The Proverbs 31 Woman: Dame Wisdom in Action
Ah, the Proverbs 31 woman, let me count the ways I hate thee. I grew up hearing about this woman every Mother’s Day. How she was a good and submissive wife who obeyed her husband and took care of her kids and was happy with her life in the home. If you come from a conservative or fundamentalist Christian background like I did, you know what I’m talking about. Every single Mother’s Day the male pastor brushes off this passage and preaches how a good Christian woman ought to act. She’s the best wife, mother, and homekeeper of them all. She eschews the public sector to take care of her home and family. She keeps her house clean, obeys her husband and submits to him. She is a wonderful mother, and gets the meals on the table on time. She’s SuperWifeMom.
By the time I hit my teens I was groaning and tuning the pastor out. By the time I hit my early 30s, I was single, not too sure if I wanted to get married, and I knew I didn’t want do the whole kids thing. I stopped going to church on Mother’s Day. If there was one Saturday I conveniently forgot to set my alarm clock and not make it to church, without feeling guilty about it, it was Mother’s Day.
Unfortunately for the conservative evangelical background I grew up with, it was beat into my head that every good Christian reads the Bible for herself. She sees what is there, so she won’t fall into error. This backfired where I am concerned. I did read my Bible. I wanted to know what it said, and how I should act. And I noticed something. I noticed that what I heard all those years about the Proverbs 31 woman was not all of the story. In fact most of what I heard wasn’t even in the story! This woman was not restricted to her home and family. I got to know an entirely different women when I read her story for myself.
This woman is a household manager, industrious, produces and sells textiles, brings in income for the family, oversees planting of a vineyard and uses her own money to set it up. She has servants she oversees, she gives to the poor, and her household is a small business that provides for her family, and her husband is praised for it. This is not the picture of the stay-at-home mother that is normally depicted in sermons. She works both inside and outside of her home.
I learned there is a big difference when the Bible talks about a wife and how we talk about a wife, particularly a housewife. Carole Fontaine said this about that difference:
In the Bible, the term wife encodes a set of productive and managerial tasks that, along with a woman’s reproductive role, were essential to the existence of the Israelite household. There is no equivalent understanding of “wife” as a social category in the modern West, where women’s household work does not usually contribute to the family economy and tends to be ignored, trivialized, minimized, or otherwise degraded. The often insulting idea of “just a wife and mother” would have had no meaning in the biblical world.
Or as Rabbi Rosenfeld said at the beginning of his lecture on Proverbs 31: “First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Women have ALWAYS worked outside the home, and EVERY mother is a ‘working mother!” Women’s work was necessary for the survival of the family, and she generated income for the family. Textiles—the spinning, weaving, and making of fabric goods–drove the ancient economy for 20,000 years. Women’s work was the backbone of the ancient economy and the ancient household. And I will love Deirdre McCloskey forever for pointing that out to me. So this woman was much more than the imaginary 50s housewife some segments of Christianity hold up as the good Christian wife. I’m not hating her as much.
Then I discovered something about her this week that I never knew, and I may just be darn close to falling in love with her. While reading up on this passage one of the writers pointed out that this poem is filled with military imagery. In fact the word translated as capable in “a capable wife who can find?” is hayil. When it’s used for a man it’s translated as “strong” or “mighty,” and it’s normally used in the context of war. It also means the power that is able to acquire strength through gaining money and raising an army. Right off the bat, we are told this is a strong woman who knows how to get things done.
Then verse 11 says: “[her husband] will lack no gain” or spoils or booty. The writer, Raymond Van Leeuwen notes that using this word here is strange because it “suggests the woman is like a warrior bringing home booty from her victories.”
In verse 16 she “considers a field and buys it.” Here the word “buy” may not the best translation of the Hebrew. Literally, she “takes” the field, and this word is normally used of an army taking a city or a region. It means to conquer and subdue a territory. This verse shows the woman looking at a wild field and figuring out how to tame it and subdue it into a vineyard. In the Judean highlands turning a plot of land into a vineyard took a massive amount of work. The soil was rocky, and all of the rocks had to be removed, then the land terraced, and the rocks built into a wall, so that the vineyard didn’t wash down the hillside at the first good rain. It also had to be terraced to make sure that enough water stayed in the vineyard so the vines could grow. Like a general this woman surveys her battlefield and plans her attack. Anyone who has ever gardened knows this is not an over-exaggeration.
