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A Wait-Until-The-Alter Woman

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“You’re one of those wait-until-the-alter women?”
I spun around in the middle of the lobby, the brass name-plates on the doors flashing and my shoes making the wet green tile squeal as I turned. The sentence had been shouted down the hall, and I brought my eyes toward the speaker. I wasn’t sure that she was even speaking to me, and, on the occasion that she was, I had no idea what had spurned an outburst like this one.
Hoisting my books higher in my arms, I looked past the other students casually talking. Some of them leaned against the wall here and there, bracing their armload of books on one knee while they chatted. Others, like myself, stood in the center, bewildered and confused.
The flow of traffic slowly resumed and a few last minute dashes were made into the classrooms as I once again moved down the hallway, that phrase sliding around in my mind like the books that were trying to escape my grasp.
Wait-until-the-alter woman?
It had almost sounded mocking to my ears. In a secular setting, mockery was more or less commonplace toward standards, but here, in a Christian school, I thought . . . I had hoped that the students would be a little less antagonistic to the “bygone” and “old-fashioned” ways of doing things. After all, Bible was Bible, was it not?
All day, I couldn’t get the shrill tones out of my mind.
A wait-until-the-alter woman.
I found myself muttering it under my breath as the day went on. Each time the bell rang— a terribly painful sound— the words would gently tap my mind again. Every word I heard, faint and drifting down the halls or across a classroom spoke of it to me, and I wondered, “What is a wait-until-the-alter woman?”
My room was dark and a single light was on as I slogged wearily up the stairs toward it as the day drew to a close, the words now a weary refrain in my mind. I still could not determine whether they were condemning or exhorting.
On my desk, among the other clutter that came with being in school, was my tattered, white Bible. Bookmarks galore speared from here and there in its pages, sermons and bulletins were stuffed in its front and back. I had always found answers there— that was why it was so worn. That was why it was so . . . available. Of course, I had an electronic Bible on my laptop, but the real ink, the real paper, and all my colorful underlinings couldn’t be replaced by a luminescent screen and digital letters.
I set down the bookbag that had been tearing at my shoulder and flipped open my Bible. It fell open to a page where a particularly insisting bookmark had been placed. It was in the tiny book of Jude, near to the end of the New Testament. My eye fell to something underlined heavily in black. It was verses 24 and 25. “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”
To present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.
It may as well have slapped me in the face. God wanted to be able to present me faultless. Not forgiven, though I certainly had been forgiven. And, what’s more, to present me faultless caused the One who died for me exceeding joy.
And what exactly was faultless? How did it apply to being a ‘wait-until-the-alter woman’?
I turned to first Corinthians chapter seven. I knew what I would find. Instead, my eyes caught on the last two verses of chapter six: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
The very next verse was the one that I’d always heard. “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”
Yes, I knew it. I knew it well. Through my teenage years, the question had been thrown around in teen group. What exactly was ‘touching’? It seemed we always argued over something when we didn’t want to accept it.
Touching was touching. In any way other than a brief handshake. Too strict? Perhaps. But that was what First Corinthians 7:1 said. There was no mystery in the Greek words there. Touch meant touch. End of story.
Some people struggle with this. Some rebel. Some don’t care what the Bible has to say and cast it all off entirely. Why? Because they don’t want to change themselves, they want the Bible to change itself and say what they want.
In the glare of the yellow bulb on my desk, the words of Jude came back to me.
. . . . Present you . . . blameless.
I smiled and gently shut my Bible. If that’s what a ‘Wait-until-the-alter woman’ was, I’d be happy.
I wanted to please God.
I wanted Him to use me.
And I wanted Him to be proud of me in a hay-wire world.
. . .to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. . .
Of course, it was always easier said than done.
But wasn’t everything?

~ Amanda B.

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