One of my favorite movies is a British flick called Shirley Valentine. The story follows a middle-aged British housewife whose life has veered far from what she hoped as a girl. Shirley Valentine’s kids have grown and moved away. Her husband works long hours, and expects steak every Thursday night. Shirley feels she’s missing out on life. She’s desperate for change, but unsure what to do about it.
One day, a neighbor asks her to dog-sit. Ironically, the neighbor, a vegan, feeds her bloodhound a strict muesli diet. While caring for the animal, Shirley protests: “Ah, it’s not natural is it?! I mean if God had wanted to create a vegetarian dog, he wouldn’t have made you a bloodhound would he? He’d have made you a yogurt hound, or a veggie burger hound. You’re a bloodhound. You need meat!” Shirley pulls Thursday’s dinner from her grocery sack, chops the steak, and feeds it to the animal.
Shirley identifies with the dog because of her own disappointments. While cooking chips and egg for Thursday night’s dinner–an act of culinary protest–she begins a conversation with the wall. She describes excitement that she once felt as a schoolgirl anticipating the future. She recalls newlywed bliss when she and Joe moved into their first apartment, how they frolicked, and raised a family before–somewhere along the way–a fire went out. “What happened to Shirley Valentine,” she asks the plaster. “What I can’t remember is the day, or the week, or the month, or when it happened, when Shirley Valentine disappeared, and became just another name on the missing person’s list.
Desperate, Shirley dreams of running away somewhere she can sit at a quaint table on a sandy shore. Surely life would improve while sipping wine pressed from local grapes. She dreams of being herself again; more than anything, she wants to be alive again.Serendipitously, Shirley’s close friend wins a trip for two to Greece. Shirley jumps at the chance to escape her life that doesn’t feel like a life! She packs a suitcase, and jumps on a plane. Sun, sand, and enticing smells embrace Shirley in Greece. One evening, she happens upon a charming taverna, and sits at a table beside the sea. Shirley sips a glass of local wine, and relishes the Mediterranean breeze. Waves move in and out under a spectacular orange sky. But as the moon rises, and darkness falls, something is terribly wrong–Shirley feels worse than ever in her life!
“I’ve lived such a little life,” she tells herself, “and even that will be over pretty soon. I’ve allowed myself to lead this little life when inside me there was so much more. And it’s all gone unused. And now it never will be. Why do we get all this life if we don’t ever use it? Why do we get all these feelings and dreams and hopes if we don’t ever use them? That’s why Shirley Valentine disappeared. She got lost in all this unused life.”
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I like imagining what would happen if Jesus stepped across the shadowy sand, pulled up a chair, and sipped a glass of wine with Shirley. Under the blinking stars, I imagine him telling her the story of how God made the cosmos and light and lapping waters. Sipping the wine, I imagine him commenting how God intended everything to be wonderful although the world– as she knows it–is far from wonderful.
I imagine him describing how amazing it was when God spoke, and everything unfolded from nothing–the heavens, earth, light, sky, waters, vegetation, sun, moon, stars, birds, and every kind of animal. “It is good. It is good. It is good!”
Looking into her eyes, I imagine him explaining her ancestry:
“God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:26-27 NRSV)
I imagine Jesus pointing out that something wasn’t good prior to God making the first woman. The problem didn’t revolve around man’s need but God’s purpose–completing the masterpiece. It wasn’t good the man was alone. Without a partner, he couldn’t reflect God’s relational being–Creator, Word, Spirit–communing as One. God didn’t rest until humanity became a community, and that required male and female counterparts. Shirley’s identity, as a woman, is rooted in this reality.
As the tide moves, I imagine Jesus telling her that she has been set apart to reflect God in that divine community. She is actually an “image” like a lovely carving in clay or wood or marble. God made her wonderful, amazing, talented, incredible, and smart among other facets of her unique gifting and personality. That is the truth of her identity apart from anything that has happened, even life veering far from what she hoped as a girl.
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Studying creation has challenged me toward deeper understanding of what it means for us (men and women) to reflect God. Imagine looking into a mirror– the image reflects you without being a replica of you. None of us are God, yet we are endowed with dignity as we reflect God. And, nothing that happens can separate us from the love that lifts us with divine goodness in and through the worst imaginable. Not even infidelity, the death of a marriage, the loss of cherished hopes, or the passing of loved ones can stop the fruits of that goodness from springing out of ashes. That’s what I’ve come to see about the things I fear most because that’s what I’ve come to see about God.
On the other side of derailed plans, and squashed hopes, creation offers bigger possibilties. But it takes stepping outside our own perspectives to reimagine the future. In the big picture, before any of us ever conceived a single plan, God had bigger ideas. We see evidence of it in God’s instructions for the first man and woman to guard, watch over, preserve and care for creation, including each other. Losses always hurt, but I’m learning that it’s possible for them to equip us with greater capacity for empathy and ability to care for others. Jesus’ empathy and care for us makes that possible. And there is deep satisfaction in the discovery that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8: 38-39).
The creation story offers other encouragement in that God has uniquely endowed us as women to bolster community. The meaning of the original word for “helper/ or help” (ezer) unveils something remarkable. The Hebrew Old Testament actually uses the word 21 times, and 19 of those times, the word “helper” refers to God as “rescuer.” When in dire straits, the Israelites called upon God with this word.
Psalm 121: 1-2 provides a great example: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help (ezer) come? My help (ezer) comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” We–as women–have unique capacity to reflect God’s power and strength. In the midst of all circumstances, you and I are made to bear the power and strength of God!
Genesis and Jesus offer hope to Shirley Valentine, and each of us, struggling with life not going well. God has designed you and me with amazing purpose—to reflect God’s image–in the midst of all that happens. As women, we are endowed with a unique ability to bear God’s power and strength for building up our families, friendships, communities, and the world at large. As we live and move and have our being in Him, we will discover our purpose–guarding, watching over, preserving and caring for the world; and that glorifies God. Nothing that happens can steal the dignity of a life firmly rooted in Jesus!
1, 2, 3: Shirley Valentine, dir. by Lewis Gilbert (1989; Paramount, 2007 video).
Amy offered this teaching at the LCC Women’s brunch, October 2013, Tarpon Springs, FL.
Copyright © 2014, Amy R. Buckley.