Verse 17 has the most obvious military language: “she girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong” or in the good old King James Version, she “girded up her loins.” Men normally girded up their loins in the Bible for a heroic deed; a deed that involved fighting. Having a strong arm is another Biblical metaphor for being battle ready.
The end of the poem comes back to where we began with the word hayil. In verse 29 the woman’s husband tells her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Here hayil is translated as “done excellently.” The woman has done deeds of strength and power that again refer to warfare and gaining wealth. “Surpass them all” is another idiom for military activity–as in the army met the enemy and bested them.
So we see that this woman is not only pictured as a manager, entrepreneur, and merchant, she is also pictured as a military leader. There is nothing submissive or docile about this woman. She makes textiles, buys, sells, and fights for her family’s survival and good. And yes, she still sounds like SuperWoman. But there is a reason for that. Just as this woman is not the fictional housewife of the 50s, she is also not just a woman either.
I’ve always wondered why Proverbs 31 ended with this poem about this woman. So have others. It seems odd. And after all the focus on wisdom and gaining it, why does this book end with a woman going about her mundane daily activities? Part of the answer to this is how the Jewish sages defined wisdom. Wisdom was not just knowledge gained for knowledge’s sake. Wisdom was knowledge that was to be applied to everyday life. In the Bible God created the world and set boundaries and laws to govern what she created. Wisdom sought to define those boundaries and apply those laws to their daily lives. This woman is living wisdom.
But there is another reason why this book ends with a woman. It began with one. At the end of Proverbs 1 we are introduced to Dame Wisdom. We find out that Wisdom was with God when God created the heavens and earth. In fact, She was the master designer and architect of creation. She watched God bring order out of chaos. She rejoiced in creation, and calls out in the public square and city gates for men and women to follow her. She wants us to learn Her ways, so that She can give us good lives. She builds a house, prepares a feast, then goes out again to call everyone to come into Her house, eat Her feast, and learn Her ways. She continues to create and bring order to the world. After the tabernacle and temple are finished in the Hebrew Scriptures, there are huge feasts for all the people to celebrate. Wisdom does the same. She builds Her house then invites everyone over to celebrate. The last thing we hear about in Proverbs 9 is Dame Wisdom.
And the last thing we hear about in the book of Proverbs is the Wise Woman in the 31st chapter. The reason Proverbs ends with this woman is that it is showing us Dame Wisdom in action. This woman does everything Wisdom does in earlier chapters: she creates, brings order to chaos, feeds and clothes her family, and takes care of the poor. She doesn’t just live wisely, she is Wisdom Incarnate. These verses do not describe what the typical woman of that day is like. They are showing us Wisdom hard at work in the everyday world.
She shows us what we are called to do. Just like Dame Wisdom and the Wise Woman of Proverbs 31 we are called to live wisely in our everyday, mundane lives. We are called to learn what God wants, where our boundaries are and live by that everyday. For ancient Israel the boundary was there is only one God, YHWH, and YHWH alone will you worship and obey. For us as Christians our boundary is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is our boundary. Day by day we have to figure out how to live that love at home, at work, in the store, on the sidewalk, and at church. Within the boundary of that love, we are called to create, to order the chaos around us, to build God’s realm and to celebrate God’s reign here on earth. Or as Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it:
And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing’s small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
And,–glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.
Our call is to see God in our world and then live what we see. When we follow Wisdom and listen to Her, our eyes will be opened, and we will see the holy in everything. When we see the holy all around us then we will know how to live our own lives and show that holiness, God’s love, to others.
Originally posted on September 22, 2009.
The past few years I have been on a mission to write, preach, and teach the women of Holy Week back into our Holy Week liturgies, practices, and Scriptures. In this post we’ll learn about the women at the cross and tomb in Mark.
