The Armies of Shelamen: Traces of Women in the Book of Mormon

A few years ago when I was an advisor in the Young Women’s, I tried whenever possible to include stories by and about women. In my search to uncover the hidden women in the scriptures, I came across Marjorie Meads Spencer’s “My Book of Mormon Sisters”[1] and was impressed at her comprehensive teasing out of the women—both named an unnamed—in the Book of Mormon. Yet, I felt the need to look beyond established lists and re-imagine our familiar stories populated with the women and girls we know are there. Why is this necessary? As Neylan McBaine, author of Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact explains,

We are currently in the process of digging ourselves out of a deep hole in the sheer volume of role models women today have to look to. Why are role models important? Because they act as a blue print upon which we can pattern our choices and life paths. As Marie Wilson of the White House Project said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”[2]

With this idea of re-imaging or recreating narratives that include women, it brought to mind a literary theory application from my university days. It has been a very long time since I studied Jacques Derrida, much less applied his method to any text, but there has been a particular concept of his that has always stuck with me. Derrida’s “presence absence” theory[3]—the idea that you cannot have a story about, say, men (presence) without evoking meaning through the absence of women. In a simplified manner, men bear the traces of women, as do women of men, as a sign of their absence. So in the case of the Book of Mormon, we can find women present in absence. Continue reading

The Invitation Game

As I walked the neighborhood delivering invites to our next church social, I fingered the roll of tape and stack of invitations in my pocket, and decided this time to knock. After a while, labored footsteps grew louder and finally, a heavy woman wearing pajamas answered the door. “Come in and stay a minute,” she said, already walking away from the door and directing me to the couch. If she saw the invitation in my hand, she didn’t say. I knew of this woman. She was one of the first to build a home in the neighborhood. She was a widow, and did not attend church anymore. I sat obediently as she told me about her new pacemaker, her swollen knees and ankles, and how, due to the inexperience of a student doctor, a pin was left in her foot during surgery that gives her pain with every step. I listened and asked questions as the sun lowered in the window behind me. I could feel my cellphone buzzing; I promised my daughter I would take her shopping. Continue reading

Gifts from Strangers

Over the past few weeks following Jane’s heart surgery, our family received many gifts: meals, kind words, help with children, and numerous crafts, toys, and cards that otherwise helped fill our stomachs, alleviate stress, and pass our time.

It is especially humbling and poignant to receive from those we don’t know well. A girl who played soccer for Ed made Jane a blanket to comfort her in the hospital. A couple at our church reached out to inquire how Jane was doing, as they had fasted for her. A neighbor whose children are grown asked if it would be alright if he brought Jane a doll. School friends visited in the hospital and at home, and those we know just as acquaintances brought cards and gifts. On top of this, my siblings and parents have revealed their generosity in thought and deed. Last week, we even received an anonymous gift to help with Christmas. Continue reading