I am writing this while sitting in the light of a Laura Roslin saint candle at my kitchen table. It was a Christmas present from my daughter. Some assembly was required, and because life happens and Christmas vacations end up being shorter than they seemed at the beginning, I did most of the assembly myself. But that’s fine. More than fine, really, because I now have everything I need to make a new one when this one burns down.
Saint candles played an oddly large role in our household when my daughter was young. We were both drawn to them as soon as we saw them. They were cheap enough so my daughter could by one with her own money, and the slender glass jar that contained the wax flame made them seem fairly safe. Since so many of the saints are women, they were a simple, subtle way to reinforce the feminist values I was trying to teach. See? Ladies can do God’s work, too!
I liked the casual, slightly kitchy religiosity of them; I like having little things to remind me that everything – even my cluttered, overused kitchen table – can be an altar and that maybe God doesn’t take things nearly as seriously as I do. I also need reminders of what I can be what I am called to be.
We all need saints. We need to look to those who have gone before, even if they are just a few steps ahead of us. We need heroes. We need to learn others’ stories to give our own meaning. And if we can’t find them in our churches or temples or popular culture or on the shelves of the local mercado, we need to make our own. That the other nice thing about cheap saint candles: the plastic peels right off. Remove it and put on your own.
So, that’s why saint candles. Why Laura Roslin?
A little background for those of you who spent the last decade in a cave or watching reality TV: Laura Roslin was a main character on Battlestar Galactica. I am guessing half of you said “Frak,YES!” as soon as you read the title. And I am already in danger of losing the other half as you say “Oh. Sci Fi. Yeah … no thanks, nerd.”
But let me tell you why she’s one of my saints. And maybe why she should be one of yours.
- She’s a middle aged woman on television. And she’s not someone’s mom. Think for a moment about how rarely you see a well-developed female character over the age of 35 on a screen of any size. Unless it’s a story about how hard it is to be a middle-aged woman. Not only is Laura Roslin visible, you cannot take your eyes off her; she is in command of any room she is in, even if that room is a prison cell.
- She is one of the more complex characters you will ever see. She starts off as the Secretary of Education (or a kindergarten teacher as Saul Tigh would say) and after a short, brutal war ends up as the President of what is left of the human race. She seems every bit a school teacher, compassionate, soft spoken, in a bit over her head. Until she puts someone out the airlock. She remains capable – right to the end – of being both compassionate and ruthless. She makes deals with the devil when she has to. She betrays friends when that seems to be the only option.
- She is deeply flawed. She screws up big time. She occasionally acts out of fear, hate, anger and ego. Sometimes she just straight out does the wrong thing. But through it all she acts boldly, even when she feels doubt and regret.
- She has a religious conversion, moving from slightly disdainful skeptic to reluctant convert to nearly delusional fanatic. She follows her religious visions, leading her people the wrong way. But still some how does right by them.
- She has a romantic life. She has dated younger men, but we see her in one of the most mature romantic relationships you will find on television. There is spark, humor and tension. And she is not afraid of risking that relationship by disagreeing with the man she loves when the job requires it.
- She does this all while battling breast cancer. And looking old and sick at times. Her cancer does not define her. It does not stop her from being who she needs to be. But it does change her.
I don’t see many women I want to be in popular culture. I see sexy ladies and bitches and know-it-alls and quirky oddballs and driven career women. But don’t see women who are scared and in too deep and don’t know what to do, but do it anyway. I don’t see women who can both coo over a baby and throw (or take) a punch if they need to. I don’t see women for whom love is standing shoulder to shoulder with the right man. I don’t see women who are deeply flawed and make terrible mistakes but somehow still manage be a force for good.
And least I didn’t until Laura Roslin showed up.