A World of Terror Needs the Mary of Advent

Mary, the mother of Jesus. In the Christian tradition, my tradition, she is rightly honored as the theotokos, the bearer of God. Unfortunately, Mary is far too often white-washed into an American picture of a submissive woman, a passive agent in the Christmas story otherwise dominated by men and single-mindedly focused on a male child. However, Mary should be seen as one of the ultimate heroes of our Christian faith.

It was Mary,  knowing the possible consequences of her suspicious pregnancy (The Virgin Mary on Trial), who said “Yes” to God’s outrageous and dangerous plan of salvation. May we have her courageous obedience.

It was Mary who bore a child whose status, even as an infant, caused her to flee to Egypt as a refugee. It was Mary who braved and survived the brutal slaughter and savage man(child)-hunt of a megalomaniac “king.” May we have her brave endurance.

It was Mary who stood up in a world of injustice and loudly declared that the Lord was going to topple the powers that be, exalt the lowly, send the rich away and fill the hungry. Her Magnificat, the first and oldest Advent hymn, is a political and social subversive celebration that the justice of God was now powerfully breaking into the evil world of injustice. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized, her hymn is “the most passionate, most vehement, one might say, most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. It is not the gentle, sweet, dreamy Mary that we so often see portrayed in pictures, but the passionate, powerful, proud, enthusiastic Mary, who speaks here. None of the sweet, sugary, or childish tones that we find so often in our Christmas hymns, but a hard, strong, uncompromising song of bringing down rulers from their thrones and humbling the lords of this world, of God’s power and of the powerlessness of men.” May we have her subversive orientation to the work of God’s Kingdom coming through Christ and the Holy Spirit.

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Prayer for the Week (Anima Christi of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton)

apr14Soul of Jesus, sanctify me.
Blood of Jesus, wash me,
Passion of Jesus, comfort me.
Wounds of Jesus, hide me.
Heart of Jesus, receive me.
Spirit of Jesus, enliven me.
Goodness of Jesus, pardon me.
Beauty of Jesus, draw me.
Humility of Jesus, humble me.
Peace of Jesus, pacify me.
Love of Jesus, inflame me.
Kingdom of Jesus, come to me.
Grace of Jesus, replenish me.
Mercy of Jesus, pity me.
Sanctity of Jesus, sanctify me.
Purity of Jesus, purify me.
Cross of Jesus, support me.
Nails of Jesus, hold me.
Mouth of Jesus, bless me in life, in death, in time and eternity.
Mouth of Jesus, defend me in the hour of death.
Mouth of Jesus, call me to come to Thee.
Mouth of Jesus, receive me with Thy saints in glory evermore.

Unite me to Thyself, O adorable Victim.
Life-giving heavenly Bread, feed me, sanctify me, reign in me,
transform me to Thyself, live in me; let me live in Thee;
let me adore Thee in Thy life-giving Sacrament as my God, listen to Thee as to my Master, obey Thee as my King, imitate Thee as my Model, follow Thee as my Shepherd, love Thee as my Father, seek Thee as my Physician
who wilt heal all the maladies of my soul.
Be indeed my Way, Truth and Life; sustain me, O heavenly Manna, through the desert of this world, till I shall behold Thee unveiled in Thy glory.

Amen.

Women Biblical Scholars Blog – Check It Out!

So I stumbled across this blog, Women Biblical Scholars, the other day and it looks AMAZING! It is a blog solely dedicated to women in biblical scholarship.

Throughout history women have loved, studied, and taught the scriptures. Unfortunately, many of us have never heard of these biblical scholars and theologians. Often they are left out of history books and classrooms. The goal of this blog is to draw attention to the works of these women and discover what they contribute to our understanding of the biblical text. With greater awareness, this scholarship can shape course curriculum, homilies, public discourse, and academia itself. (from the blog’s About page)

This is like my meager, short-lived (but not necessarily retired!) Frauen Friday series on steroids and I’m super excited about it. I’m probably a little late to the party but if you haven’t seen it yet you should definitely check it out. It is relatively new but there are already tons of interviews and videos and it looks like it is updated pretty frequently so mosey on over and dive on in.

Also, you can follow @Women_Scholars on Twitter for updates. Kudos to this new blog and I look forward to being a regular reader!

Frauen Friday: Adele Berlin

After a short hiatus I am very excited to dive back into the world of blogging and especially excited to pick up our Frauen Friday series! If you are new to the blog, Frauen Friday was started with the hopes of providing more exposure to the amazing female scholars, authors, academics, pastors, laypersons, and so on. Thus far I have featured Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Beverly Gaventa, and Elsa Tamez. I am hoping to pick up the pace a bit and have a Frauen Friday post every Friday this summer–I’ll try my best to do so!