Women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. They had followed him and ministered to him when he was in Galilee. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. That evening, because it was the Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath), Joseph of Arimathea came. He was a prominent council member who was also looking forward to the reign of Godde. He dared to go to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was amazed that he might already be dead. He called the centurion and asked him whether Jesus had been dead long. When he confirmed it with the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. He bought a linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been cut from rock. He rolled a stone to the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Joses’ mother Mary saw where he was laid (Mark 15:40-47, New Testament: Divine Feminine Version [DFV]).
Mark’s Passion Narrative began in chapter 14 with the female prophet who anointed Jesus as king and prepared him for his burial. Mark’s Passion ends with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, Salome, and “many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem” bearing witness at the cross, and the two Marys holding vigil in front of the tomb. Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, denial, trial, and crucifixion are held in the embrace of the women who “had followed him and ministered to him when he was in Galilee” and followed him to Jerusalem.
In Mark those who follow Jesus are disciples. Minister comes from the Greek word group from diakonos, which means to serve (and the word we get our word deacon from). Originally meaning “table service,” in the New Testament it becomes a specialized term which means ministers of the Word and Eucharist. In Mark the only other times minister is used are when the angels minister to Jesus after his temptation, when Peter’s mother-in-law ministers to Jesus and the disciples after Jesus heals her, and when Jesus says “the Son of Woman came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life to liberate many” in Mark 10 :45 [DFV] (which means the only man serve or minister is used for in The Gospel of Mark is Jesus. The other times the words are used refer to angels or women). Elizabeth Struthers Malbon notes “Not only does Jesus take up women’s work, but women take up Jesus’ work. Women, from near the bottom of the hierarchy of power, have served and remained faithful followers to the end–although even they are ‘looking on from afar’….It is striking that Mark chooses to emphasize the presence of women followers in the absence of the male disciples at the crucial moment of Jesus’ death. Those with power can learn from those with less power” (“Gospel of Mark,” Women’s Bible Commentary, 491).
Mary Magdalene, Mary, Salome, and the other women continued to faithfully minister to Jesus until the end. The did not run away, they did not hide. Even if it was at a distance, they stayed with Jesus. They bore witness to his death, and they made sure he did not die alone. Mary Magdalene and Mary watched Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus then remained at the tomb holding vigil. On Sunday morning they would be the first ones back at the tomb to finish anointing Jesus’ body for burial. We come full circle: at the beginning of the Passion Narrative the female prophet anointed Jesus to prepare him for the days ahead, and now Mary Magdalene and the other women who followed Jesus from Nazareth (and the prophet could have been one of their number) now come to finish anointing Jesus’ body.
Their tenacity, perseverance, and faithfulness is rewarded: they are the first to hear of the resurrection and see the risen Jesus. As they bore witness to the death and burial of Jesus, they now bear witness to the resurrection of Christ and are commissioned to tell the rest of the disciples that God has raised Jesus from the dead.
The past few years I have been on a mission to write, preach, and teach the women of Holy Week back into our Holy Week liturgies, practices, and Scriptures. In this post we’ll learn about the first two women we meet during Holy Week in Matthew and Mark.
When I decided I wanted to write a blog post on the women of Holy Week, I started flipping through the Gospel accounts, and I was surprised to find the first woman mentioned in Holy Week was the widow who gave her last two pennies as an offering in the Temple. For some reason I never connected her story with Holy Week. And for good reason: before her story is a list of controversies and debates Jesus was having with the religious leaders in the Temple. After her story Jesus described the Temple being destroyed, and what would happen before his second coming. Big stories with lots of drama are on either side of this humble, generous widow. First let’s look at her story:
Jesus sat down across from the treasury and watched the crowd throw money into the treasury. Many who were rich threw in large amounts. A widow who was poor came and threw in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. He called his disciples and said, “Believe me when I say that this widow who was poor gave more than all those who are contributing to the treasury, because they all gave out of their abundance, but she, poor as she is, gave everything she had – all she had to live on” (Mark 12:41-44, New Testament: Divine Feminine Version [DFV]).
This happened right after Jesus finished criticizing religious leaders who “devour widows’ houses and show off with long prayers” (v. 40). Normally this woman is praised in stewardship campaigns as a person who gives unselfishly to God, trusting God will provide. But that interpretation does this woman a great disservice.
