how can a young woman keep her way pure?
by guarding it according to your word.
with my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
“purity of heart is to will one thing”
give me an undivided heart
I am angry that religious people took the word “purity” and made it about who I am not having sex with.
I visited youth groups as a teenager that talked about crushed roses, chewed bubble gum, tape that has lost stickiness – all metaphors for what a wrecked and battered human you are after you have sex. I heard dire warnings about hugging men, about how each time you “give your heart away” you have less of it to give to someone else (as if love is a finite resource that we have to hoard lest we run out of it!), about driving alone in cars with boys, about avoiding even the “appearance” of evil – evil, of course, being sex.
I read books that talked about how having sex before marriage was like taking a car for a test drive… and wrecking it, scraping the rims up, putting cigarette holes in the seats, dropping french fries under the seat. I was told my jeans were too tight, my shirt was too low, my nails were too red and provocative, my body was dangerous for me and for other people. I was told that men were the enemy, because they were so “different” from us and therefore dangerous with their untamed lust. I was told that women didn’t really want sex, so when I did, I got scared.
“Purity” has been a sexual concept in religious circles long before the modern fundamentalists got ahold of it. The Church has always been very obsessed with who is having sex with whom, and has been calling people “pure” based on how sexually active they are for almost as long. I don’t think that will change.
But the idea of purity – of clean water, of a fresh start, of newly painted crisp white walls, of freshly washed clothes hanging on the line and smelling like wind and spring and earth – it sings. That spiritual idea – I want it back.
Purity of heart, Kierkegaard said, is to will one thing.
Give me an undivided heart, the Psalmist whispers.
With my whole heart I seek you, our Lenten Psalm says today.
Can you imagine the deep rest that would come from willing one thing? From having a heart that is undivided? From waking up and wanting only good things, and seeking them?
Can you imagine the rest that would come if you followed the longing in your soul all the way back to its Divine Source?
Can you imagine the fractures in your soul mended, so that you feel whole, instead of splinters of yourself?
That is the kind of purity that I want this Lent.
I want it, but every time I hear someone say “purity,” including the first time I read this Psalm, I wince.
Fundamentalism is hard to recover from, because the words and phrases that it deals in were beautiful before they stole them. There is rich, fertile soil here in our faith that I am longing and aching to recover for wholeness and health and healing. Christianity is where my heart is. My heart is hidden in Christ.
But I keep bumping into words, like purity, that make me wince and ouch and struggle. I end up spending more time wrestling with old ideas than encountering new ones, fresh ones. I have to do battle with old ghosts instead of just breaking free into new worlds full of promise.
Damn, it’s tiring doing battle with these old ghosts! I’m over it! Y’all are dead, can you please stay in the ground?
Well, no, they won’t. They’ll keep coming up. I’ll keep doing battle. I’ll keep reading the Psalms, and bumping into phrases like “how does a young man keep his way pure?” and instead of thinking of Kierkegaard, and the purity of willing a single thing, and the longing of the mystics for union with the Divine that is unencumbered by our own trash and problems – I’ll remember being embarrassed for, and ultimately judging, a friend for wearing a shirt that was “too tight” and thinking about how sinful she was. I’ll remember being afraid of hugging boys. I’ll remember the shame of my first kiss.
I want an undivided heart, God, but my heart is constantly doing battle with the past, and I want to rest.
Give me an undivided heart, God, because I want to want You, but some days, it feels like the baggage is just too much to sort through. There are too many boxes in this old room and I don’t even know how to begin to unpack them. This spiritual space needs to be renovated, but there’s just too much to do and I don’t know where to start.
Give me an undivided heart, God, because I can’t give it to myself, but I want it so badly.
How can a young woman keep her way pure? How can a young woman keep her heart undivided? How can a young woman will one thing?
I don’t know, God, but You know.
I don’t know, Spirit, but You know.
I don’t know, Jesus, but I know that You came to get me, and You died to get me, and my fundamentalist baggage won’t stop You from coming for me.
With my divided heart and all.