Today’s Frauen Friday feature is biblical scholar Adele Berlin. If you are a student of Biblical Hebrew you are likely familiar with some of her work. Here is an abridged bio from her faculty page at University of Maryland:

“Adele Berlin, now professor emerita, was the Robert H. Smith Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Maryland. She taught at Maryland since 1979 in the Jewish Studies Program, the Hebrew Program, and the English Department. Her main interests are biblical narrative and poetry, and the interpretation of the Bible. While at Maryland, Professor Berlin served as Director of the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies (1988-91), held the position of Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs (1994-97), and was Chair of the University Senate for the 2005-2006 academic year.

Professor Berlin has received numerous awards and honors. She is a Fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research. In 2000 she served as President of the Society of Biblical Literature. She has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation,  the American Council of Learned Societies, the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Institute of Advanced Studies of the Hebrew University (Jerusalem).” (For the full bio go here)

I was first introduced to Berlin’s work during my undergraduate studies in Hebrew when we got to reading poetry. In The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism, Berlin seeks to “provide a linguistic framework for the study of parallelism,” (xvii). The majority of the book focuses on a number of different linguistic categories (the grammatical aspect, the lexical and semantic aspects, and so on) and concludes with a look at parallelism within the biblical texts. This book is incredibly helpful and if you are a reader of Biblical Hebrew you should definitely own this book.

I later picked up a copy of Berlin’s Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative when I began studying participant reference in Susanna. In the preface Berlin writes,

“It is ironic that, although telling is so important in the biblical tradition, there is no word for story. There are words for songs and oracles, hymns and parables… other than a term like תולדות (‘genealogy, history’) applied to a few narrative sections, there is nothing to designate narrative per se. Yet the Bible abounds with narrative–vibrant and vivid narrative that has an ongoing power to affect those who hear or read it. Its power comes not only from the authority of scripture, but from the inner dynamics of the stories themselves. This book will explore some of those inner dynamics, some of the inner workings of biblical narrative,” (11).

I found chapter two, “Character and Characterization,” particularly interesting and extremely helpful. In it she suggests classifying character types in the biblical narratives into three main categories: the full-fledged character or round character; the type or flat character; and the agent or functionary character (23). Berlin does note that these are not clear cut categories but rather points along a spectrum within which a character might fall and to varying degrees throughout the narrative (32). To demonstrate how these categories work, Berlin looks at the stories about David and the women in his life, namely, Michal, Bathsheba, Abishag, and Abigail. From her analysis Berlin concludes that

“the result in all of these cases is an indirect presentation of David, in which various aspects of his character emerge naturally, outside of the glare of direct scrutiny. These episodes are then combined, in the mind of the reader, with the episodes in which David is the main character,” (33).

Further along, Berlin delves into the importance of description in characterization. For instance, she notes that the Bible does not often provide physical descriptions of its characters. When a biblical author does intentionally include a physical descriptor (e.g., that Esau was hairy) the reader is alerted to important information for the narrative’s plot (34).  Additionally, Berling argues,

“the purpose of character description in the BIble is not to enable to the reader to visualize the character, but to enable him to situate the character in terms of his place in society, his own particular situation, and his outstanding traits–in other words, to tell what kind of a person he is,” (36).

Descriptive terms help the reader see a character the way the author intends him or her to be seen and understood. The book also covers other topics such as point of view as well as how poetic interpretation relates to historical-critical methods of interpretation. Again, I highly recommend this book as I have found it very helpful in my own reading of scripture.

Update: A Festschrift in honor of Adele Berlin was published last year and is available here: Built by Wisdom, Established by Understanding: Essays on Biblical and Near Eastern Literature in Honor of Adele Berlin (2013)

 

 

 

For further reading…

Books

Articles

 

Knowing Our History

There’s a great post over at her·meneutics written by Sandra Glahn on “The Feminists We Forgot.”  In the article, Glahn stresses the importance of knowing our history, and in particular, the importance of the church knowing feminism’s Christian roots.

This “new woman” is not an invention of second-wave feminism either. Betty Friedan did not start the “woman movement;” Christians did. Motivated by the belief that men and women were made in God’s image to “rule the earth” together, these pro-woman, pro-justice believers sought to right wrongs for those who had less social power.

I’ve stressed this before in my post on Cruciform Feminism, and it serves as a good reminder to me that I need to keep digging and learning more about the history of feminism within the church.  The more we understand the historical role of the church in the work towards equality between men and women, the better we can dispel misconceptions about feminism and the church.  This is one reason I plan to start including women from church history in my weekly Frauen Friday series.  Women have had a far more influential role in the church throughout history than we are usually given credit for… again, a lot of this comes from an unfamiliarity with our own Christian history (I am obviously speaking from my own experience here with roots UMC, SBC, and A29 traditions).  I want to do my small part to help change that… starting with the woman in the mirror (cue awesome MJ song)!

As Glahn concludes:

The teaching that women’s involvement is a new phenomenon in church history has been used to silence those whom the Spirit has gifted for leadership. And advances made on behalf of women have been attributed entirely to secular feminism. We ourselves have been complicit, because we haven’t known our own history.

Be sure to read the full article here.  I also highly recommend Julie Clawson’s five part series on Discovering Christian Feminism.  Feel free to list any other references in the comments below!