Elizabeth Struthers Malbon notes: “The poor widow is unlike the self-centered scribes and instead like Jesus–one who gives all. The last words of her story could well be translated ‘but she from her need cast in all of whatever she had, her whole life.’ Perhaps we are to assume that the poor widow has been victimized by the greedy scribes and by the authority of traditional religious teaching. But in this again she is like Jesus, who teaches with ‘authority, and not as the scribes’ (1:22), yet is victimized by those who hold authority in the temple and in the broader religious tradition” (Women in Scripture, 432).
Jesus’ praise of this woman who lived the life he called his disciples to live is the last thing Jesus said before he left the Temple for the last time. In contrast to the religious leaders who went after fame, wealth, and a good reputation at the cost of the poor and destitute (like this widow), she is shown to be humble, generous, and like Christ. Her offering of everything she had prefigured Jesus’ own offering of his life on the cross. Instead of being praised for stewardship campaigns this woman should be praised for pointing the way to Christ and for living the same kind of life, that Jesus himself lived: an all-encompassing sacrifice to God.
After Jesus praised this woman and left the Temple, he described the future destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and what would happen when he returned to institute fully the reign of God. In chapter 14 we discover this end of times discourse is nestled between two stories of women and their Christlike generosity. In Mark 14:1-11 we meet the woman who anointed Jesus as king and prepared him for his death and burial the day before he celebrated the Last Supper and would be betrayed by Judas (for her story see my sermon, Anointing the King). Again a woman’s story is surrounded by religious leaders who are now seeking a way to arrest and kill Jesus without having an uprising on their hands.
Once again Mark contrasts the thoughts and actions of corrupt religious men with the Christlike actions of a woman:
When he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the house of Simon who had leprosy, a woman approached him with an alabaster jar of very expensive ointment made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured it over his head. But some got angry. “Why has this ointment been wasted?” they said to one another. “This ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to those who are poor.” They scolded her.
But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! Why are you bugging her? She has done a good deed for me. You will always have people who are poor with you, and you can help them whenever you want to; but you won’t always have me. She did what she could. She poured this ointment on my body to prepare me for burial. Believe me when I say that wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will be talked about in memory of her” (Mark 14:3-9, DFV).
This the first scene in Mark’s passion narrative. This woman who acted as a prophet (or priest) and anointed Jesus as king began Jesus’ journey to the cross. Like the widow we see another selfless act of generosity. Whereas the widow’s offering was ignored by all but Jesus, this woman’s offering was criticized as wasteful by all but Jesus. Jesus rebuked the critics and praised the woman for preparing him for his burial. Jesus knew his road to being king went through the cross. He promised that wherever the Gospel was proclaimed this woman would be remembered, and she has been. After this woman’s extravagant gift Judas decided to betray Jesus and went to the religious authorities who paid him 30 pieces of silver to lead them to Jesus when crowds wouldn’t be around to protest his arrest.
In comparing these two women Malbon notes: “One woman gives what little she has, two copper coins; the other gives a great deal, ointment of pure nard worth more than three hundred denarii; but each gift is symbolically or metaphorically priceless. The irony that the poor widow’s gift occurs in the doomed temple is matched by the irony that the anointing of Jesus Christ, Jesus Messiah, Jesus the anointed one, takes place not in the temple but in a leper’s house (14:3), and not at the hands of the high priest but at the hands of an unnamed woman” (Women in Scripture, 433).
The widow and the prophet: these two women close Jesus’ public ministry and begin his journey to the cross. The both foreshadow Jesus’ coming death, and they both live the life of sacrificial faith that Jesus himself entered through his arrest, crucifixion, and death. They won’t be the last women we meet this Holy Week. In fact in Matthew and Mark, the entire passion is enclosed within stories of women: The prophet who anointed Jesus opens the passion, and the women who stood vigil at the tomb close the narrative. As Jesus lived through betrayal, arrest, denial, the agony of the cross, and death he was embraced in the arms of the women who followed him, obeyed him, and did not forsake him.
How will we follow these women’s Christlike examples through Holy Week and through the rest of the year? What do the widow and the prophet have to teach us about living Christlike lives?
