The following review of "Six Months in Wonderland" was commissioned by 40 Degrees South for the March 2011 issue of their magazine, and written by Gail Foster:
Hats were a necessary accessory for the well brought up young lady of the 1960s. They were worn, with 'pure white' gloves and socks, shiny, black patent leather shoes and a miniature version of a grown-up handbag, when "going to town" or "attending divine service".
"Nanna also occasionally took me to Sunday morning service or 'Holy Communion'. I added a saintly demeanour to my 'Sunday best' and tried not to fidget on the hard wooden pews. Though the sermon was deadly dull, the array of feathered and felted feminine millinery provided distraction, the strains of the organ, comfort and the stained glass windows, beams of optimism."
In my teenage years I ditched the "deadly dullness" of Anglicanism for the seemingly, less formal Brethren. Females, of any age did not enter "the sanctuary" without a "head covering".
"My friend, Cheryl encouraged me to attend the Thursday evening prayer meeting. This was for the seriously spiritual. The assemblage was 'led' by a brother from the front. Women were to be suitably hatted. Endeavouring a deep, introspective connection to the divine while giving diligent regard to brotherly supplicants and decorous comportment were the intercessory essentials.
'Let us all pray', said the brother.
I offered my heartfelt and novice petition. Cheryl giggled.
'Women don't pray!' she enlightened me after the meeting.
Subsequent meetings included the 'sisters'."
The hat, for the heavenly minded, could with a little imagination be adopted for earthly use. The shy, coquettish glance beneath pastel brim and artful tresses formed part of the 1970s mating ritual of the deviously devout.
It was not until my wedding, performed within the rites of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, complete with King James English and no music, that I realised the significance of the head covering.
"In vain, I had tried to argue for a text that did not extol the virtues of a submissive wife and for a vow that did not include the word obedience."
Three months after the wedding and pregnant, the fog lifted. I wondered why men were so distracted by a women's hair or incensed by a female opinion, if they were so naturally god-like? I decided that my children's intelligence and creativity would not be stunted by years of boring catechism classes.
So began twenty years of searching for a church where my husband and I (with our three children) could attend with reasonable compatibility. My husband was a good man. He didn't drink, swear, beat his wife or squander his money. We shared the values of marital faithfulness, family life, hard work and faith in God.
For the men of the church, life was good. They had pay cheques and the respect and of their wives for their daily work, the knowledge that even though they were hardly home, they were still the "head of the house" and enjoyed enshrined superiority in "God's house" on "the Sabbath".
For me, who had been brought up to value and foster my femininity, creativity and intelligence, and who saw the world as an amazing place full of wonder and opportunities for learning, who loved beautiful music and inspiring literature, it was a constant battle to legitimise my existence. It was the emotional equivalent of being shackled in a prison cell with light from a key-hole, giving glimpses of hope.
A number of other experiences, for example, giving my first talk or sermon in front of a congregation and having half the congregation pointedly ignoring me, for no other reason than that I was female, illustrated at best, a peculiar male pattern blindness, varying degrees of ego-centricity and at worst, psychopathy.
In my forties, I tolerated my last "submissive wife" spiel.
"On this occasion the woman did not 'keep silence'. I stood, indignant, angry. I acquainted 'the speaker' with a number of his specious arguments and my feelings about them.
'Be quiet!' he thundered, his glasses now lopsided in red, perspiry, vexation.
I strode to the door. The slam reverberated through the stunned silence."
Soon after this episode, after much misery and great soul-searching, I also stopped tolerating my marriage.
"The day he informed me that he was returning to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church was the beginning of the end. I could no longer face tedious King James bible readings rendering our meals indigestible, mournful Sabbaths, ecclesiastical lectures, the embarrassed silences of my son, the exasperated hysterics of my daughter, the dull, dark, damp, dripping stranglehold of fundamentalism."
My 50th birthday party, celebrated upstairs in a pub with my family, friends and orchestral colleagues illustrated the consequent divergence of our life paths. My husband was at home, "observing the Sabbath" while I was celebrating in the upper room with publicans and sinners!
Soon after this I met Peter, my new husband to be. We have been happily married for over 6 years. We celebrated with great joy in a vineyard. A string quartet, a harmonica solo, a guitar and violin duet and piano and saxophone were interspersed with happy speeches. I wore a white strapless, floaty creation, my hair gathered up in curls and unencumbered by a covering of any description. I wrote and delivered my own speech. We had an ecstatically wonderful day.
Peter and I are both Christians. Our growth as individuals and as marriage partners and our ability to give to our family and community is strengthened by our belief in God, in purpose and the healing power of love. We meet with a group of believers who value the contributions of all, and where scholarship, questioning and creativity of thought, life and art are encouraged.
My journey through various religious denominations has been both life enhancing and traumatic. I have made wonderful friends and been bullied through religious dogma. Unintelligent dogma imprisons all, but women much more so as they are limited by men as well as doctrine.
I have discovered the difference between a denomination and a sect or a cult, the distinction of the spiritual and the abusive. The need for unquestioning submission to a church leader, the replacement of rules for individual thinking, the use of religious language which confound rather than clarifies understanding are all signs of spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse or bullying engenders fear, not freedom.