, our jewelry, the evaluations of our choices for dress. One of us remembered a liturgics class and an off-hand comment that one of them, was it the professor? One of them would refuse communion hands with inappropriate nail polish. Although I wanted to care for this man's suffering—really, he would deny himself the central element of his faith with such pettiness? How painful his life of faith must be.
But of course we are group of women, and we know that this was not a lecture about his concern for the recipients of the sacrament. His intent was not to be sure that that the full diversity of people experience the fullness of eating together with Jesus.
We know that he would not make the same comment about a man who has an odd ring, or perhaps gnarled fingers, or a dusky voice, or doesn’t hold his hands precisely in the right way, or breaks the bread awkwardly. This was not in fact, about the sacrament, and the liturgical ways of executing the sacrament, at all.
This was about women’s hands, with women’s markings, and the fact that men have used naked fingers for centuries, and so then, why should a woman’s fingers not be naked as well? As if he would also say that no one should wear socks, or ties, or for that matter pants, because our savior himself never wore such things.
There are many ways to react to oppression, even those little tiny oppressions, the micro-aggressions, as we call them today. We can blog and rant and complain to our friends, we can, and we do, ignore them, hide them away, we can, and we do, often, make light of them.
And sometimes we bring them to the light with a group of friends, colleagues, sisters, using laughter, and nail polish, and cue tips to make the point that these hands are qualified to run liturgy, to hold sacrament, these hands can connect us to one another, and these hands connect us to God in the world. Ugly nail polish cannot stop God’s powerful communion.
What a shock.
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For my organized thoughts, see my book Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Developing Relational Food Ministries. In this spot are thoughts that appear for a moment--about food programs, mission, church, building community, writing, and whatever else pops into my head.