Rev. Jann Aldredge-Clanton has given this gracious review for the Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament:
Congregations who are striving toward more inclusive worship will welcome this new version. Their worship leaders may use inclusive, gender-balanced language in sermons, litanies, and hymns. But they have few options for inclusive scripture readings. The predominantly masculine divine language in these readings then strikes a discord with the rest of the service.
There are two gender-neutral versions of the Bible on the market: The Inclusive Bible, a translation by the Priests for Equality, and The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version, a modification of the New Revised Standard Version. These versions are better than those that use exclusively masculine references to Deity, but they do not reclaim biblical female divine language to balance the male divine language so prevalent in most faith communities and the wider culture.
Until recently, congregations have had nowhere to turn for gender-balanced scripture readings. Now we can go to the Divine Feminine Version (DFV) of the New Testament. By including female language for the Divine, the DFV affirms the sacred value of females who continue to suffer from violence, abuse, and discrimination throughout the world. The DFV contributes to a theological foundation for gender equality, social justice, and peace.
You can read the rest of Rev. Aldredge-Clanton’s review here. If you would like gender inclusive hymns to sing along with your readings from the DFV check out Jann’s hymnals which include a rich variety of feminine, masculine, and neuter metaphors for God.
You can download the free PDF copy of the DFV at The Christian Godde Project. You can buy the paperback version here.
A friend on Facebook reminded me that today was the commemoration of Dorcas, Lydia, and Phoebe. Who you may ask? Let me tell you all about them:
Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the [Christ] (Acts 9:37-42).
You almost miss Dorcas’ story. After all most of Acts 9 is taken up with Saul’s conversion (later to become the apostle Paul) to Christianity after leading the persecution against the early church. So after God literally threw Saul off his ass (sorry I just cannot resist that one), he went blind, was healed and started preaching, the focus of the story quietly changes to Dorcas. By the time we meet her, she has died. This is a great lost to her community because she took such good care of them. And she took very good care of those who were considered the least of these: widows. Woman without a husband had no social standing at this time. They were normally destitute women who were forced to beg or to become prostitutes to support themselves and their children. If a woman did not have family at this time, she was in a very precarious place. Dorcas made sure these women had clothes. Now when the story tells us that Dorcas made the clothes, it means a little bit more than she cut some material and sewed it. First she would have to spin the fiber into thread then weave it on her loom for the tunics and clothing she made. This was truly a labor of love on her part to make sure those in her community were at least dressed. She may have also weaved pieces for local merchants to sell in order to support herself (there is no mention of a husband). As long as a woman had a loom and access to wool or flax, she could make a living. Apparently not all the widows Dorcas knew had their own looms to make their own clothes or clothing to sell. Dorcas made sure they had the clothing they needed to survive.
Her illness and death was a big loss to the community, so they sent messengers to a nearby town because they heard Peter was there. Peter came, and the widows showed him the clothing Dorcas had made them. Peter responded to their grief. After sending everyone outside, he prayed and then said to her, “Tabitha get up.” She rose from the dead and was restored to her community. News spread. More people believed in God.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. [God] opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to [God], come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us (Acts 16:11-15).
Paul and his traveling companions arrived in Philippi. There was no synagogue for them to worship at, so they decided to go to the river on the Sabbath where there was a place of prayer. Lydia was at the river. She was “a worshiper of God,” and listened to Paul’s teachings. In fact, we are told God “opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” In the next verse she and her household were baptized, and she urged Paul and his travelers to stay in her house. Lydia was the first convert to Christianity in Europe.
Lydia was a businesswoman, “a dealer of purple cloth” from Thyatira. Purple dye was a symbol of power and honor in the ancient world, and it was the most expensive and sought after dye in the Roman world. Thyatira was the capitol of the industry and renowned for its purple dyes. One had to have plenty of capital to deal in purple dye and the making of purple garments for sale. Lydia was a career woman, rich, the head of her household, and Acts 16:40 implies that by the end of Paul’s stay in Philippi a new church was meeting in Lydia’s home. All of this could mean that Lydia was the overseer or pastor of the first church plant in Europe.
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the [Christ] as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well (Romans 16:1-2).
Paul highly commended and respected Phoebe. He called her a “sister,” “deacon,” and “benefactor” to the church at Cenchreae as well as a sister and benefactor to Paul.
