Sunday, September 16, 2018

Proverbs 31. 10-31: She Can Bring Home the Bacon...

If you are from an old-enough generation, you may remember the tv commercial (I'm assuming it was just a USA commercial, but I don't know...) in which a woman sang, "I can bring home the bacon...fry it up in a pan..." The song was related to "I'm a Woman," written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and sung by Peggy Lee. The song begins, "I can wash out forty four pairs of socks and have 'em hangin' out on the line..." The refrain is "'Cause I'm a woman...W-O-M-A-N! I'll say it again." The woman described in Proverbs 31 begins to take on some of that superwoman aura. She seems to do it all. Home, family, business. Everything she touches turns to gold.

Are all women supposed to be the woman described in Proverbs 31? Can all women be that woman? Can any woman be that woman? Have we turned this aspirational woman into an unrealistic expectation? Even the writer has a sense of that question, asking "A capable wife who can find?" (NRSV) "A good woman is hard to find..." (MSG) If women are required to have all these accomplishments, we might be inclined to echo Pride and Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennet when she remarks to Mr. Darcy that she is no longer surprised at his knowing only six accomplished women and rather wonders that he knows any at all.

In response to a culture that advocated for the idea that women could do nothing, Christine de Pizan (sometimes Pisan) wrote a manuscript called The City of Ladies. Written in response to comments about women by writers and philosophers like Matheolus (who wrote in his Lamentations that women were among God's worst creations), The City of Ladies was an encyclopedia of women who countered the stereotypes of women that were being repeated and published. Christine's book honored women for their faith, for their loyalty, for their works, for their learning, and for their intellect.

Christine herself might have been included as more than the narrator of City of Ladies. Married young into an arranged marriage, Christine and her husband had a happy marriage. After her father's death, Christine and her husband Etienne took responsibility for Christine's family. When Etienne died ten years later, Christine became responsible for her three young children and her mother. Christine found patrons for her writing, successfully (and singlehandedly) supporting her family.
 [Christine de Pizan lecturing.] Master of the Cite des Dames and workshop and Master of the Duke of Bedford. The Book of the Queen. British Library. Harley 4431, f. 259v. c 1410-c 1414. The manuscript, known as 'The Book of the Queen', includes Works by Christine de Pizan, assembled for Isabel (Isabeau) of Bavaria, queen consort of Charles VI of France, and produced under the author's supervision. Possibly some passages are in the hand of Christine de Pizan herself. 

Those good women might not be as hard to find as we think.

For thoughts on Mark 9:30-37, click here.

This week's Art&Faith Matters' Facebook post considers biography and photography in light of Proverbs 31.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Proverbs 1.20-33: Wisdom Cries Out

Most of us have probably had occasion to see a street-corner preacher. Speaking loudly and sometimes reaching out toward passers-by, street preachers proclaim the message they have received from scripture. They call people to repent. They tell of God's love. They offer the rewards of heaven and the punishments of hell.

Wisdom is one of those preachers (Proverbs 1:20-33), shouting the consequences that are coming to the people who have turned their backs on her. I tried to tell you, she cries. I reached out to you. But you did not respond. I tried. 

Wisdom is usually portrayed in relation to other virtues or vices. This week's Art&Faith Matters' Facebook post takes a look at one painting's vision of that pairing in a classical setting. Wisdom is poised...usually. Wisdom is calm...usually. Wisdom is strong and good and attractive. She is sure and eternal. But what happens if we change how wisdom looks? What happens if wisdom is frantic in her efforts to reach the people? What happens if wisdom has reached the point of despair because the people just won't listen. Just. Won't. Listen.

In Edvard Munch's iconic work "The Scream" the air has turned to blood and the faces of his friends  became a garish yellow-white. A huge endless scream coursed through nature. I tried. I reached out. I tried. How does our perception of these verses change if the Wisdom who looks more like Munch's work and less like a poised, powerful classical goddess? 
Edvard Munch. The Scream. 1893. National Gallery of Oslo.

This week, Art&Faith Matters' Facebook page considers Wisdom at the crossroads
For thoughts on Mark 8:27-38, click here.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Mark 7.24-37: Not Jesus' Ephphatha

One word. Jesus says one word: Ephphatha. He says it while the man in front of him waiting as he has been waiting. Jesus has touched the man's ears and tongue because the man is deaf and has a impediment to his speech. And with just one word - ephphatha - Jesus changes his life (Mark 7:31-37).

If the healing is the best part, the waiting is the hardest part. Whoever this man was, though, and however long he had been waiting, he was not without people who cared about him. "They" brought him to Jesus and begged that Jesus would lay his hand on the man. And Jesus did.

In his telling of the story Mark records two things that lend a sense of accuracy and detail to what could have been just another story of healing (not that there is ever really "just another healing story").

The first is that Jesus sighs - deeply - before healing the man. The same word is translated groaned in other places (Romans 8:23). Jesus looks up to heaven, groans...sighs deeply...before speaking the one word.

Ephphatha. Here Mark quotes Jesus' Aramaic word and then provides the Greek translation: Open or Be opened. This is not the only place where Mark has preserved Jesus' words in their original Aramaic (Abba in the garden; Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? from the cross). The presence of these words brings us closer to Jesus' voice. It seems so simple. Open.


One of the plants on my patio is a night-blooming cereus, shown at left. Cuttings from the plant were shared several years ago by one of my sister's co-workers. For several weeks there have been two buds on the plant. The top photo is one of the buds from this year. In their earlier stages the buds look like stalks of asparagus. They have continued to grow: the stem has gotten longer and the bud has gotten bigger.

Because the plant blooms only at night (and the bloom lives only one night), I am diligently checking every evening for signs of an impending bloom and every morning to make sure I didn't miss the blooming. But so far...nothing. The flower photos at left are photos of last year's single bloom. One evening this week I even found myself standing on the patio saying, "Open, already!" Just one more way that I know I'm not Jesus and that my words are not Jesus' ephphatha.

Where the man's ears and mouth responded immediately to Jesus' command, this night-blooming cereus is not remotely interested in mine. Where this bloom will last only a night, Jesus' opening of the man's ears and mouth will last a lifetime. No wonder the people paid no heed to Jesus' instructions not to tell anyone.

For a map of exactly where Jesus is wandering in the gospel lesson (Mark 7:24-37), see this week's Art&Faith Matters Facebook post.

For thoughts on Proverbs 22:1-23, click here.