The first time I visited my seminary library, which is esteemed as one of the best in the country, I was underwhelmed. The problem wasn’t with the books, the organization, the staff, or the systems. Quite simply, I felt totally out of place.
Nevermind that my undergraduate work was over a decade ago. Nevermind that I couldn’t remember how library cataloging worked. I found these deficits surmountable, with a bit of work.
In the reading room where I settled in for several hours of work, I joined six men. Five of them could have been my grandfather. None of them acknowledged my presence.
“Where are all the women?,” I thought. Just then I saw one! She settled in to a seat in the library lobby, and through the glass doors, I could see her pull out a Christian romance novel. She checked her watch. She was waiting for her husband to finish his work.
I took a deep breath and hunkered down with a dark blue commentary to begin my first exegetical paper. Several moments later, my focus wandered, and I saw for the first time the exquisite oil paintings lining the upper half of the wall in the reading room. There were double-digit men. There was a painting of one woman. I felt for her.
Sometimes, I feel I am her.
When I have that feeling, I’ve learned to venture into the stacks. It seems unlikely that I’d stumble on women there, but I do! Loads of women! Their wisdom fills the pages of many books. Their insights are profound.
Last night alone I was mentored by a nun who spoke to me for an hour about creativity. I followed that up with a session about becoming a stronger woman with a counselor whose knowledge astounded me. She showed me things I’d never considered before. She asked me some very hard questions. I’m still grappling with her this morning, and glad I do not have to pay by the hour for her guidance. I’m meeting these women on the printed page, where they bare their souls and their passion spills out through their words. They are profound and gifted. They are gutsy and inspiring.
The women of the library may be less celebrated (for now) than their male counterparts, but their work is speaking to me. These brave women are mentoring me, though they may never know it. Their written work is shaping my ministry.
Yes, I’ve found my place at seminary, kneeling between the towering stacks. Perhaps one day I’ll also be found in their midst, as a woman with something to say to future generations.
Christy Foldenauer is a speaker for retreats and services and a student at Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. Learn about her ministry and read her blog.