The odd thing about diakonos or “deacon” being used to describe Phoebe is that it is the masculine form of the word used to describe a woman. It is the same word Paul uses when he calls Timothy and Titus “servants” or “deacons” (or pastors) of their respective churches. Another thing that makes this phrase odd is that Phoebe is called the “deacon of the church of Cenchreae.” This is the only place in the New Testament where diakonos is followed by a specific congregation. This is the only place linking a specific person’s ministry with a specific church. This seems to indicate that Phoebe served as a deacon in the church at Cenchreae.
Paul uses another word to describe Phoebe: prostatis. This is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament. This word is normally translated so that it’s main meaning is not obvious. The normal translation is “helper” or someone who has helped. The basic and most obvious translation of the word from classical Greek is “patron” or “benefactor,” and women in this role, are well attested in the Greco-Roman world. In the Greco-Roman world wealthy women sponsored the arts, philosophers, writers, and politicians. They paid them and gave them the social standing they needed to succeed. Phoebe was a wealthy woman who served the church out of her means as the women in Luke 8 served Jesus out of theirs. For Paul to say that Phoebe was a benefactor to him meant that she had probably helped to support his missionary travels financially. It’s also very likely she was known in Rome, and she has the appropriate social status and clout to introduce Paul to the churches in Rome. Churches Paul had not had any dealings with, nor had he helped plant them.
Phoebe was a woman who had her own means, and served the church in a leadership role. Paul comes very close to commanding churches he had no hand in planting, and Christians, most of whom he had never met, to welcome her and provide anything she needed. She was not only a deacon and a benefactor in the church, but Paul himself had also benefited from her generous leadership.
Prayer: “Filled with your Holy Spirit, gracious God, your earliest disciples served you with the gifts each had been given: Lydia in business and stewardship, Dorcas in a life of charity and Phoebe as a deacon who served many. Inspire us today to build up your Church with our gifts in hospitality, charity and bold witness to the Gospel of Christ; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen” (from Satucket.com).
On New Year’s Eve I joined one of my best friends, Bishop Lainie Petersen, on the Talk Gnosis podcast, in which we are our usual feminist and irreverent selves. I can’t beat the description that’s already been written up about the show:
We have a very special guest in the Rev. Shawna Atteberry for our After Dark podcast on the Gospel of Thomas’ Saying 22. She helps unpack the mysteries of GoT with Bishops Lainie and Ken and our director Father Tony. You’ve got to check out our free-ranging discussion that goes everywhere from the gender politics of evangelical movement to Broadway’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
That’s right: gnostic theology, gender politics, AND Hedwig and the Angry Inch. You have to listen now, don’t you? You can do that by clicking here: Make the Above Like the Below. Please let me know what you think.
“The Holy Spirit had to come upon [Mary] and the power of the Most High had to overshadow her so that Wisdom might build [herself] a house and the Word might become flesh” (From the Letters of St. Leo the Great).
Wisdom Has Built for Herself a House
Wisdom has built for herself a house
In the womb of a young girl.
A young girl strong and brave
A young girl who said yes.
Wisdom has built for herself a house
In the song of a young girl:
“The powerful are humbled, the lowly lifted
The hungry fed, the rich emptied.”
Wisdom has built for herself a house
In a manger tucked in a cave
Where animals provide warmth and music,
And shepherds praise her newborn king.
Wisdom has built for herself a house
Under the noses of the powerful:
Herod the power hungry couldn’t thwart her
Caesar the almighty was oblivious to her building.
Wisdom has built for herself a house
In the journey of the Magi.
Traveling by her light, seeking her truth,
Bowing to a child in his humble home.
Wisdom has built for herself a house
Where the hungry are fed
And the lowly are raised.
Will you join them at the table?
Wisdom has built for herself a house:
Will you powerful be humbled?
Will you who are full be emptied?
Will you come in and eat at the table?
(c) 2014 Shawna R. B. Atteberry
My soul praises the Lady,
and my spirit rejoices in Godde my Life-Giver,
because she’s looked favorably at the humble state of her bondservant.
Look, from now on all generations will call me blessed
because the Mighty One has done great things for me!
