I remember being seven and attending Catholic Mass with my mother. I was all decked out in my patten leather shoes and ribbons in my hair. Too short to really see well over the pew, I stood on the kneeler, peering around and between big adult bodies to watch the priest at the alter. The alter boys were enthralling, dressed in robes, assisting the priest. They lit the candles, swung the incense, rung the bells, all veiled in a sense of importance and mystery. Holding a gold paten under the chins of the worshipers, they waited to catch the Body of Christ should it fall from the priests hands on the way to the communicants' lips. Could there be anything more mysterious and spiritual than catching the falling Body of God?
I wanted to be an alter boy. Some of these boys were not much older than me and I wanted my turn. So I asked my mother when I
got to be an alter boy. She turned to me, looking me straight in the
face and matter-of-factly and unapologetically informed me that "only
boys can do that."
That's a lot to digest as a young girl. I'd already been taught that
females were responsible for original sin. I'd have to go through life
bearing that guilt and shame. Now came the harsh realization that my
gender (something over which I had no power to change) would exclude me
from the mysteries of the Divine, and I was hungry to be a part of those
Last night I celebrated the Winter Solstice. I dressed in lovely
crimson robes. I lit candles, wafted incense, and rang bells. It was
my feminine hands that blessed the cakes and wine. My womanly form that
passed the chalice to the celebrants. I was not ashamed. Gender no
longer excludes me from the mysteries of the Divine. My body houses
those mysteries. Finally, I am healed.