Holy is her name.
Her mercy extends to those who revere her from generation to generation.
She’s flexed her muscles
and scattered those who imagine they’re something that they’re not.
She’s pulled down rulers from their thrones
and has exalted the humble.
She’s filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
She’s helped Israel, her servant, that she might remember mercy,
as she promised our ancestors,
Sarah and Abraham and their offspring forever” (Luke 1:46-55, The Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament).
I love the Magnificat. It has been one of my favorite biblical passages for most of my life. I’ve always loved how Mary saw God doing these incredible things to turn the world on its head through her. Mary’s prophetic words have given countless generations of oppressed people hope that this is not the way God intended the world to be. But as I’ve read and meditated on Mary’s words this week, one thing has hit me: I am not part of the oppressed, I am part of those oppressing. I am not the humble and hungry. I am part of the rulers and rich that lose everything and get sent away.
In fact, if you are a white American, chances are you too are the oppressor, not the oppressed. We are the status quo willing to do anything to keep our power and influence. White America is not part of the persecuted church: we are Rome. We are the Empire. Empires do whatever is necessary to keep their power and affluence in the world. Nothing has shown more clearly that we are Empire as the CIA torture report that was released earlier this week. Our government has and will in the future commit unspeakable atrocities to keep our position at the top of the global food chain (this is nothing new for the USA–we’ve done it since we committed genocide against the Native Americans to steal their land, so we would have more power and wealth).
Mary’s words should not be comforting for white Americans who depend on the Empire of the United States for our safety and livelihood. What does the Magnificat mean for us oppressors? Mary proclaims that God has ” pulled down rulers from their thrones and has exalted the humble. She’s filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” If we are oppressors, Mary’s prophetic words are a call to repentance. A call to see where white privilege and ruling the status quo have gotten us. A call to change our ways and share our power, wealth, and influence with those who really are poor, humble, and hungry. It is a call to change the way we do things, so that everyone has shelter, food, and clothing, and not just the few we deem fit for such blessings.
During this time of Advent (a time normally set aside in the historical church for self-examination and confession), I’ve been asking myself what can I do to start changing the political and socio-economic structures that favor me, as a white person exclusively, to be more inclusive and fair for all people regardless of skin color, economic standing, or religion. Where is God working in exalting the humble and filling the hungry with good things in my world where I can join in? God is working–as Isaiah proclaimed she is always doing new things in our world to bring her love, mercy, and justice to our world. The questions are: where is she working now? And will we join in?
I recorded Lifetime’s Women of the Bible last night. I thought it would make a fun blog post to correct everything they got wrong about the women in the Bible. I was wrong. It would take a freaking book to correct what was wrong in this two hour special, and it was not fun to watch. Thankfully my Facebook friends were there to help me keep my sanity as I watched this train wreck of a special on some of my favorite women in the Bible. As it would be a Herculean effort to correct the absolute wrongness and inaccuracy of this special I will leave you with my Facebook posts as I live blogged watching the two hour melodramatic claptrap about the women of the Bible. Grab a bottle of wine (you’ll need it) and enjoy.
Recorded Lifetime’s Women of the Bible last night and watching it now. Roma Downey likes her melodrama. And her definition of Biblical “scholars” and mine are drastically different. Oy vey.
Who does Roma Downey think the most pivotal women in Judges are Samson’s mother and Delilah, not Deborah and Jael. Of course Deborah and Jael weren’t immediately connected to a man, so naaahhh they couldn’t be THAT important, now could they? Not sure I can sit through another 1.5 hours of this schlock. Ugg.
Oh and did I mention that Victoria Osteen is one of the so-called “biblical scholars” on the show. *face palm*
Lainie, I think I need to put Lifetime’s Women of the Bible on hold until you can come watch it with me with lots of Josefina Pink Syrah, and we can make fun and tear apart this melodramatic claptrap that Roma Downey has invented about our foremothers of the faith. The woman thinks Samson’s mother and Delilah are the two most important women in Judges! Aaacccchhhh!
And we skipped from Delilah to Mary. I’m terrified to see what Lifetime’s Women of the Bible does to Mother Mary.
Oh. My. God. Gabriel is dressed like a Roman soldier in the Annunciation scene. Need. Booze. Now.
And we have broken out the Josefina Syrah over one of the “biblical scholars” claiming that Mary was the first women to have the responsibility of carrying the Word of God. Of course it has to be the literal Word of God. I guess they’ve never heard of Miriam or Huldah or the Jewish tradition that Huldah was a scribe that first started compiling the Hebrew Scriptures. And they are taking this far too literally. I am becoming absolutely terrified of what they are going to do with Mary of Magdala. I might be drunk by the time this is over.
And the Wise Men just showed up at the stable. Yep that’s some biblical scholarship.
Now Roma Downey has cast herself as Mother Mary for the Crucifixion. I should just bring the bottle of wine into the living room.
Oh and I should mention that the only woman of color to play a Middle Eastern woman in this show about the (Middle Eastern) women of the Bible was Samson’s mother. I think the only reason they did that was so they could cast Samson as an angry black man. Another face palm. Everyone else (except Pharaoh) has been lily pad white, including white boy Jesus–but he does have brown eyes instead of blue….
My favorite woman in the entire Bible has now taken the stage: Mary of Magdala. Get ready for the sarcasm to ratchet up a few more levels.
OK so far so good on the Mary of Magdala front: she was possessed by seven demons (they don’t claim she was a prostitute), and that she was a wealthy woman who supported Jesus’ ministry financially and traveled with Jesus and his entourage (which included more than the 12) (see Luke 8:1-3). They fail significantly when they say she was “essentially” an apostle. She was an apostle. Also the 12 disciples look like a white boy band.
They did cover that Mary was not a prostitute, and that there is no Biblical support for it. But the claim is made that Mary being called a prostitute was a “mistake.” It wasn’t a mistake. It was slander to discredit and minimalize the leadership role she had in the Early Church.
We’re heading for the Crucifixion. Can’t wait to see what heights the melodrama hits now. Why yes, I will have some more wine.
And of course Mother Mary and Mary of Magdala have seats front and center for the slow-mo, over-the-top melodramatic flogging.
And of course Mother Mary is able to run out onto the Via Dolorosa when Jesus fell to comfort him and for Jesus to tell her not to be afraid, this is how it has to be. John cries out: “Let her through. She’s his mother!” [Here’s a theological reflection on the women at the cross to balance out the melodrama of this show: The First Shall Be Last: The women at the cross and tomb.]
Oh. My God. Jesus was being flogged at Golgotha, and as it was happening he crawled to the cross then laid on it. Can we say Predestination taken to the melodramatic nth degree?
Oh the melodramatic substitutionary theory of atonement in all it’s gory detail!
Not just the curtain in the Temple tears in this version of the Crucifixion. Oh no, the entire Temple shakes and things fall over and break! Judaism wrong! Christianity good!
Because Mary of Magdala’s word was not enough, Peter must proclaim that the resurrection happened at the tomb when he entered and suddenly believed without seeing Jesus! That’s right boys and girls in this version of the “gospel” Peter believes without seeing Jesus! Jo, I think you’re right. We need a Bechdel test for women in the Bible.
OK I am quite literally laughing my ass off as a breeze blows Mary of Magdala’s hair off her face while she speaks in tongues in slow motion about the resurrection of Christ. Oh Mary, I’m so sorry for this hokey depiction of your apostleship and leadership in the Early Church. Forgive them for they know not what they do.
In the wrap up one of the biblical “scholars” just said that Jesus “states very clearly for him it’s neither male nor female, Greek nor Jew.” Sigh. That was Paul “biblical scholar” that was Paul.
Thank God it’s over. Thank you Facebook friends for sharing my pain and my horror. I owe all of you a drink of your choice at your favorite watering hole.
Yeah for an NCIS marathon! Leroy Jethro Gibbs save from bad theology and shoddy “biblical scholarship”!
And there you have it dear readers: Women of the Bible live blogged in excruciating detail, so you don’t have to suffer. You’re welcome.
If you would like to get to know your spiritual foremothers as they actually appear in the pages of the Bible, and with far more historical accuracy, buy my book What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down. It makes a great gift! (I am a biblical scholar, and I have the degrees to prove it.)